The people who stand to benefit the most from panic, from the discord sown by scaremongering in both social and traditional media are richer than you. They want the same thing terrorists want: society in disarray. They want you running scared.
What is terrorism? Conventionally, it’s a term defining acts of crazed, radically ideological individuals or partisan groups perpetrated either to promote fear amongst hapless bystanders or as targeted retribution. But the term in itself is a convenient blind for the myriad aims of the acts behind it. ‘Terrorism’ is a hugely loaded phrase which conveniently removes all context from the acts supposedly carried out in its name. From the deliberate crashing of airliners and trucks into buildings and crowds, the kidnap and murder of tourists and reporters, to one-off acts of dissent or years-long campaigns of rebel resistance groups: all of these can be easily dismissed as the crackpot behaviour of lunatics when described by the blanket term ‘terrorism’, a word which suggests an agenda whose aims and methods might as well be as indiscriminate as they are inchoate. Terrorism — easy to condemn, harder to truly define.
A key way the concept of terrorism obfuscates is in how the word itself refuses to justify its subject. There is no way to applaud ‘terrorism’ when using so loaded a word as a definition. It is meant to establish an idea that is cruel, haphazard and unsupportable. It cloaks any nuance as to context and content. The ‘terrorist’ is an other, someone whose views clash with civilised consensus, who acts out of a desperate belief in something unachievable, something pointlessly extravagant. The terrorists are always a ‘they’, an outsider cause, a danger to ‘our’ shared way of life, to the things ‘we’ hold dear. They are jealous, bitter, unhinged and callous. They have been lured to some parallel version of belief that contradicts what we know. Our simple, conforming standards and quiet attitudes are anathema to them, symbols of a life they hate and want to destroy. In simply minding our own business we go to war with these ideas, and so the terrorist attack is an attack on everything we believe in, every fibre of who we are.
Only, the war — while all too tangible to those who commit barbaric, televisually-targeted acts of violence — is in fact made real by those who choose to frame it as terrorism. Terrorism is a concept born of television and print, of the image, of technology and spectacle. It doesn’t have the same context outside those places. It is a one-sided war in which the only side entering into terms of engagement are those who would in one breath both condemn and depict terrorism as an act of war committed against ‘us’. For the terrorist there is no victory, only indiscriminate acts whose power lives in the element of surprise, in the profound shock that gives momentary succour and publicity to a cause. The terrorist doesn’t expect to win: only to wound, to confound, to confuse. At best, the terrorist can hope to sow uncertainty and make us question our surroundings, to give ponder or pause.
But those who see terrorism as a war that can be won become complicit in its crimes upon society at large. Because terrorism is waged primarily by its image, its constantly repeated, condemned and yet endlessly instantiated image. In projecting that image we accept and propagate the damage terrorism wants to do to us, in fact we go further: we justify it. We give it life.
And there’s yet an even more powerful way to commit that terrorism upon us: to industrialise it.
So it is when Nigel Farage, Katie Hopkins, Donald Trump or Marine Le Pen take to the airwaves and pages and soapboxes, to the manifest institutions of social ‘critique’ — media-complexes owned and run in a fever of faux-representation by the likes of Viscount Rothermere, Rupert Murdoch and the Russian government. In delivering another diatribe about the dilution of ‘our’ society at the hands of ‘them’ — the terrorists who undermine and chip away at our values, our cultures and our livelihoods — it’s these vaunted ‘controversialists’ who turn risible, two-dimensional ideology into all-out social war. Rest assured, those people are all richer, whiter, and more set to benefit from social disarray than you ever will. Terrorism sells: it is a critique that invigorates both hearts and hedge-funds. In horror, as we flick through the pages of the Daily Mail, scroll through self-replicating opinion on Facebook, or blink anxiously at a ‘breaking news’ ticker on Fox News, this spectacle of terror not only becomes a knot of indignation in our chests, but in turn forms into crisp deposits of wealth in wallets and offshore bank accounts. It is these people who are engaged in the real all-out, ever-present drip-drip of war. Nothing foments the mass mindset while cementing the institutions of media quite in the way that terrorism does. In exposing the great conspiracy of cultural war supposedly being waged on the unsuspecting man-in-the-street, such outlets can play indignant calls-to-arms off against lazy, retrograde populism. As a viewer, you can be both outraged that nothing is being done and simultaneously relieved that at least something’s being said, all the while watching on in quiet dismay. As we bear witness to another mouthpiece of ideological commentary, so too we solidify the business model it’s built on.
Terror-capitalism has a gun trained on you, a foot suspended above the accelerator pedal of a truck as you walk by. It’s here to let you know that you’re a target, a potential victim — that you’re unwitting collateral in the combat of ideas going on around you. It wants you to think, to believe, that its next casualty could — no, will — be you.
And all it needs to sustain itself are more willing foot-soldiers.