It says a lot about ‘terrorism fatigue’ that the latest atrocity – 14 dead in Barcelona to date – is something I’m struggling to write about without being overwhelmed by déjà-vu. Spain hasn’t experienced this kind of attack since the appalling Madrid bombings of 2004, but Blighty hadn’t undergone anything on the scale of 7/7 until Westminster, Manchester and London Bridge in our ‘Spring of Discontent’ earlier this year. By the time the third of these casual massacres came around, the media clichés were becoming familiar enough to induce the kind of reaction that dilutes the brutality of the slaughter and renders it almost on a par with all the other eye-rolling headlines that newspaper proprietors concoct to arrest falling sales figures.
The censorship of the gruesome reality is part of the game. There was an almighty storm on Twitter last night in which some thought it vital to show images from Barcelona whereas others regarded doing so as insulting to the people who lost their lives. Key to their recruitment policy, ISIS don’t spare the gory details in screening the aftermath of allied bombing raids on innocents abroad; seeing pictures that news outlets prefer not to show us has an impact that the Jihadi mindset responds to with a sense of vindication for their own retaliatory actions. What, one wonders, would the response in the west be were our broadcasters to practice a similarly uncompromising disregard for the editor’s scissors in the wake of another terrorist incident? Perhaps their very worry as to what response it might inspire is significant.
Whereas television news initially picked up the fearless baton from cinema newsreels and broadcasted the grim warts-and-all facts in vision from the 60s through to the 80s, recent trends have seen oversensitive censoring that leaves the reality to the viewers’ imaginations. Footage of Nazi death-camps may not have emerged until six years of conflict were already reaching their climax, but the horrific sight solidified hatred of the Germans for a generation and offered further justification for the Second World War, even if it was hardly still needed by 1945. Programmes this week marking the 70th anniversary of the partition of India have screened archive film of the bloodbaths in the wake of the British exit from the Subcontinent, yet it’s almost as though the grim images being in monochrome and from so long ago means they’re permissible in a historical context – akin to a false admission that this kind of brutality is something the civilised world left behind more than half-a-century ago.
Hearing of one more massacre on European soil and being denied the evidence transforms mass murder into an abstract concept and distances it further from the gut reaction images naturally provoke. When the world was shown the 1982 butchery at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Beirut, Israeli troops absolving themselves of responsibility led to impassioned demonstrations in Tel Aviv that spilled over into Israel’s parliament; merely hearing of what had happened probably wouldn’t have inspired the same level of outrage as seeing the images did.
But seeing the hideous truth of precisely what it is Jihadists are capable of would tarnish the fatuous script Theresa May recited with routine precision last night – the whole ‘standing with…’ speech, which has no doubt already been accompanied by complementary appropriation of the Barcelona FC badge as a makeshift profile picture on social media. The pat sentiment of this speech, echoed across Europe in the respective languages of all the other leaders who recycled it, says nothing about the issue and fails to address it because to address it would leave the harmonious Utopian narrative in tatters. Jeremy Corbyn’s dismissal of Sarah Champion for having the nerve to say a fact out loud is symptomatic of this brush-it-under-the-carpet and don’t-frighten-the-children attitude which is fine for an ostrich but won’t prevent another atrocity in another European city before the year is out.
Unrelated on the surface, though sharing the same spirit, are the increasingly fanatical demands by the Puritan militants to remove public monuments to long-dead American heroes whose philosophies are out of kilter with contemporary mores (no surprise when most have been deceased for over a century). Confederate generals are the current target, though one enlightened online idiot apparently advocated the blowing-up of Mount Rushmore yesterday. Considering the first handful of US Presidents were slave-owners and that the White House itself was built by slave labour – something Obama at least acknowledged with a refreshing absence of froth in his mouth – means any rewriting of American history on this level will require the removal of a good deal more than a statue of Robert E Lee from the landscape.
The Taliban or ISIS destroying ancient antiquities and Islamic iconography that they find offensive or insulting to their twisted take on the faith is no different from what is being allowed to take place in America at the moment; to condemn one and condone the other is hypocrisy of the highest order. These are not the symbolic gestures of revolutionary rebellions emanating from a subjugated populace breaking the chains of totalitarian bondage, but the product of those indoctrinated in the ideology of fanaticism. Whether on an American campus, in a Middle Eastern Jihadi training camp, or inside English churches under the reign of Edward VI, it matters not; the motivation is the same, and it is this unswerving tunnel vision that drives the greatest threats to freedom of thought, speech and living we are confronted by in 2017.
© The Editor