One reason certain terrorist attacks, such as the recent one against Charlie Hebdo, get widespread, near-unanimous coverage while others, such as what has been occurring daily across Africa, are near-completely ignored is that certain attacks play well into the philosophical and political motivations of both “sides”.
The purpose of terrorist attacks within the borders of Western nations, such as suicide bombings, hijackings, or shootings, from the perspective of Al-Qaeda, is that, by executing them, they can reveal the inadequacies of the nation-state to defend its own people, and can do this doubly by being themselves non-state actors, making a real, visible, and powerful argument against the state’s claim to the monopoly of force. This is how the terrorist disrupts modernity, by striking at the foundation of the modern state: its monopolization of force and its ability to defend its people. The two tenets rely on each other: if the state cannot have the monopoly, it cannot completely defend its people; if the state cannot defend its own people, it cannot legitimately claim the monopoly.
Conversely, the corporate and government media of modern states are more than happy to feed the chaotic, panic-riddled fire that an attack has created, but not as an indictment of their own legitimacy, rather to gather for themselves more power through the rhetoric of defending their people from such attacks.
More so, when such an attack is made, not against a government or corporate institution, but against a secular or “liberal” one, both sides are again set to gain that much more in terms of propaganda. Al-Qaeda is able to say that no one is safe, because all are complicit, even cartoonists; while mass media is able to echo, “No one is safe!”, but does so dismissing all notions of the attack as a manifestation of its own government’s torture programs, occupations, or failures, claiming instead, in this instance validly, that the attacks are directed at enlightenment values. It is able to play the victim role more firmly in this regard, because what have enlightenment values ever done to harm anyone? They don’t deserve violence against them: an accepted idea among most Westerners. But what have nation-states done to deserve violence against them? Well… where do we start?
The nihilism of the terrorist, the way in which the terrorist attacks everything, and rejects modernity entirely, allows media to selectively choose which values are under attack, and which values it can then claim to be defending, as if any modern state actually gives a damn about free speech.