When islamist groups commit terrorist attacks, try to take control of governments or threaten western democracies, one myth is always present: The myth of doing something heroic. The myth of killing in the name of god. The myth of the “holy war”. Right now, this is the case in the northwest of the African continent: the French army is fighting islamistic rebel groups in Mali, who declared jihad – the “holy war” – on the West and tried to take control of the country. And another islamistic group attacked a gas field in Algeria, killing at least 80 people. Innocent workers, taken hostage and then killed in the name of god.
Western countries should start to treat these self-declared heroes with a more realistic approach, GES-experts suggest. Many terrorists do not commit acts of violence because of the serious intention of altering political realities but rather to satisfy their personal need for glory, valor or adventure. The public image of figures like Osama bin Laden as hero contributes significantly to the desire of men to perpetrate acts of terrorism. These heroes are extremely important for the recruitment and funding of terrorism.
Therefore, governments and the media should grant key figures in terrorism as little public attention as possible. For example, there should be no direct government reaction to a speech or a message by leaders of terrorist organizations. These people should be treated as what they are: ordinary criminals and leaders of criminal groups who do not deserve the attention of heads of state but only of crime investigators, say GES-experts. By educating the diplomatic arm and also the media, this measure would undermine, even if just slowly, the star character of Bin Laden and others and diminish their ability to become and remain stars of the different movements.
Both the governments and media play a crucial role in achieving this. Simultaneously, the atrocities of terrorist organizations should be displayed unsparingly and with all its consequences for the individual victims. In addition, the incompatibility of terrorist violence with religious teachings should be highlighted frequently.