GLOBAL ECONOMIC VIEWPOINT
MEDIA MURDERS, ISLAM AND THE IMAGE
Freimut Duve was the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Representative on Freedom of the Media from 1998-2004 and was a member of the German parliament for 18 years.
VIENNA ? Last week it happened again. Another hostage in Iraq, this time the British contractor Kenneth Bigley, was beheaded on camera.
As before, the perpetrators, who claim they are associated with Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's Monotheism and Jihad group, prepared for the murder by making themselves available to be filmed for the Internet and television.
They stand menacingly lined up behind their victims with rifles. Their faces are masked. The victims are blindfolded. As the camera rolls, they saw off the head with a knife. They know ? and this is how they've planned it ? that these pictures will go all over the world.
This staging of images makes one thing clear above all. The perpetrators have radically dissociated themselves from a core element of Islam: prohibition of the use of images, which are understood to be a sacred domain. Though they present themselves as religious believers, their use of the image makes them blasphemous stage managers.
The Iraq media murders are of a piece with September 11, which, in the minds of the murderers, was, above all, a media event staged to shock the world by killing 3,000 Americans and bringing down the World Trade Center towers right "in the heart of the beast," New York.
It was terror as propaganda, eliciting horror in most quarters, but cheers in others. Historically speaking, it was right up there as a turning point with the discovery of television and the moon landing.
Understandably, news organizations have reacted to the murder of journalists and others in Iraq by withdrawing their correspondents and moving them to neighboring countries.
But beyond this, all of us ? and, above all, the global American media ? should be clear about how we should deal with the events staged by the media murderers. After all, it was the Western media, no less than the hijacked aircraft, which were the tool of the September 11 terrorists; they could not have been successful without widespread coverage. With the help of America's leaders, the media inflated the image of Osama bin Laden into a world celebrity ? "evil" for us but "good" for millions of people in the Islamic world.
We all know how difficult such challenges are for members of the working press. They are supposed to, indeed have to, report. If possible, they are supposed to show everything. But, perhaps now, we've reached a stage in which the new horrors call for a new responsibility: We mustn't fall for the murderous tricks of the image-planning perpetrators. Without their images, they are left with only blood on their hands.
Without their images, they can no longer profane the sacred, something Islam knew long ago.
(c) 2004, Global Viewpoint