Let’s charitably, for the moment, call it a Western-centric view. But one thing is unmistakable: the Western mainstream news media have a reprehensible double standard when it comes to their coverage of terrorist attacks against Russia compared with incidents in Western countries.
This week saw a hostage siege in Sydney, Australia, which ended after police commandos shot their way into a coffee shop, killing two people. One of the dead was an armed self-styled jihadist who hours earlier had taken several customers and staff hostage. The hostage taker, a 49-year-old Australian citizen reportedly of Middle Eastern origin, appeared to be motivated by a self-declared affiliation with the ISIS terror network in Iraq and Syria. During the 17-hour standoff, the attacker reportedly demanded that an ISIS flag be supplied by the police to the besieged coffee shop, presumably so that he could display it through the windows of the premises to gawping media outlets.
All indications are that the deceased man, named as Man Haron Monis, was a deranged individual. He was known to have had a history of violence and sexual offences. He is also reported to have had outspoken strong political views, which he expressed on social media. Those views included condemning Western governments over their military interventions in the Middle East.
The Sydney hostage taker was clearly motivated at a personal level by Islamist extremism. But there is no indication whatsoever that he acted in any organisational way with ISIS when he embarked on his siege of the coffee shop in the downtown business area of Sydney. During the standoff, and in the deadly aftermath, the ISIS organisation made no mention of the incident through its normally busy media-savvy messages. The attacker therefore seems to have acted out of individual initiative. It is even debatable whether the hostage incident could be described as a «terrorist act». More appropriate would be to refer to it as a criminal offence carried out by an unstable individual that hitched a litany of personal grievances to the ISIS cause.
However, that did not stop Western news media and Western governments going into overdrive in their reaction to the siege. There were swift statements of «solidarity» and «prayers» from the US, British and Canadian governments sent to Australian premier Tony Abbott; while the Western news media, including CNN and the BBC, gave minute-by-minute coverage throughout the entire day of the hostage situation in Sydney. Various anti-terror pundits were wheeled out to give their views on possible ISIS connections – even though it was clear from an early stage that the siege was more likely a tragic case of a deranged individual who had gone off the rails. A local Australian story of crime was thus elevated into a global story of «terrorism».
Now contrast this media frenzy with the downbeat Western reaction to an actual terrorist attack less than two weeks ago in the Russian republic of Chechnya. On December 4, 19 people were killed in the city of Grozny when a heavily armed team of Islamist extremists went on the rampage and set a multi-storey media centre ablaze. Ten police officers were killed during a ferocious six-hour gun battle that ended when nine of the attackers were eventually neutralised. There is hard evidence that the assailants were part of the Islamist network belonging to the self-declared South Caucasus emirate of Doku Umarov. This network is officially affiliated with ISIS and other Al Qaeda-type terror groups. Many of the militants from the Russian Caucasus region are known to have travelled to wage jihad in Iraq and Syria.
In other words, Russia actually did incur a serious, organised terror attack on December 4 carried out by a group that is ideologically and logistically integrated with the Al Qaeda-linked ISIS organisation, which the Western governments have mounted an international military coalition to carry out air strikes against. That US-led coalition includes Australia, which in recent months has sent fighter jets and up to 600 troops to join in air strikes against ISIS militants in Iraq and presumably Syria as well.
Yet, in stark contrast to this week’s coffee shop incident in Sydney, the Western media and governments gave relatively scant coverage to the altogether more disturbing attack in Grozny. The former incident was given global importance, whereas the Russian terror assault, with its much more fatal and significant implications, was afforded comparatively minimal Western attention.
The anomalous Western media focus cannot be explained away simply as a random editorial oversight. Over the past year alone Russia has witnessed a spate of truly alarming terrorist attacks that have resulted in at least 60 violent deaths, including the Grozy firefight earlier this month.
On December 29 in 2013, a double suicide bombing in the southern city of Volgograd killed 34 people when the central train station was attacked, as well as a bus packed with commuters. Two months before that, another suicide bombing, also in Volgograd, killed another seven people. Both attacks were carried out by ISIS-affiliated militants based in the Southern Caucasus region. Several other deadly terror assaults on Russian territory have been carried out by the same network in recent years.
Granted, the Volgograd carnage was condemned by Western governments, as well as the then NATO secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen. There was of course Western media coverage. But, objectively speaking, Western government response and media coverage were minimal in comparison with this week’s hostage siege in Sydney.
The same disproportionate Western focus has been observed over other incidents. When two disturbed individuals killed a pair of Canadian soldiers separately in Quebec and Ottawa on October 24 this year there was similar outpouring of Western reaction as in Sydney. Again, the Canadian incidents may have been carried out by individuals professing a personal Islamic affiliation. But it is doubtful that the attacks could be ascribed to «international terrorism». As in Sydney, the Canadian attacks were more accurately the criminal behaviour of sociopathic individuals who may have been motivated by a delusional sense of «jihad». That didn’t stop the government of Stephen Harper and other Western governments from over-reacting as if Canada was experiencing an act of war.
It is true that the ISIS network has issued a fatwa calling for terror attacks on Western countries. Days after Australia’s Tony Abbot announced that his country was sending military to join the US-led bombing coalition in mid-September, a spokesman for ISIS, Abu Muhammad al Adnani, released a video in which he urged would-be supporters to carry out terror attacks against Australia, France, the US and other members of the anti-ISIS coalition.
Whether the Sydney hostage taker or the Canadian attackers were responding in their own personal, deluded way to that ISIS fatwa is not known. But certainly it is safe to say that they were not acting as part of an internationally organised terrorist jihad. Their behaviour is more fittingly that of cranks who carried out criminal acts under the delusion of being would-be terrorists.
Russia, on the other hand, is contending with a real, concerted terrorist campaign by a network that is integrated with ISIS. Dozens of Russian deaths over the past year are bitter testimony to that reality. But the lopsided, distorted Western focus betrays a lack of concern or acknowledgement of Russia’s challenge from terrorism.
This evident double standard is not just a failing due to a Western-centric media myopia. It reflects an insidious Western bias that relegates the real concerns of Russia to a lower order. It reflects an unconscionable Western moral duplicity and hierarchy of «worthy victims». Minor deadly incidents in Western countries are blown out of all proportion compared with actual massive acts of terrorism against Russia.
This double standard stems from the political agenda set by Western governments in which Russia is being demonised and sanctioned over spurious claims of aggression in Ukraine. US President Barack Obama has addressed the United Nations and other international fora with a contemptible assertion that brackets alleged Russian aggression alongside the threat of international terrorism. So when international terrorism does actually afflict Russia that outcome does not fit with the Western anti-Russia narrative. In that case, Western governments and their dutiful media are obliged to ignore, or at least play down.
But this is not some kind of befuddled Western double standard over terrorism against Russia compared with relatively minor incidents in the West; it is rank moral duplicity impelled by Western political motives against Russia. Lack of Western outrage over actual terrorism against Russian citizens is the flip side of Western political hostility towards Russia. Both are deplorable and indicative of base Western standards.