Normalized hate

by Aaron Winter Aurelien Mondon (2017)

Image Copyright: Finsbury Park on June 19. Thomas Van Hulle / Twitter: @Thomasvanhulle

We cannot ignore the relationship between the media, government, political parties, and the UK’s rising tide of far-right violence.

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick and Prime Minister Theresa May were quick to call Darren Osborne’s June 19 attack in London an act of terrorism. Osborne allegedly shouted “I’m going to kill all Muslims” as he drove a van into the crowd leaving the Muslim Welfare Centre, killing Makram Ali and injuring ten others. May explained that the attack was “declared a terrorist incident within eight minutes” of the first emergency call, and Dick commented that “this was quite clearly an attack on Muslims.”Their statements came as a relief to some. For years, people have challenged the clear double standard applied to the word terrorism. While the media and officials quickly apply it to attacks perpetrated by those identified with or identifying as Muslims, restraint usually prevails in the wake of other violent crimes, particularly those with white perpetrators.

Moreover, politicians and the media often depict Muslim extremists as representatives of the Muslim community, which subjects Muslims to collective suspicion and requires them to apologize for crimes with which they had nothing to do. On the other hand, white perpetrators — including those who commit violence in the name of a race or nation — receive a wait-and-see approach, often based on the assessment of their individual psychological state and social status. As a result, they’re often depicted as mentally unstable or socially inept loners, and therefore not representative of their communities.

In Osborne’s case, however, there was a clear divide between government and media rhetoric. The police and prime minister identified him as a terrorist, but the Times described him as a “jobless ‘lone wolf’” with “mental health problems,” the Guardian called him “aggressive” and “strange,” and the Telegraph reported that he had “tried to kill himself and asked to be sectioned.”

As is common in the British media landscape, the Daily Mail went a step further. It depoliticized Osborne’s attack and even found a way to blame Islamist extremism. Its June 19 headline read:

White van driver injures at least 10 people after ploughing into crowd outside London’s Finsbury Park mosque where hate cleric Abu Hamza once preached as Muslims finish their evening prayers.

The Daily Mail did not identify Osborne with his horrific act, but with his vehicle. Meanwhile, it linked the victims to the location’s history, not to the fact Osborne targeted them. The article described Osborne as a “clean-shaven white man,” pointedly differentiating him from a racialized Muslim with a beard.

The newspaper has since apologized, not for associating the victims with terrorism but because it got its facts wrong: the attack occurred outside the Muslim Welfare Centre, not Finsbury Park Mosque, which had already addressed the issue of extremism. The Daily Mail presented its headline as an error, not a reflection of its ideology.

Unfortunately, the reaction to the Finsbury attack fits into a larger media and political landscape that not only excuses far-right violence but also normalize the rhetoric that fuels it. If we want to address the twin issues of terrorism and extremism, we must address the role that far-right politics play.

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