The emergence of terrorist organizations in the 1980s and 1990s, Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), respectively, initiated global fear of Islam. After the formation of Al-Qaeda, the leader of this extremist organization, Osama bin Laden, declared the commencement of the holy war, jihad, against the Western world (Soufan). One organization’s criminal actions guided by politicized religious movements, Salafism and Wahhabism, resulted in a negative perception of all Muslims. Although Islam and Islamism are not interchangeable terms, Western media’s illustration of terrorists’ attacks made these two terms equally perceived with consternation (Courty et al. 2). Such radical use of religion affected the whole Muslim world because people in Western countries could only associate Islam with terrorists from Afghanistan sponsored by a Saudi Arabian citizen. The goal of jihad did not alter after the assassination of bin Laden, but competition between two extremist groups, Al-Qaeda and ISIL, resulted in changes in “the enemy hierarchies,” decreasing the number of global terrorist attacks (Hamming 77). Available literature argues that portraying extremist organizations’ ruthlessness by Western media only magnified their success, and reduction in international terrorism was achieved after the beginning of internal wars between extremist groups.
Representation of Al-Qaeda and ISIL brutality in Western media assisted the goals of terrorists to spread the fear of Islam worldwide. News, intended to achieve public awareness of terrorism and Islamism, created anxiety about Islam overall. However, Islam is faith, while Islamism is the political movement that utilizes modified religious views to justify extremist actions (Courty et al. 5). The juxtaposition of these two terms resulted in the distorted view of all Muslims. Initially, Islam brought liberal views to many tribal countries, promoting education, critical thinking, and the right to have property for men and women centuries before their Western counterparts (Soufan). However, the creation of politicized Islam branches by Osama bin Laden resulted in more significant discord between East and West. According to Courty et al. (7), the narrative about “the clash of civilizations” provided the extremist organizations with the power they did not possess. Every successful terrorist attack, presented in the news, strengthened extremists’ sanctimonious belief about the divine approval of jihad (Courty et al. 6). Islamists’ brutal methods resulted in massive murders of innocent civilians and stigmatization of all Muslims, delaying collaboration between countries to eradicate terrorism.
Vilification of the extremists’ actions in the media was the right approach to increase public awareness, but it was not a helpful tool to eliminate these organizations. As previously mentioned, broadcasting successful extremists’ attacks enhanced their influence among followers. The strategy that could help in the war with bin Laden’s organization was creating internal tension between terrorists. However, this strategy could become effective only after their ideological leader, Osama bin Laden, was killed in 2011 by the US army. According to Hamming (64), discussing the conflict between the Islamic State and Al-Qaeda in newspapers and magazines contributed to tension between these two groups in 2014. Although these organizations had a common ideology, discrepancies in their approaches to global jihad resulted in internal power struggles between the leaders of ISIL and Al-Qaeda (Hamming 65). However, the papers by Courty et al. and Hamming were based on the materials extracted from newspapers and magazines; thus, the presented information might be biased. Nonetheless, creating a virtual competition for the best extremist organization’s title removed the false image of Salafists’ and Wahabists’ unstoppable force and switched their focus to the internal enemies.
One might argue that not presenting Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State as merciless villains would not demonstrate to citizens the significance of this issue. The lack of public awareness of terrorism and extremism is dangerous because it affects proper cooperation between the civilians and the government in preventing mass murders. However, misinformation from the media is the main reason for confrontation between people of different confessions. In particular, the interchangeable use of the terms Islamism and Islam in the Western news resulted in the perception of all Muslims as ruthless barbarians (Courty et al. 5). Moreover, the war between different religions, unintentionally created by magazines and newspapers, resulted in the three-decade fear of Islam, delaying the destruction of actual enemies. The shift in Western media’s approach from Muslims’ vilification to discussing competition between ISIL and Al-Qaeda disrupted their power and significantly reduced the number of extremist attacks worldwide.
Overall, extremists’ organizations, formed by Osama bin Laden and his followers at the end of the twentieth century, wanted to establish a new world order by destroying the United States and European countries through extremists’ acts. I agree with the sources presented in this essay that Western media’s initial approach to show a frightening picture of Islamism and Islam was not correct because it only supported the villains’ spirit. The sources used in this essay accurately present how changing the media’s strategy to evaluate disagreement between Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State resulted in the decline of extremists’ power and influence. However, the two articles’ limitation is using information from newspapers and magazines to evaluate the attitude towards the problem, indicating that the presented information might be biased. Finally, prevention of misinformation about the authentic nature of Al-Qaeda’s and ISIL’s as political forces rather than the warriors of Islam would have prevented the unnecessary tension between the civilians of different religions.
Courty, Audrey, et al. “Blood and Ink: The Relationship between Islamic State Propaganda and Western Media.” The Journal of International Communication, vol. 25, no. 1, Routledge, Jan. 2019, pp. 69–94, Web.
Hamming, Tore Refslund. “Jihadi Competition and Political Preferences.” Perspectives on Terrorism, vol. 11, no. 6, 2017, pp. 63–88, Web.
Soufan, Ali. Anatomy of Terror: From the Death of Bin Laden to the Rise of the Islamic State. WW Norton & Company, 2017.