Thomas Mair was charged for the murder of the MP, Jo Cox. He told the court his name was “death to traitors, freedom for Britain”. Reports suggest that the perpetrator of the attack shouted “Britain first”.
A very troubling feature of this entire episode was the inconsistency in the approach of the police and media.
When an individual who happened to be Muslim committed a brutal stabbing outside Leytonstone Tube station in December last year and reportedly shouted “this is for Syria”, the Metropolitan Police publicly stated that it was being treated as a “terrorist incident”. Most papers reported this incident in a similar way, rushing to judgements and attacking the perpetrator.
In this very similar incident, where the person who has been charged is white and non-Muslim, the police acted with caution and did not publicly talk about any terrorism link. None of the media initially referred to the attack as terror-related, and many even went so far as to try and understand the perpetrator, reporting him as “helpful”, “polite”, a “loner”, with “a history of mental health problems” who did “voluntary work as a gardener” as part of headlines.
A careful approach and one that tries to really understand the perpetrator without rushing to pass judgement, and linking to a broader ideology without sufficient evidence – is one that is very justifiable.
But what is not justifiable, is why this approach is not used in very similar cases where Muslims are involved? Whilst the poor reporting of Muslims and Islam in the media is well known, with many issues highlighted in the landmark conference on the topic held by The Muslim News last year, the contrast in approach is so blatant here, that there really needs to be some soul searching within the media.
And the Government and politicians aren’t off the hook – there is a whole strategy in place to prevent so-called Islamist terrorism by tackling the “non violent extremism” and “ideology” that supposedly drives it.
Will there be a consistent approach for far right terrorism? Will the “white community” be told they have a “special duty” to tackle far-right terrorism? Will we see those who talk about a “swarm” of migrants, those who describe migrants as “cockroaches” and those who vow to target a Muslim politician with “direct action” where he “lives, works and prays” – be considered extremists as well with appropriate action taken against them? Will there be a strategy to tackle such “extremists”? Or will there be a careful approach that is based on evidence and research, which recognises the risk of simplistically linking ideologies with violence and which treats everyone equally?
It is not too much to ask that there is consistency in approach by the police and the media when it comes to all forms of terror. As equal citizens in this country, we demand better – and we deserve better.
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