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Jewish World Review
March 31, 2004
/ 9 Nissan, 5764
Morphing of terrorist image
The free world may be under attack, but we continue to give evil men a "mystique"
When in 1778, John Paul Jones
attacked British ships, he was called a
pirate. Today, he would be considered a
Like so many modern-day terms, the
word "terrorist" is attributed far too
widely. From Yasser Arafat (winner of
the Nobel Peace Prize) to Osama bin
Laden and the D.C. snipers, it has been
predicated upon a variety of types.
It was more than 30 years ago in
1972 that the world witnessed one of
its first up-close televised human (if
you can call them that) incarnations.
The masked hostage-taker hovering on
the balcony of the Israeli athletes'
residence during the Munich Olympics is
etched in our collective conscience.
However, since then, the image of
the terrorist has morphed into a
postmodern outlaw. And with that
comes a mystique.
"Terrorist" once had a pejorative
meaning but has come to symbolize
something quite different, depending
on who is using it and who is being
labeled. From evildoer to freedom
While for Jones, the dastardly image
of a pirate was everything he was not
(he fancied himself quite a dandy), he
also knew the image would not have
served him well practically either. A
pirate was beneath him. Something to
be vilified. The anti-hero.
Today's, perception of a hero,
however, is a rocker who rebels against
the establishment. In our pop culture,
look at the deification of Kurt Cobain,
Sid Vicious and the lofty eminence
thrust onto Eminem.
All are the offspring of what
playwright John Osbourne in his
seminal stage creation "Look Back In
Anger" captured when he displayed the
mood of "the angry young man." Now
the anti-hero is the hero.
For those of you only familiar with a
different Osbourne (first name Ozzy), a
way to get a better picture of "the
angry young" man is to think (or rent)
Marlon Brando in his quintessential
anti-establishment role as Johnny,
leader of the Black Rebels motorcycle
gang in "The Wild One."
Politically, socially and economically, the anti-hero has
become the poster child for the left. And the image of the
rebel has been exploited to promote dissent. Dissent from
what? Well ... what have you? Free trade? Corporations?
Political use of the anti-hero image has served leaders of
the left well by twisting what Georg Hegel described as a
master/slave relationship and using it to win sympathy,
approval and, most of all, celebrity.
Take for example the fact that as much as many in Israel,
as well as this country, would like to plug a hole in Mr.
Arafat's kaffiyeh, we realize he would become a martyr the
second he was shot. He would then live on in infamy. Nothing
would serve him or his cause better. So his opponents hold
fire. Meanwhile, his celebrity persists, and he uses it to his
Mr. Arafat and others of that ilk understand this trick all
too well. They know that while everyone loves a winner,
everyone especially those on the left loves to root for an
The trick is to remain an underdog. For as long as you
remain an underdog, you'll always have a base of support to
Jones sailed during the 18th century and was a hero by
being true to himself. By the time the 19th came, Hegel
influenced Karl Marx. Twisting Hegel's philosophy, Marx
planted the very poisonous notion of a slave mentality into
the proletariat's mind and strategized the eventual revolution.
Those working-class heroes, many of whom were the
disaffected and susceptible angry young men, believed his lies
and turned to rebelling against authority.
What we see today is a chic glamorization of that rebellion.
The terrorist is the extreme incarnation of it an inversion of
the hero into the anti-hero. It's a role pop culture emulates
and that infects us today.
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JWR contributor Abe Novick is senior vice president for Eisner
Communications in Baltimore. Comment by clicking here.
© 2004, Abe Novick