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« Zizek on Cyberspace | Main | Internet "Black Holes" »
Sunday
11May

Media Power and Terrorists

Once upon a time, Karl Marx assigned power to those who own the means of production. Today it's safe to say that power is in the hands of those who either own the means of communication or otherwise manage to communicate their messages directly to their target publics. Governments and influential interest groups have always understood this, and so have terrorists. This point was once again driven home in the latest clash between the Lebanese government and its backers and Hezbollah, the terrorist organization that has actually grown into a mighty guerilla and de facto ruling force. While Hezbollah’s own al-Manar television and radio networks carried the threats and hard-line rhetoric of Hezbollah’s leader Sheik Nassan Nasrallah, the organization’s fighters silenced the Sunni majority party by taking its television station off the air and setting its newspaper offices on fire.

Nasrallah unleashed his fighters in the first place because the Lebanese government threatened to shut down Hezbollah’s own telecommunication network in addition to the organization’s surveillance system around Beirut airport. For Nasrallah, the government’s decision was “a declaration of war and the start of war on the resistance and its weapons.” In other words, Nasrallah left no doubt that Hezbollah’s own telephone network amounts to an indispensable weapon in the fight against Israel and domestic enemies of the “resistance.” Presumably, the communication network facilitated the walkie-talkie transmissions between masked Hezbollah gunmen in Beirut and other sites of the latest Lebanese civil strife on the one hand and Hezbollah fighters and their central command on the other.

Within days, the Lebanese government waved the white flag by signaling its willingness to reverse its decision and allow Hezbollah to keep its own telephone and surveillance networks in place.

It is obvious that organizations that own their own media or piggy-back on the communication means of supporters tend to be especially effective in spreading their propaganda, threaten their foes, enlist and sustain the support of their supporters, recruit among sympathizers, and coordinate and oversee their terror operations.

Hamas with its Al-Aqsa television network and radio transmissions comes to mind, as does the Colombian FARC with its network of mobile radio transmitters. Like Hezbollah’s de facto control in Southern Lebanon, Hamas’s governance of Gaza and the FARC’s command of a chunk of Colombian territory may not be direct results of each of these organizations’ media power, but it surely has helped to safeguard and even increase their strength versus their declared enemies.

While television, radio, and telephone networks are vulnerable to being taken out if intelligence pinpoints the locations of studios and transmitters, even successful measures tend to have only temporary consequences, as Israeli strikes against al-Aqsa radio hideouts in Gaza and against al-Manar during the 2006 Israeli-Hezbollah confrontation demonstrated. Since it did't take long for the stations and networks to go back on the air, it would take constant intelligence and counterterrorism efforts to curb these voices for longer periods of time.

Other communication means are far less vulnerable to counterterrorist action. A case in point is al-Qaeda Central, which has its own video production arm but no radio and television networks. Al-Qaeda Central relies instead on friendly web sites to carry unedited communications. Web sites can be and are taken down by servers or by concerted cyber attacks, but they tend to reappear, often within a short time.

In sum, then, modern-day terrorist organizations’ impact on domestic and/or international spheres depends to a large extent on their ability to establish their own means of communications or find alternative modes to communicate their messages directly to friend and foe.

Without taking the centrality of communication in the terrorist calculus into account, counterterrorism cannot succeed.


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Reader Comments (1)

What struck me most two years ago, in the middle of the 2006 Israeli Lebanon Campaign, just as I was applying to the online MA - War in the Modern World Program of King’s College, London, was how much this war had become about people: not the members of the Israeli Defence Force or the Hezbollah actually engaged in the conflict, but about the average Lebanese and Israeli citizens, and beyond them the people in the Middle East, Europe, America and the world actively following this conflict.

Here indeed we were confronted with the paradigmatic asymetric conflict: while the IDF’s strategic goal in this campaign was to neutralize Hezbollah’s ability to mount military operations against Israel from its Southern Lebanon’s base - a classic strategic military objective, the Hezbollah’s strategic aim was to remain standing at the end of the conflict and be seen as having survived the IDF’s overwhelming military force. This, combined with daily images, video and blog reports pouring every day out of Lebanon documenting the civilian casualties, destruction of homes, cites, infrastructure and sheer human toll of this latest Israeli incursion in Lebanon would help the militarily inferior Hezbollah attain its ultimate strategic objective: win the war for the hearts and minds of the Lebanese people and, indeed, of the wider global public.

To read on, please go to recently set up “Warrant for War - Legitimate Force and the Force of Legitimacy in the Global Arena”, at:

http://warrantforwar.wordpress.com

Dec 19, 2008 at 20:44 | Unregistered CommenterAlex Olteanu

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