Arab Media and the Politics of Terrorism

Unbecoming News

by Aziz Douai (Author)
©2020 Monographs XIV, 184 Pages


Terrorism inspires intense emotions of fear, vulnerability, victimization, and helplessness that breed humiliation and shame and demands for redress by the victims—restoring the wounded honor through revenge and military action. The post-9/11 environment of the "global war on terrorism" has exacerbated these vicious cycles of conflict. It also created a media battleground in which conflating Islam with terrorism and deploying a religious lexicon of jihad, martyrdom, and sacrifice have become routine.
Yet, scholarship on the relationship between Arab media and terrorism is sparse—despite the salience of terrorism and other forms of politically motivated violence in the greater Middle East and North Africa region. How does Arab news cover "home-grown" or domestic terrorism in comparison to terrorist incidents that might be geographically distant? How does globalization influence the mediation of terrorism in Arab news?
This book addresses these lacunae and features a wide range of studies examining coverage of terrorism in Arab media. The case studies investigate technological, political, sociological, and legal infrastructures influencing the ways Arab media make sense of terrorism and international conflict events. The research contributes to the understanding of news frames as central to how terrorism news operates, constructs and thereby explains the social world through familiar master narratives drawn from the region’s culture and history.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • List of Figures
  • Preface
  • Becoming News: An Introduction to Arab Media and Terrorism
  • Chapter One Construction of Terrorism: The Media-Terrorism Interaction Model
  • Chapter Two Legislating Counterterrorism and the Media
  • Chapter Three Discourses of Denial: The Fight for “Islam’s Soul”
  • Chapter Four Narratives of Transgression in the Danish Cartoons and #JeSuisCharlie Campaign
  • Chapter Five Humiliation, Shame, and Revenge: Arab Media at War
  • Chapter Six Online Publics and Shifting Discourses of Responsibility
  • Chapter Seven Hybrid Media Systems and Terrorism Spectacles
  • Conclusion: Reframing Terrorism
  • List of Abbreviations
  • Selected Bibliography
  • Index

←vi | vii→



1.1 Terrorist Incidents in the Middle East and North Africa, 1970 and 2016

1.2 Terrorist Incidents by Attack Type in the Middle East and North Africa, 1970 and 2016

1.3 Terrorist Incidents by Target Type in the Middle East and North Africa, 1970 and 2016

1.4 The Media-Terrorism Interaction Model

2.1 UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy

2.2 Joint Arab Media Counter-Terrorism Strategy

2.3 El-Kessas, “They Don’t Have a Feather on Their Heads” [in Arabic]

2.1 [Table] Framing the Anti-Terrorism Law in Egyptian News Media

5.1 “A Martyrdom Attack in Baghdad and Assassination of Al-Khoei in Najaf” [in Arabic]

6.1 “Four Moroccan Nationals Top Spain’s Wanted List after the Barcelona Attacks,” Comment 41 [in Arabic]

6.2 “Oukabir Brothers … from the Village of Melwiya to Getting Involved in the Barcelona Attack,” Comment 7 [in Arabic]

←vii | viii→

6.3 “Four Moroccan Nationals Top Spain’s Wanted List after the Barcelona Attacks,” Comment 24 [in Arabic]

6.4 “Four Moroccan Nationals Top Spain’s Wanted List after the Barcelona Attacks,” Comment 43 [in Arabic]

6.5 “Spanish Police Link a Moroccan Teenager to the ‘Barcelona Attack,’ ” Comment 16 [in Arabic]

6.6 “Spain Seeks Moroccan Imam on Suspicion of ‘Masterminding’ Barcelona Attack,” Comment 13 [in Arabic]

6.7 “Four Moroccan Nationals Top Spain’s Wanted List after the Barcelona Attacks,” Comment 5 [in Arabic]

6.8 “Spain Seeks Moroccan Imam on Suspicion of ‘Masterminding’ Barcelona Attack,” Comment 34 [in Arabic]

←viii | ix→



The beginning of the twenty-first century recalls the predicament of human existence: our incredible ingenuity and glorious economic progress have always been marred by despicable cruelty and unspeakable violence. The vast capabilities of the internet-enabled communication landscape, for example, shrank physical, political, and psychological borders, making globalization and economic integration an inescapable fact of our daily lived experience. On the positive end of the scale, we interact with other like-minded citizens, join social movements, and even demand similar rights and freedoms effortlessly and efficiently thanks to these tools. The same technological affordances carry a downside as they potentially “facilitate” the scourge of what we conventionally label terrorism, politically motivated violence that is inspired by religious, ethnic, or other forms of dogma. Perpetrators of terrorism seek attention of governments, media, and the larger public; and their terror attacks instigate reactions, be they in the form of negotiation, suppression, or retaliation. The 9/11 attacks on the United States, a watershed terrorism event of the century, turned into a “global media event,” attracting unprecedented media audiences, and spurred tough U.S. military retaliation, including the invasions of Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003.

Most terror organizations are driven by limited agendas, harbor local ambitions, or nurse regional grievances; and yet terrorism has evolved into a global spectacle. Breaking news and alerts about a terror attack on two mosques in ←ix | x→Christchurch, New Zealand, that left 50 worshippers dead, perpetrated by an Australian right-wing terrorist, became inescapable at the time I was finalizing this book manuscript in late March 2019, a painful reminder of the timeliness of the topic. Although the Christchurch terror attack might seem different from the case studies included in this book, the attack echoes some major themes I examine here. For one, the globalization of terrorism has become a new phenomenon that touches countries and societies once seemed immune from terrorism. The “market” for terrorism on both the “supply” and “demand” sides has expanded to include nations from diverse, wealthy, liberal democracies to impoverished, authoritarian regimes. One might look at the case of Anders Behring Breivik, who cold-bloodedly shot dozens of young people in Norway on July 22, 2011. Described in media reports as “a right-wing Christian extremist, with a hatred of Muslims,” Breivik appeared offended at what he perceived to be a joint assault on Christian values by Muslim immigration and European liberal values, evidence of which are plainly visible in his manifesto posted online, “2083: A European Declaration of Independence.”1 The terror attack in Norway coincided with the ascent of the Islamic State (IS), as young jihadists flocked from Canada, the European Union, North Africa, and other parts of the globe to their Syrian-controlled strongholds.

Technological innovations accelerate the pace and penetration of globalization. With regard to terrorism, the digital information environment facilitates the spread of extremist ideas, self-radicalization, and recruiting of future terrorists. Before they would head to Syria, IS recruits would easily reach like-minded radicals online, access extremist literature, or learn about bomb making, if they wished, among other online training manuals. While IS fighters strategically employed online videos as a propaganda tool, video evidence of mass murder and other atrocious crimes could backfire as intelligence services and governments used these pieces of evidence to charge and convict IS combatants, including a former German IS fighter found guilty of committing terror crimes while in Syria.2

The online violence in new terrorism is made by and for digital masses and has the imprint of new media all over it. A New York Times report described the Christchurch terror attack in 2019 as “A Mass Murder of, and for, the Internet,” a scene of harrowing online violence, as it listed myriad ways in which the perpetrator exploited the “language” of new media:

The attack was teased on Twitter, announced on the online message board 8chan and broadcast live on Facebook. The footage was then replayed endlessly on YouTube, Twitter and Reddit, as the platforms scrambled to take down the clips nearly as fast as new copies popped up to replace them. […]

Even the language used to describe the attack before the fact framed it as an act of internet activism. In a post on 8chan, the shooting was referred to as a “real life effort ←x | xi→post.” An image was titled “screw your optics,” a reference to a line posted by the man accused in the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting that later became a kind of catchphrase among neo-Nazis. And the manifesto—a wordy mixture of white nationalist boilerplate, fascist declarations and references to obscure internet jokes—seems to have been written from the bottom of an algorithmic rabbit hole.3

Online violence and terrorism adapt to and thrive in the new affordances of digitally connected media: live-streaming terror attacks on social media platforms, deploying video gaming technical know-how, edgy memes, and “snarky,” ironical language of the internet. The perpetrators of the Christchurch attacks and the Islamic State atrocities in Syria and Iraq exhibit fluency in blurring online and offline violence and terrorism.

Whereas the extent to which communication technologies and innovations abet or facilitate new forms of terrorism will require further study, we have decades of research evidence indicating that the mass media shape the social reality we inhabit, including the way we perceive terrorism. Yet, in Arab societies, research on the relationship between media and terrorism has been lacking at best—despite the salience of terrorism and other forms of politically motivated violence in the region. This book addresses these lacunae and features a wide range of studies examining Arab media’s coverage of terrorism. The case studies investigate technological, political, sociological, and legal infrastructures influencing the ways Arab media make sense of terrorism events and international conflict.

The construction of terrorism is of course multifaceted and involves a diverse set of actors beyond media organizations. In this respect, the book underscores the importance of political leadership in de-escalating global conflict and curbing violent extremism. The case of the Christchurch attacks highlights the influence political leadership wields in countering terrorism and extremist radicals in these troubled times. By all accounts, Jacinda Ardern, the prime minister of New Zealand, responded to the most devastating terror assault in her country with compassion and firmness that eschewed the tired platitudes or warlike rhetoric leaders often resort to when facing such events. She consoled the communities affected by the tragic act:

Many of those who will have been directly affected by this shooting may be migrants to New Zealand; they may even be refugees here […]. They have chosen to make New Zealand their home, and it is their home. They are us. The person who has perpetuated this violence against us is not. They have no place in New Zealand. There is no place in New Zealand for such acts of extreme and unprecedented violence.4

Masha Gessen of The New Yorker described Ardern as the “mourner in Chief” and favorably contrasted her leadership style to the vengeful, militaristic rhetoric of ←xi | xii→George W. Bush in response to the 9/11 attacks. As Gessen explained, Ardern’s response to the Christchurch terror attacks avoided the usual rhetoric of “interpreting acts of terrorism as a declaration of war on an entire country; calling the attackers cowardly and asserting the country’s own courage; and promising to hunt down the terrorists.”5 Ardern’s sombre demeanor and adamant refusal to refer to the perpetrator by name suggest a different official response to terrorism, a path that could enlist all of us in marginalizing terrorists and denying them the limelight they seek.

The measured response Ardern displayed in the aftermath of the Christchurch attacks presents an alternative pathway to effectively grapple with terrorism: Terrorism transcends creed and ethnicity, and only by recognizing our common humanity will we succeed in marginalizing terrorists and curbing their threat of violence. The words of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in response to the Christchurch tragedy echoed these sentiments of resilience based on our common humanity and diversity to counter terrorism:

Far too often, Muslims suffer unimaginable loss and pain in the places where they should feel safest. Canada remembers too well the sorrow we felt when a senseless attack on the Centre culturel islamique de Québec in Ste-Foy claimed the lives of many innocent people gathered in prayer.

To move forward as a world, we need to recognize diversity as a source of strength, and not a threat. Last night’s victims were fathers, mothers, and children. They were neighbours, friends, and family members. As with every life taken too soon, the full measure of their loss will never be known.6

It might bear reiterating that terrorism has no religion, or that no religious group could be immune from warped ideologies that lead to violence. To blame terrorism on a whole group (e.g., Muslims and Arabs) or religion (e.g., Islam and Christianity) would be to take the easy way out. Terrorism is about bad news made worse when political leaders deploy warlike rhetoric in responding to terror attacks. They risk inflaming passions and escalating conflict.

The well-known saying “It takes a village …” speaks to the incredible sense of collaboration and community that made the research underlying this book possible.7 No study of this magnitude could be accomplished without the support of others, and I naturally owe words of thanks to many people. Special thanks to Tanner Mirrlees and Mohamed Benmoussa for reviewing different sections of the book. Their comments helped sharpen the book’s focus and overall argument. I want to thank Peter Stoett for his encouragement and his financial and moral support for the book project over the past two years. I have been very fortunate to ←xii | xiii→work with and learn from Langis Roy amidst this book project, and many thanks go to him for his patience and trust.


XIV, 184
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2020 (September)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2020. XIV, 184 pp., 14 b/w ill., 2 color ill., 1 tables.

Biographical notes

Aziz Douai (Author)

Aziz Douai (PhD, mass communications, Pennsylvania State University) is Associate Professor of Communication and Digital Media Studies at Ontario Tech University, Canada. His research investigates global media and international conflict. He is the co-editor of Mediated Identities and New Journalism in the Arab World: Mapping the "Arab Spring" (2016) and New Media Influence on Social and Political Change in Africa (2013).


Title: Arab Media and the Politics of Terrorism