Academic journal article Journal of International Affairs

Terrorism and Censorship: The Media in Chains

Academic journal article Journal of International Affairs

Terrorism and Censorship: The Media in Chains

Article excerpt

When Israel invaded south Lebanon on 6 June 1982, 1 had been covering southern Africa out of Johannesburg for nearly a year and was eager to get out. Southern Africa was quiet and I was restless. Lebanon was a war -- the world's biggest story -- and I was a journalist. The Middle East was the natural place to go.

Lebanon was exciting. The country fascinated me with its religious diversity, its endless complications, its small feuds and larger wars. The Maronites, the Sunnis, the Shi'a, the Druze, the Palestinians -- each had splintered factions and shifting goals. There was incredible violence at a scale and intensity I had never seen before in my six years as a foreign correspondent. But there were also the stubborn, brave, independent people who somehow survived the brutality.

By 1982, Western reporters had become accustomed to wandering freely around Lebanon -- subject to the occasional verbal abuse or roughing up -- but accepted by even the most radical of factions as journalists, independent of and apart from the U.S. and British governments. A year later, however, the atmosphere had begun to change.

Beginning with the victory of Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran, Iranian money poured into Lebanon to influence the Shi'a, a Muslim sect disaffected with their native leadership. Religious conflicts intensified, and Washington's shifted position on Lebanon inspired a more personal hatred for the United States in particular, and the West in general. In Beirut, more and more bearded men -- young Shi'a -- appeared on the streets, carrying signs echoing Iran's revolutionary fervor and anti-Western propaganda. Journalists' encounters with such bitter gunmen became a little harder to escape without injury.

In December 1983, a group of Iranian-inspired Shi'a launched an attempt to destabilize Kuwait with attacks on the U.S. and French embassies, power stations and other installations. Despite the destruction, the attempt failed miserably. Hundreds of Shi'a were rounded up, and 17 were charged. Some were given long prison terms and others were handed death sentences. As it took place far off in the Gulf, the event was soon forgotten -- at least by the West. There was no immediate connection with events in Lebanon, no hint that the repercussions would involve half a dozen countries and leave Westerners, including me, in chains for months or years.

By the time I was kidnapped in March 1985, the U.S. embassy and the Marine barracks had been bombed; Malcolm Kerr, the president of the American University, Beirut had been murdered; and a handful of Westerners had been taken hostage. Beirut had turned into a kind of perpetual chaos.

The U.S. embassy had been quietly warning Americans to leave Beirut -- a warning that most news people just ignored, although a few took the advice or moved to East Beirut, which was considered a much safer place. I stayed, determined to cover the story. On 16 March 1985, I was kidnapped.

The Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility and demanded the release of the Da'wa 17, the 17 jailed in Kuwait. Thus began my almost seven years in captivity -- seven years during which I witnessed firsthand the tenuous and powerful relationship between terrorism and the press.


There can be no denying it: The media are part of the deadly game of terrorism. Indeed, the game can scarcely be played without them. In my experience, publicity has been at once a primary goal and a weapon of those who use terror against innocent people to advance political causes or to simply cause chaos. And they are quite good at the public relations game -- which is why their attacks, kidnappings and murder are usually so spectacularly vicious.

In my opinion, the very reporting of a political kidnapping, an assassination or a deadly bombing is a first victory for the terrorist. Without the world's attention, these acts of viciousness are pointless. …

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