How The British Media Helps Radicalize People Against Islam

“Every time a newspaper prints a negative story about Muslims, ISIS leaders will be rubbing their hands in glee,” says academic Dr. Paul Baker.

“I’m going to kill all Muslims.” 

That’s what a white man said after he plowed a rented van into Muslim worshipers leaving the Finsbury Park Mosque in north London early Monday, police allege. One man died and 11 people were injured in the incident.

The next day The Times, a major British newspaper, splashed a picture of the suspect, 47-year-old named Darren Osborne, across its front page, below a sympathetic headline describing him as a “jobless ‘lone wolf.’” The accompanying subheading described him as a “father of four” with “mental health problems.”

Other leading British newspapers also came under fire for their treatment of the story.

The sympathetic media coverage of Osborne’s arrest is in contrast to headlines about incidents in the United Kingdom where the suspects have been Muslim.

Moreover, a notable absence from this week’s headlines on the London mosque attack is the issue of radicalization, something author J.K. Rowling pointed out in a tweet Monday.

That’s perhaps because there’s mounting evidence that the media itself plays a part in radicalizing non-Muslims to commit Islamophobic attacks. 

A string of academic studies in the U.K. have documented the wanton fear-mongering in the British media about Muslims over the past decade. And this fear-mongering, experts say, can have real and dangerous consequences.

Here’s a sampling of some of the inflammatory headlines that have graced the pages of U.K. newspapers ― particularly the right-wing tabloids ― over the years:

“BBC PUT MUSLIMS BEFORE YOU!” ― The Daily Star, Oct. 18, 2006.  

“MUSLIMS TELL BRITISH: GO TO HELL!” ― Daily Express on Nov. 4, 2010. 

“MUSLIM SCHOOLS BAN OUR CULTURE”  ― Daily Express, Feb. 20, 2009.

And the accompanying stories sometimes contain outright fabrications.

In 2015, the Daily Express published an article claiming that half of Britain’s 3 million Muslims support the Islamic State. It based its claim on a deeply dubious poll, and the Express was eventually forced to delete the article.

That same year, The Sun ran the headline ‘1 in 5 Brit Muslims’ sympathy for jihadis’ on its front page. The paper was later forced to admit that the article was “significantly misleading”― though it published its correction in much smaller print on page two.

Dr. Paul Baker, author of the book Discourse Analysis and Media Attitudes: The Representation of Islam in the British Press, told HuffPost that such coverage can ensnare British society in a vicious cycle.

“Sadly, the attack aimed at Muslims at Finsbury Park is exactly what extremist violent groups like ISIS are wanting to happen ― they want to ignite a global war and force people to pick sides,” said Baker, who is a professor at Lancaster University.

“Every time a newspaper prints a negative story about Muslims, ISIS leaders will be rubbing their hands in glee ― so these journalists are inadvertently helping them,” he said. “Hate breeds more hate.”

A woman looks at messages at the base of a wall near the scene of an attack next to Finsbury Park Mosque in north London on T
A woman looks at messages at the base of a wall near the scene of an attack next to Finsbury Park Mosque in north London on Tuesday.

In fact, a 2010 study from the University of Exeter’s European Muslim Research Center shows that anti-Muslim media coverage had led directly to a rise in anti-Muslim hate crimes in London. 

“The report provides prima facie and empirical evidence to demonstrate that assailants of Muslims are invariably motivated by a negative view of Muslims they have acquired from either mainstream or extremist nationalist reports or commentaries in the media,” the study findings say.

When Brits see stories about Muslims on their newspaper front pages, they’re likely to see words like “radical,” “fanatical,” “fundamentalist,” “extremist,” and “militant” in all caps or boldface.  

Those are the five adjectives a University of Cardiff School of Journalism report said were most used to describe Muslims in the British print media, according to an analysis of articles from 2000 to 2008.

Of the stories analyzed, 34 percent specifically linked Muslims to the threat of terrorism, 26 percent suggested Islam is a dangerous or backward religion, 14 percent pushed a clash-of-civilizations narrative between Islam and the West, and 9 percent depicted the religion as a threat to the British way of life.

All told, only 17 percent of the stories talked about Islam neutrally or positively as part of a multicultural British society.

“This kind of coverage, this one-dimensional coverage, almost gives people permission to hate."

Researchers at Lancaster University analyzed 200,000 articles about Islam and Muslims from 1998 to 2009. They found that “for every one moderate Muslim mentioned, 21 examples of extremist Muslims are mentioned in the British press.”

And in 2011, academics at the University of Leeds conducted a three-month analysis of four British papers ― the Guardian, The Independent, the Daily Mail, and The Sun ― and found that 70 percent of articles about Muslims were “hostile” in nature.

“This kind of coverage, this one-dimensional coverage, almost gives people permission to hate,” Dr. Waqas Tufail, a senior lecturer in criminology at Leeds Beckett University, told HuffPost.

The attack at the Finsbury Park mosque “didn’t happen in a vacuum,” he said.

It happened, Tufail said, in the context of “long-term Islamophobia” in the U.K., where there is a “culture of anti-Muslim bigotry in much of the press” and in the rhetoric and actions of the government.

This week’s attack at the London mosque is the latest evidence of a vicious cycle of hate in UK. Anti-Muslim hate incidents rose 530 percent in the week following the deadly May attack at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, according to Tell MAMA (Measuring Anti-Muslim Attacks), when compared to the week before.

And Islamophobic attacks increased fivefold after the London terror attack in June, according to the Mayor of London’s office.

Meanwhile, Osborne is in jail facing charges related to terrorism.



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