ONLY THE HEADLINES AND DETAILS varied in the coverage of 11 September and the subsequent suicide bombings in Israel. The underlying story in the mainstream Western media remained the same. Arab-Muslim terrorists were precipitating a civilizational conflict on a global scale. Thomas Friedman, from his watchtower in the New York Times, sounded the alarm: "A terrible disaster is in the making in the Middle East. What Osama bin Laden failed to achieve on 11 September is now being unleashed by the Israeli-Palestinian war in the West Bank: a clash of civilizations." Lest there be any confusion about who fired first, Friedman hastened to explain that "in the wake of repeated suicide bombings, it is no surprise that the Israeli Army has gone on the offensive in the West Bank. Any other nation would have done the same." (1)
The West, wounded first in New York and then in Israel, cast itself as the avenging victim, struggling to understand and respond to the Islam that launched these unprovoked terrorist attacks. The American reaction to 11 September defined the rules of engagement by launching an unconstrained "war on terrorism." President George W. Bush set an emphatically American agenda, defined by U.S. interests, projected by the Western media, and enforced by American power. The same American security apparatus that had not had sufficient evidence to prevent the attack unhesitatingly pronounced Osama bin Laden and the Al-Qaeda network of Islamist terrorists guilty of the horrific assault on the Twin Towers. The President spoke in terms shorn of the usual diplomacy. He announced that the perpetrators of 11 September and those like the Taliban who shielded them were "wanted dead or alive." The war on terrorism in Islam's name was to be an American jihad and the world was asked to believe and to join the "crusade." If you are not with us, you are against us, intoned the American President. He vowed to "smoke out" the terrorists wherever they sought refuge and to punish those who harbored them. Osama bin Laden became the evil outlaw with a price on his head and the forces of good in hot pursuit.
The U.S. government would not hear arguments that the undoubted "crime against humanity" of 11 September should be denounced as such and responded to by international law. The voices that asked what would come next in Afghanistan, once the Taliban had been deposed by the military assault, were reduced to an ineffectual whisper. The public announcement of a U.S. right to topple regimes and wage war on any continent at any time would represent the only change in American policies. The United States had been attacked for its goodness, its freedoms, and its prosperity, the President explained. No changes in its fundamental foreign policies, including those in the Middle East, were warranted.
Was the United States really surprised when the Israelis, along with the Russians and the Indians, moved to appropriate this stance for their own ends? In the wake of a wave of suicide bombings that targeted civilians in the heart of Israel, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon pronounced Arafat the "arch terrorist" in the bin Laden mold. On 29 March 2002 Israel launched its own war against terrorism, devastating West Bank cities in its own effort to "root out the terrorist infrastructure." Terrorists had attacked Israelis, like Americans, for who they were and not what they did. The thirty-five year old occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and the extensive colonization effort it enabled had no relevance. The Israeli government directed the focus elsewhere. In a frenzy of hatred with its roots in Islam, the irrational and homicidal bombers of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, alongside the al-Aqsa Brigades, aimed to destroy the Jewish state that served as an outpost of Western civilization in the Arab Islamic world.
Islam suddenly became news and today, more than ever, news matters. The media constitutes what Manuel Castells has called "the privileged space of politics," as true in the global as In the national arena. (2) In an emerging network society, horizontal and endlessly expandable networks have replaced hierarchies in the economy, society and culture of the new capitalism of the Information Age. Prototypic institutions are complex, adaptive systems and the most promising Interpretive strategies to understand their rules and logic are coming from information and complexity theory) In the new conditions power has, of course, not disappeared. It continues to shape and discipline lives. However, power now flows through dispersed and flexible networks rather than inhabiting rigid structures. The coordination of economic, political and social action in these conditions of dispersal depends more than ever on the control of information and the maintenance of information flows. Hence, the critical importance of the media. Dominant elites, Including those charged with foreign policy, rely on a responsive corporate media to announce policies, coordinate action, and enact the politics of symbolic representation that best serves their interests. Moreover, the global reach of the American conglomerates means that the global media, for all intents and purposes, is American.
Evidence is clear that the United States and Israel grasp these new media realities of the Information Age. In the U.S., planning first began in the late seventies for conducting war in the emerging conditions of "information politics." (4) The media sphere takes priority. Assessing the American travail in Vietnam and the Soviet debacle in Afghanistan, U.S. strategists concluded that war-making could only achieve success by relying on a professional rather than conscripted military, keeping the conflict short enough to preclude sustained public debate of its merits, and concealing its consequences as much as possible from public view. The latter demand, in particular, made the media as critical a battle site as any in the field, warranting the tightest controls. The Gulf War provided the affirming test case with the media given only "supervised" access to cover the fighting. American restrictions on the press in Afghanistan were stricter still.
Only when the attacks of the suicide bombers on civilians had enraged and frightened the Israeli populace could Prime Minister Sharon emulate the American example. Israel had the disadvantage of a military force that relied on reservists. By targeting civilians, the Islamist extremists effectively neutralized that liability. The promising movement of Israeli "refusniks" lost momentum. At home, the assertive Hebrew press was cowed as rarely before. Even more important, however, was the Israeli lobby's prowess in dominating the critical media battleground in the United States. (5) Israeli actions in the West Bank signaled an impressive understanding of the new media rules for war-making in the Information Age. "No access, no pictures, no story" became the mantra of the Israeli defense forces in dealing with journalists. The Israelis acted as quickly as possible to accomplish their goals and defied the force of world opinion by refusing to allow any authoritative and timely international investigation of their military actions.
The initial American and Israeli successes in the Afghan and West Bank theaters of the war on terrorism depended on the power to project a hostile and threatening Islam. An element of unreality hung over the celebrations of the world's only superpower of its victory over the Taliban's Afghanistan, a poor and devastated third world nation. It also required major suspension of disbelief to accept representations of the fighting on the West Bank as a "war" when the essentially defenseless Palestinian people had neither a state nor an army to protect them against a world-class military power. Global media projections of Islam as violence were indispensable.
MEDIA PROJECTIONS: ISLAM AS VIOLENCE
Representations of the global Islamic threat fell into comfortable, well-established grooves. The luxuriant legacy of European derogation of Islam, the adaptations of the Orientalist discourse to serve American interests in a bipolar world, and the refurbishment of the Islamic threat for the post-Cold War era all served to create an abundant reservoir of hostility to Islam. (6) In Israel a deep-seated racial contempt of Arabs and Muslims, reinforced by the habits of calculated humiliation and denigration built into the Israeli occupation, fed the same stream. (7) These Israeli realities, after all, represented an important part of the facts on the ground that the democratic Israelis not only tolerated, but enthusiastically created and overwhelmingly endorsed. They had an inevitably corrosive effect. In the United States, it was still essential to blunt criticism of an attack on one of the world's great religious traditions by conjuring up an innocuous and fatuous "good Islam," without historical or lived reality, to be contrasted to the "evil Islam" that threatened the West. In the Afghan theater, this distinction made it possible to drop yellow anti-personnel bombs for the "evil Islamist terrorists," while reaping the presumed propaganda benefits of yellow food packets for "the good Afghan Muslims" whom the Americans aimed to rescue. In this spirit, the U.S. State Department launched a long term project to combine a heightened public relations campaign with backroom leverage over dependent Arab regimes with the aim of making the Islam of American imagining a fully compliant Islam. Though the details are murky, it appears that the ill-conceived U.S. effort seeks to influence directly the way Islam is taught in schools and projected in local and global media in a number of Islamic countries, with the aim of expunging any bases in Islam for resistance to American policies.
Thus, despite the highly publicized gestures of conciliation by officials from the American President down, it is clear that Islam has survived as the Western enemy of choice into the global age. The most recent literature on globalization, for example, takes Islam as the emblem of the dangerous resurgent nationalisms and fundamentalisms that have emerged in the backlash to globalization. Western accounts of global trends, from the most sophisticated to the most accessible, from Manuel Castells and Mark C. Taylor to Benjamin Barber and Thomas Friedman, set Islam and the olive tree against the Lexus and the unstoppable forces of the worldwide market and the information technologies that enable it. (8) Long before Osama bin Laden, Al-Qaeda, and the Taliban or Hamas and Islamic Jihad became household figures around the world, the central drama of our era was cast as "Jihad versus McWorld." In his influential book Benjamin Barber allows that "although it is clear that Islam is a complex religion that by no means is synonymous with Jihad, it is relatively inhospitable to democracy and that inhospitality in turn nurtures conditions favorable to parochialism, anti-modernism, exclusiveness, and hostility to 'others,' the characteristics that constitute what I have called Jihad." (9) The mainstream media projects precisely this Islam, without any of the qualifications with which a liberal scholar like Barber tempered his negative …