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Information age bringing experience of terrorism closer

Following the Paris attacks, TBS looks at how with the flow of information, the experience of terrorism has been changed in our lives.


My Nan recently told me that we were living in “an age of terrorism.” While I think the label is a bit steep, I do believe we live in an age of revealed terrorism, where the naked violence sits with us in our living rooms.

The flow of information surrounding a tragedy (on both sides) is now an important part of what transpires, used for means as varied as catharsis, evidence, recruitment and, as shown by Paris this week, involvement.

While the experience of terrorism has never been closer, the act of televised terror is not strictly a Frankenstein of our generation, for it was at the Munich Olympiad of 1972 that the beast was brought to life by the lightning bolt of hate.

As the Palestinian terrorist organisation Black September descended on the Olympiad, the world’s media were already massed at the event. It seemingly was a matter of turning the cameras.

Real violence on television had existed beforehand of course, but it had lived in the past tense, with the facts already known. With the world learning of acts of violence at the same speed as those directly involved, the importance of imagery took hold.

Be it the lone, ski-masked assailant on the balcony; the sounds of police vehicles pouring into Fürstenfeldbruck airforce base, over the staccato sounds of audible violence, giving way to Jim McKay’s sobering epitaph; imagery had, for the first time, took precedence.

The Munich tragedy brought with it the flow of information, and would later necessitate the control of it. Cruelly, it was reported that the hostages had reached safety, before the sobering truth was revealed; a point exacerbated with the media televising the German police’s preparations (the perpetrators therefore able to see their advance), and thusly pushing the event to its conclusion.

Turning to that Tuesday morning in New York, a date which lives upon itself, where the electric river of flowing information broke its banks; Munich was a tableau, but 9/11 was an horrible, shifting kaleidoscope of violent imagery.

The stark footage, on an endless loop, floating as we gazed upon the sight of black smoke polluting the clear blue Manhattan backdrop, minutes dragged as we watched aghast, until the second plane struck and realisation dropped.

Unlike Munich, we were not spared the violence.

All of which was covered by the patchwork blanket of American network television. CNN, ABC, WUSA, Fox, NBC, CBS; all the acronyms that held the US (and the world) speculating along with us, making sense of what we were seeing.

Perhaps because the actions were so bare, the information so little, and perhaps the fact that we were not diverted from it, it dragged us to reach for our own conclusions.

What set 9/11 apart from Munich was the perception of information; those who clung to evidence provided, and those who clung to what they didn’t see.

YouTube is an example of this, for the longhand events of that morning are stored alongside the raft of conspiracy theories that swirl around it. The mountain of information so easily scaled, it is actually possible for you to examine the evidence, to find answers for your own questions.

It is possible to help with the investigation – past-tense.

This is what makes Paris different. The horror wrought upon Paris and Beirut marks a new level of involvement with information. The current tense; Paris in particular, lesser so Beirut (which itself is another issue). Social media flooded with an outpouring of condemnation, but also of humanity, with Parisians offering up their own sanctuary to others via the #PorteOuverte movement on Twitter, while those adrift in the whirlwind of violence keeping us updated via the first person medium of Facebook.

Thusly, those who weren’t involved, were involved; the battle against terrorism this time fought not only on Parisian streets, but also in Cyberspace (which is becoming a battleground of its own) with hacker group Anonymous vowing to “Hunt down ISIS” via the hashtag #OpISIS, in tandem with YouTube’s increased vigilance in an effort to curtail information published by Islamic State’s vast propaganda machine.

With the solitary voice reaching farther than ever before, the twin lines between objective and subjective experience is set to blur further, for good or ill.


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