Terrorist or freedom fighter
Terrorists are evil and want only to destroy and terrorise the western society. They all have beards and see the Quran as their holy mean to convey this awful jihad (holy war). They have their ways and beliefs to justify their terrorist actions and they do not care about the people they hurt or kill. Or do they? Is the ‘western world’ not forgetting that we for centuries have excluded these people from honest deals on their oil and other trades that made us wealthy and them suffer? Are we not forgetting that maybe a terrorist in this country is a freedom fighter in the next? The first and foremost cause of these terrorist attacks lie in the fact that these suicide attackers have no future. They almost always have lost friends and family and are in search of some form of justice. One can say; ‘how can this be a two sided story, are they not doing just the thing that was done to them?’. This one might be right but than again, who of us western people, living in peace really knows what it is like living without any future prospects.
What an interesting question would be, is this: what exactly is the reason we only see our side of the truth about terrorists portrayed in the media instead of also receiving information about the other side? Somebody who has a opinion and even a theory about this, is Vladimir Propp. He is famous for his research about how media its narratives are structured. He is convinced that all media is structured in a fairy-tale kind of way. Not to portray the actual truth but a good and simple story for its readers.
How does Vladimir Propp his theory relate to current media narrative structure and how does this influence the public to think short-sighted and prejudiced about minorities in society and create lack of understanding of alienation, discrimination and the background of terrorists.
This essay will describe how this theory by Vladimir Propp relates to media narrative structures, and how this structure only provides the public with an one-sided truth. This particular media structure will be applied to terrorism and how the western world portrays terrorism and terrorists in the media and if this indeed is comprehensive enough to be called and seen by the public as the ‘truth’. In addition to this, the text will describe the influence media nowadays has on the public.
In order to further investigate how media narrative is structured in such a way that it can actually influences people to think a certain way, we must first look at Vladimir Propp his theory of narrative. People (the public) do not want to hear the complex truth, they want a fairy tale and that is exactly what media nowadays provides. Some media excluded of course. For example Al Jazeera tries to give the two-sided version of the truth about terrorist attacks. The fairytale narratives always consist of a few fairy tale characters. There is the villain ( bad guy ), the hero ( the good guy), the donor who provides an object for the hero to use, the helper who aids the hero the father who rewards the hero, the dispatcher who sends the hero on his way, the princess who needs rescuing and of course the false hero. Especially this ‘false hero’ in media narratives satisfies the need people have to ‘feel’ like their reading an expert piece on the subject. The princess, can be any sad or lonely person on this planet who is in need of help. No matter if the hero (e.g. Bush) really helped the princess (e.g. the Iraqi people) this is not the important point of the story, the story is Bush is a hero and he helps the Iraqi people by catching the bad guy (Osama Bin Laden). As long as people get this version and not the ugly truth, they have no idea their window on the world is limited to only a fairy tale. Provided by the newspapers they read or the television they watch. Just like Propp (1986) so many years ago already pointed out “whatever the surface differences (i.e. whether the stories dealt with poor woodcutters of young princesses) it is possible to group its characters and actions into eight character roles or spheres of action”.
Now one knows about how narratives in the current and old media are structured one might begin to wonder how this can shape people’s perception of the ‘villain’ in the stories. For example, imagine a hard working father on his way to work. He reads for the 20th time that week “Terrorists attack again” so many killed, so many injured. He instantly sees a photo of Bin Laden or another Middle Eastern man next to it. Will he think: ‘the newspapers are really into this terrorist matter, I will go take a look tonight after my 10 hour shift if they are actually portraying the truth!’ This is as one highly unlikely to happen. The more likely case is this: ‘these people are threatening us, my family and our society as a whole, somebody must do something!’ Just before he sees a Hispanic or even Turkish man cross the street and wonders if he is from Iraq and if he is wearing this ‘suicide belt’ he reads about the other day in the newspaper. Perceptions and fear for minorities or people different than oneself are easily created in ones mind.
In addition to this, the negative connotations the public has when reading media narrative are always a larger source to tap from than the positive. Like scientific psychological evidence proves, negative images and words tend to stick more on the mind. The article on Hostile media perceptions by Yariv Tsfati (2007) says a lot about this topic. He argues in his article that negative media narrative helps alienating these ‘terrorists’ even more from the western society they live in. Like the article states “it is argued that what we think of our group is influenced to a large extent by our perceptions of media coverage. Perceiving that media cover our group negatively, and furthermore perceiving that this coverage is influential, may indicate to us that society at large thinks negatively of our group” ( Tsfati, 2007). This influence media narrative has is one of the reasons why for example, politicians should be very careful when using media for their benefits. They sometimes help create ‘powerful media’ ( campaign films, newspaper stories etc) that influences a lot of people and thereby set an image that is seen by the rest of the world for their country. An example of this would be the movie Geert Wilders (a Dutch politician) made. This movie (Fitna) was seen all through the world and now we as a society at large are seen as anti-Islam while a lot of people in the Netherlands and for that matter Europe understand that not the Islam itself prescribes the Jihad. Due to this careless politician and due to hostile media coverage this ‘hostile perception’ of a small group of people living in another country than their own is created, this is called minority alienation.
Part of the emotional side of this alienation for this minority is feeling like an outsider. One can imagine when one thinks an entire society no longer accepts them and thinks only negative of them one might begin to feel lonely. One might even want to belong somewhere, or do something to set this enormous injustice right. To find a cause which one can put ones anger in towards this society and have some influence on the people in it. One can imagine one wants to increase self-esteem by getting the feeling one wants to create value and meaning in life. One might have lost family due to western societies by war or bombing or fights over oil. This is the breeding ground of hate towards the society the society they live in or lost loved ones to.
All these unjust affairs, all this alienation, this creates terrorists. As Tsfati points out: “these minorities are discriminated against and no matter what they do, they will never be fully part or fully belong to the hostile society” (Tsfati,2007).
To move to somewhat more positive grounds, there are people who try and have tried to come in contact with these terrorists. They have tried to find out what drives them to become one and how we (western world) can prevent people from choosing this path of destruction. One of these people is Mient Jan Faber, he has worked for over more than ten years in zones of conflict in the Middle East. He came in contact with so called ‘defenders of terrorism’ and talked to them first hand. He was particularly interested in the reasons why people were drawn to organisations like Hamas and Islamic Jihad. He arranged a meeting with Sheikh Ahmed Yassin. This is one of the leaders of the Hamas organisation. In the interview he asked the following question, which is a question that tries to establish the fact that there are two sides to terrorism, “Despite everything, despite what Sharon (former Prime Minister of Israel) is doing, do you ever think personally about the two sides, do you ever question yourself and whether you can be responsible for sending suicide-bombers and their victims to their deaths?” (Faber, 2005). The Hamas leader answered “You look around here”, he replied. “Can somebody live here? It is a cemetery. We’re all dead. The only thing we can do is to celebrate it. We are not just killing Israelis. What we are doing makes life bearable; it is part of our death culture.” (Faber, 2005). These people do not seem to care about their lives because the quality of it is so incredibly low. The only purpose or pride to be strived for is committing a suicide attack, there is no other future prospect. That is what the Hamas leaders are leading us to believe. He also states that the people in Gaza have a very short sighted view on the world. They only see Gaza. In contrast to this Faber states that most likely this death culture will fade when people get the chance to get a job or go to school and have future prospects again.
To provide one with a life example of the matter, Ramzy Baroud (famous writer) his father died after 60 years of struggling refugee life in Gaza territory. His father lived in extreme poverty all his life but always strove to provide his family with at least the basics in life, and finally got his son Ramzy Baroud to an university abroad. His son in a newspaper article wrote these last words about him: “My father’s struggle began 60 years ago, and it ended a few days ago. Thousands of people descended to his funeral from throughout Gaza, oppressed people that shared his plight, hopes and struggles, accompanying him to the graveyard where he was laid to rest. Even a resilient fighter deserves a moment of peace.” Baroud (2008, April 8).
In conclusion, there is most definitely another side to terrorist attackers. Where they come from, what their lives consist of. The set of norms and values differ from our culture to theirs, western society has a far higher quality of life. In these societies one can achieve something, although only if one is of the right offspring. Media coverage still does not provide the public with these complex truths therefore the theory provided by Propp in 1928 is still applicable on the current structure of media narrative. If one wants to find out the complete truth one needs to dig deep and have endless patience. The most important aspect of the two sides is: there are people amongst the alienated minority ( e.g. Baroud his father) that the western world is so afraid of who deserve positive media coverage and support. Not a bed time fairy-tale.
Baroud, R. (2008, April 8). No checkpoints in heaven. Al Jazeera, Retrieved
June 8, 2008, from
Propp, V. (1986). Morphology of the folktale. Texas: University of Texas
Faber, M.J. ( 2005, February 14). Talking to terrorists in Gaza. Open
Democracy, Retrieved June 8, 2008, from
Theaker, A. (2001). The public relations handbook. London: Routledge.
Tsfati, Y. ( 2007). Hostile media perceptions, presumed media influence, and
minority alienation. Journal of Communication, 57 (4). 632-652.