On Monday morning, a van ploughed down Muslim worshippers, as they were leaving a north London mosque after late night prayers. This was the latest in a string of attacks that has jolted the British capital in past four weeks. This sadly marks the fourth terror attack in the UK in four months, after attacks on Westminster Bridge, Manchester, and London Bridge.
At least one person died and more than ten people were injured in this latest attack. However, the right wing media was quick to display its bias. As the news of this attack emerged, newspapers such as the Daily Mail assured its readers that the driver of the van was a ‘clean shaven’ man and later blamed a radical cleric who used to preach at the mosque.
This victim blaming or ‘what goes around comes around’ narrative has only fuelled more tension. But more importantly, it reflects how Islamophobia is now a reality that even the conservative British Prime Minister had to acknowledge in her speech.
The fact that the Finsbury Park Mosque imam actually protected the driver from the wrath of the crowd only became clear later.
Finsbury Park Mosque has had a chequered history in the past. Granted, radical Egyptian cleric Abu Hamza used to preach there – but in 2014 the same mosque was awarded for its efforts in combating extremism.
The fact that media outlets only chose to focus on one aspect of the mosque’s history after an event in which Muslims were targeted has polarised the political discourse. Even the framing of the attack initially was problematic. There was a reluctant acceptance that this was an act of terror and this only happened when the authorities finally termed it as such. Media outlets quietly followed suit. Though in their initial reporting, media such as The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal called it an ‘incident’. This is in sharp contrast to attacks launched by Muslim extremists where news outlets jump to conclusions and start reminding us of the perils of ‘Islamic extremism’. The assailant, 47-year-old Darren Osborne, was not on the radar of security agencies before the attack.
Novelist JK Rowling, however, took the lead in calling out the double standard that the Western media rolls out at will. She tweeted: “The Mail has misspelled ‘terrorist’ as ‘white van driver’. Now let’s discuss how he was radicalised.” But there were many others, too, who criticised the way white extremists merit different treatment. A headline by The Times described the attacker as ‘jobless’ and a lone wolf’- the new standards to describe white supremacists in both the UK and the United States. Black activists worldwide pointed this out on social media and perhaps the best description was a tweet: ‘Muslim shooter = entire religion guilty/ Black shooter =entire race guilty/ White shooter = mentally troubled lone wolf’.
At the same time, the radicalisation of young Muslims in Western societies is an issue that the Muslim communities and states apparatuses have to deal with. Violent methods are reprehensible. Having said that the blatant hypocrisy of mainstream western media needs to be checked.
Islamophobia in Britain and elsewhere, some argue, is linked to Islamist violence. It is time to break this vicious cycle. The silver lining is that the social media with all its pitfalls is turning into an arena where falsehoods are being contested and alternative views are finding space.
Published in Daily Times, June 20, 2017: ‘Jobless’ white men can’t be terrorists (Daily Times)