Picture the following scenario – A nail bomb explodes outside a church on Easter Sunday. The bomb was clearly designed to cause destruction on a large scale, however the bomb had gone off an hour before worshippers were due to arrive and so thankfully, damage was limited. Within minutes the emergency services are on the scene, followed by forensic teams who try to gather clues as to who might have been behind such an attack. Media teams swarm around the site like a pack of wolves waiting to pounce on the breaking news story. It is not long before this dominates news channels, with live coverage being beamed across the country and social media virally propagating the news. A chief police constable later makes an announcement saying that they suspect a terrorist attack – but all lines of enquiry remain open. News commentators inevitably start speculating on the identity of the perpetrators. ‘Islamic Fundamentalists’, ‘Muslim Extremists’ and ‘Al-Qaeda’ are all terms being thrown about by so-called experts. The Prime Minister later addresses the nation as a show of strength, warning the attackers that the perpetrators will face the full force of the law. Meanwhile, Muslims are in utter shock and are dreading the possibility that this act could indeed have been committed by Muslims and as a community feel compelled to apologise for the actions of individuals.
A few days later, the images of the suspects are front page news on all the broadsheets and tabloids. Acquaintances of the suspects speak out in the media, shedding more light into the lives of these individuals and their motives for performing such an act. Muslim organisations throughout the country rush to condemn the act, fearing that their silence might be interpreted as tacit approval of these individuals. Imams and Muslim leaders are summoned by news stations and criticised for not doing enough to prevent such acts. They respond in a meek fashion, stuttering in their responses and eventually conceding that there is a problem which they need to address. Meanwhile, lay Muslims watch in frustration, lamenting at the lack of strong leadership within the Muslim community in Britain.
Thankfully, the above scenario is an imaginary one, but the narrative and subsequent public response is entirely plausible. Compare this to the response of a genuine terrorist attack that took place in Tipton on the first Friday during the month of Ramadan, which has many parallels to the one described. It is astounding that the British media has had an extremely subdued response to the attack, with events in Egypt receiving more attention than a terrorist attack on British soil. Politicians are yet to come out in condemnation of this act and the Prime Minister has remained remarkably silent. The deafening silence of Muslim Leaders and Imams is also noteworthy. Here is an opportunity to put pressure on policy makers on their lack of action on the rise of far right Islamophobia through engaging with the media, yet they remain silent.
What is perhaps even more disconcerting is that the public response to the Tipton incident isn’t an isolated one. A few weeks before the Tipton incident, a bomb plot took place at a mosque in Walsall. Again, this barely made headline news and there has been very little public condemnation. Furthermore, a suspect has since been identified and has been released on bail. Imagine the public uproar had a Muslim terror suspect been released on bail.
The fickle nature of the British media and their skewed reporting of the news is perhaps the dominant issue which angers British Muslims the most in the current climate. The manner in which the media have covered the mosque bomb plots (or should I say lack of it) highlights their underlying bias against the British Muslim community. At a time when questions continue to be raised about the isolation of Muslim communities from mainstream British society, the British media must understand that such biased reporting will only isolate communities further. Whilst facets of the media continue to grill leaders on tackling the issue of integration (and rightly so), the role the media itself plays in fostering community cohesion warrants far more scrutiny than is currently the case.
The effects of such biased reporting may indeed be profound. If the media continues to neglect these acts of terrorism against Muslims and other acts of violence inspired by Islamophobia, British Muslims will continue to feel that they are being marginalised and that crimes against them are not perceived to be of the same importance as crimes committed against other communities in Britain. In some instances it may affirm the idea within the minds of some Muslims that Britain is against the Muslim community thus driving many Muslims to feel even more victimised and alienated.