Note to British Press: Fanning Islamophobic Flames isn’t Journalism

This week, Roshonara Choudhry was convicted of attempted murder for stabbing her local MP twice in the stomach during a constituency surgery. She has received a sentence of life imprisonment, to serve at least 15 years. The judge also informed her that, had her attack proved fatal, she would have received a Whole Life Tariff (the U.K. equivalent of life imprisonment without parole, something only 35 prisoners in the U.K. have been given).

Her attack was motivated by Timms’ vote in support of the Iraq War and she stated that her inspiration came from watching videos of Anwar Al Awlaki, a.k.a., this year’s Bin Laden. Previously, she had been a grade A student in the middle of her university studies, yet six months after listening to some bog standard wargasm rhetoric, she had dropped put of university and was planning her attack. From arrest to conviction she has remained certain that her action was the correct way of “fulfill(ing) my obligation, my Islamic duty.”

If this were a plot TV show, the sort where the detectives are very white and righteous and such, it’s fair to say that here at MMW, we would disparage it as far-fetched fear mongering. So, unsurprisingly, the case was front-page news, with stories falling into two categories

The first focused on the idea of internet indoctrination. The Telegraph describes Al Awlaki’s sermons as turning her into a fanatic, although a more telling comment is hidden as a neighbor describes her a normal girl, but “never seemed to have any friends around.” The verb “radicalized” is frequently used in regards to this case, with YouTube subsequently purging all videos featuring Al Awlaki.

The second category focuses on Choudhry’s courtroom supporters, men with little brains and loud voices declaring “Death to Britain” and also verbally abusing a hijab-wearing juror as “shameful.” To be fair, it is not unheard of for supporters of the defendant to shout obscenities following an unfavorable verdict and there were only two of the men in the courtroom and three more outside.

Not that this discouraged the Daily Express from having the front page headline: “Muslims Tell British: Go To Hell!” (H/T to Minority Thought) This is despite that the fact that there were only about 5 men involved in total (the U.K Muslim population is approximately 1.6 million) and that the article itself mentions that the U.K.’s largest Muslim organization, the Muslim Council of Britain, had issued an unreserved condemnation of the attack.

The article also fails to acknowledge that one of the people who helped to end the attack was a Muslim security guard, Faisal Butt. Also unmentioned are the Muslim constituents of the victim, Timms, who sent him get well wishes and letters following the attack. The Sun story, which takes a similar tack, doesn’t bother to mention any Muslim condemnations, although it does at least give Anila Baig, a Muslim Sun journalist a small side column to state that Islam does not support such actions.

By seeking to smear Muslims as a threat, even when so many have already spoken out against Choudhry’s act, the tabloid media are partaking in dog whistling opportunism at it’s most blatant.

Previously, I described Choudhry’s story as one that would seem unbelievable if it were to appear in a fictional work. Actually, it’s the sort of story I really wish wasn’t true, as it all too easily plays into the fetid nightmares peddled by Islamophobes: that all Muslims are only a hair’s breadth/internet video/other small distance away from becoming religiously motivated murderers.

That is why is it the sort of story that needs to be handled in a factual manner and that is why it is so disappointing when the media fails to do this.

Note: I do not wish to see any Whataboutery in the comments concerning Choudhry’s actions.

  • henna

    I am surprised there is no comment on this. Media is always looking for news, a shocking news which makes Headlines.

    Here in India when “Babri-Ayodha” land verdict was out, media was given due guidelines to be “Good Media”. Though screen media did rely to it but print media was sure to create some story, some news that is bad.

    For almost 2 weeks it was being written that there is no communal clash as if Media was dying for same.

    I hope more people read your article.

  • Lara A

    Salaam Alaikum,

    Thanks for your comment Henna, I kind of expected more comments too (hence the footnote), I guess this wasn’t a big story outside of the U.K ;)

    I agree with you that the media seems to revel in printing the missdeeds of Muslims, even if they have to make them up.

    This was very much a ‘lone wolf’ attack, yet the media were still happy to refer to Muslims as a plural.

  • Courtney Jolander

    Hey world,
    There was also a biased media act in Australia check it out:

    The media holds A LOT of power because they are the communication gap between people. If information is not true or is missing information thats a HUGE problem and that’s one of the biggest underlying issues that causes hatred among various cultural groups.

    Im a broadcast journalism major currently doing a story on Muslims and media, and I hope that my story will inform people what I know: Islam is not dangerous. yes, the extremists are dangerous but they do not represent the whole muslim community, they only represent a small portion.