Naming Terrorists Does Nothing But Perpetuate a Dangerous Culture
In a culture that fetishizes the pursuit of fame, it’s ever more important that lawmakers, media outlets and members of the public adopt the response of the New Zealand Prime Minister in the face of hate.
"He sought many things from his act of terror, but one was notoriety - that is why you will never hear me mention his name." - Jacinda Ardern
Acts of terror are committed and inspired by a plurality of reasons; be they religious extremism, ethno-nationalism, social conditions and many others. The causes of these destructive acts are numerous and, in each case, different. What is obvious is at least some terrorists are motivated in part by fame. The New Zealand attacker was no exception. The perpetrator broadcast themselves across Facebook to thousands as they slaughtered innocent Muslims whilst attempting to spread their ideology.
Mainstream media organisations from Sky News to the BBC repeat not only the name of terrorists but also their biography and ideology*. Reports seek only to categorise the person as an ‘ist’ be that an ‘Islamist’, ‘fascist’, ‘socialist’ and then name them. This quenches the public urge for a name and a face to the crime as well as helps build a narrative that can sell stories or support an existing ideology. Thereafter, the public ‘have their man’ and the few days of outrage can ensue before the media cycle moves on with the Brexit shambles.
This constant media cycle is not only destructive and counterproductive, it is fundamentally counterintuitive to a respectful political discourse. The issues of violent terror and crime are not debated whilst the victims of the crimes are secondary to the circus and often forgotten. Ask yourself, how many mass murderers and terrorists can you recall? Then, compare that to the number of victims and heroes you could name. This point is indentured by the spate of new documentaries and films surrounding the most heinous crimes and their perpetrators. Zac Efron is set to sexualise and idealise one of America’s most infamous serial killers regardless of how the character is portrayed. No doubt there’ll be some very odd ‘thirst posts’ about ‘creepy Zac’. We have fetishized and given in to this cycle and we are drawn further away from what matters.
Perhaps we could learn from football. When someone streaks on a football pitch, this display of public indecency is often followed by the commentator remarking “what an idiot”. The casual nudist is banned from the stadium and the camera is never on them as they are starved of attention they so crave. If a streaker deserves no fame for interrupting the game, the names of terrorists and mass murderers have no place in society.
*In some cases, the ideology of the terrorist mat need to be referenced if a nuanced critique of said ideology is underlined as a cause of the attack or conducted in nuanced debate. This is rarely the case