In the past two weeks, England experienced two significant attacks: the Manchester Arena bombing, which resulted in 23 deaths and over 100 people injured, and the London Bridge attack on Saturday night, resulting in another seven deaths and dozens more wounded.
Right on cue, President Donald Trump took to Twitter to criticize London Mayor Sadik Kahn, who responded to the attack there by telling his constituents that there was no reason to be alarmed. In his following series of tweets, Trump used the attack as an opportunity to promote his controversial travel ban as an “extra level of safety.”
As the Trump administration continues to damage its own credibility, the American public has come to take everything that is released from the White House with a large grain of salt. In light of this dynamic, there is a heightened responsibility for our news media to provide objective and sensible information. Their response to the recent attacks highlights their shortcomings in this sense.
It is astounding to watch the reporting of media like CNN, Fox News and MSNBC. Almost every news channel presents the same unnerving narrative: a chaotic crime scene with bright, disorienting lights and scared people, voiced over by a reporter speaking in a grave and borderline frantic tone. Alarming headlines constantly scroll along the bottom of the screen and, of course, Trump and his fear-mongering rhetoric receive huge amounts of airtime. Anyone watching these networks would be crazy not to be scared.
Even more damaging is how the American news media continues to attribute such terrorist attacks to “ISIS,” when foreign news media largely refers to the organization as “Daesh.” The acronym “ISIS” represents the “Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.” Using the terminology legitimizes the organization, associates Islamic faith with today’s most threatening terrorist group, and promotes widespread fear of a predominantly peaceful religious population.
The term Daesh on the other hand discludes the word “Islam” in English and depending on how it is conjugated, can mean to “crush or trample underfoot according to Arabic translator Alice Guthrie. For obvious reasons, this term is disliked by the terrorist group itself.
As tragic as these attacks are, it is more important than ever not to succumb to the fear that is generated by media outlets and public figures. Sensationalized reporting not only diminishes our collective cultural competence, but is likely to result in more attacks. By definition, a heightened sense of fear is indicative of successful terrorism. When the enemy succeeds, they only have more incentive to continue with this strategy.
Global leaders and citizens alike must think critically about how to strengthen our global security. This begins with responsible reporting and a collectively calm response.