It’s not just the Far Right

Picture of Makram Ali, a 51-year-old South Asian man with a bald head and a white beard, wearing a pale blue shirt.Yesterday (Friday), Darren Osborne, who drove a van into a crowd of Muslims after a night-time prayer (taraweeh) last Ramadan and killed a 51-year-old worshipper, Makram Ali (right), who had collapsed prior to the attack and injured several others, was given a life sentence with a ‘tariff’ or minimum time to be served of 43 years for murder and attempted murder. Osborne was a drifter with a drink problem who had not worked for ten years and had a long history of criminal convictions, including for violence, and developed a hatred of Muslims after watching the BBC drama-documentary Three Girls, about the Rochdale grooming case (in which small groups of mostly Asian Muslim men enticed young girls, mostly white, and then raped them and allowed other men to do the same), and subsequently reading material from the Far Right, including the former EDL leader Stephen Yaxley-Lennon AKA Tommy Robinson, online. Politicians and the media have been laying a lot of emphasis on the role of the likes of Lennon in ‘radicalising’ Osborne and other violent racists, but are silent about their own role.

A trend I have noticed in the media in recent years is that the “Prevent strategy” which supposedly aims to prevent people (particularly the young) from being drawn into violent extremism genuinely focusses on extremism where white racism and Islamophobia is concerned, but focusses on normative Islamic practices and common attitudes where Muslims are concerned. With white racism it’s far-right propagandists such as “Tommy Robinson” and the EDL; with Muslims, “radicalisation” is associated with such things as hijaab or niqaab, separation of event audiences by gender and strong anti-Israel sentiment. For example, SOAS Spirit, the student paper at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London, reported that the Charity Commission had been investigating the Palestine and Islamic Societies at that university, the cause being hosting “a speaker that was deemed to hold extremist and anti-Israel views” and “holding a gender-segregated event”, the latter in particular quite legal but the subject of a manufactured controversy last year. A friend who had worked with Prevent (but has resigned) told me that counter-terrorism officers had repeatedly harassed local members of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and that most of the people appointed as Prevent co-ordinators in the West Midlands had been former police officers. It was, in other words, an attempt to “give a civilian face to a security infrastructure”.

Headlines and front pages in the Daily Express, Daily Mail and The Sun are a major contributor to fostering bigotry, but they are not the only problem. The mainstream media have routinely given a platform for fringe figures in the Muslim community to attack the Muslim community in general and ‘inform’ the general public that Muslims have negative views of non-Muslims; in the wake of the grooming case in Oxford in 2013, Taj Hargey appeared on BBC Radio 2’s Jeremy Vine show to tell the public that Muslims learned from their imams that white women were immodest and there for the taking; Vine suggested that there was a belief that “white women, and by extension the host society, are trash” and Hargey readily agreed with him. Vine told a guest from the NSPCC who disagreed with Hargey that the other guest was an imam, when in fact he is not; he is a fake leader without a flock who holds invalid “Friday prayers” as publicity stunts.

The media routinely sensationalise controversies involving Muslims and Islam, giving undue prominence to fringe elements, be they violent extremists or their sympathisers (e.g. al-Muhajiroun) or secularists (e.g. Sara Khan and others). The ‘segregation’ affair started when a group of men were miffed that they were rebuffed after invading the ladies’ section at an Islamic society event and ran to the press with it — nobody had previously complained. The media took the alleged demand of al-Muhajiroun in 2006 for “no-go areas” and ran with it, despite the fact that (i) al-Muhajiroun were tiny and (ii) they never demanded that anyway. Let’s not forget that the founding of the EDL happened after a tiny demonstration by al-Muhajiroun against the parade of the Royal Anglian Regiment in Luton in which about 20 or 30 members of that groupuscule held banners calling the soldiers “murderers” and the war in Iraq “illegal”. It was given huge coverage when it was just a provocation by a tiny faction which called other Muslim activists munafiqeen (hypocrites) and hijacked and disrupted their demonstrations. It was nothing the Muslims did that provoked the founding of the violent EDL; it was not even that demonstration, but the prominence it achieved in news outlets whose editors and owners knew the demo was tiny and made it front-page news anyway.

It’s not Lennon/Robinson, Nick Griffin or anyone else on the Far Right that is principally responsible for spreading the poison that leads to violent racism and Islamophobia. It’s not hate propaganda on social media. It never has been. The fascists and racists just pick up people who are already misinformed by the mainstream media, both the broadcast media and the Tory-associated commercial press, and play on their fears and anger. Neither the BNP nor the EDL would have almost any recruits if it were not for this flow of misinformation. If the authorities were serious about preventing right-wing radicalisation, it would tackle it at the source, which is not the EDL, Britain First or any other far-right micro-faction (including National Action which they made a great show of banning last year, and which I have seen Muslim ‘Preventwalas’ remind us of on Facebook recently) but the mainstream broadcast and print media.

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