Reaction to the Finsbury Park terrorist attack reveals the double standards of our media and government, says SABBY DHALU
EARLIER this week, Britain experienced its worst Islamophobic terrorist attack when a white van was deliberately driven into a crowd of Muslim worshippers leaving the Muslim Welfare House and Finsbury Park Mosque. Witnesses reported that Darren Osborne said: “I want to kill all Muslims,” as he carried out the attack.
Makram Ali died from multiple injuries following this attack. Ten people have been injured as a result, some are critically ill. Osborne has been arrested on suspicion of commission, preparation or instigation of terrorism, including murder and attempted murder.
Despite the seriousness of this attack, it revealed clear hypocrisy and double standards in the media compared to the treatment of Isis-linked terrorist attacks. Thus, just 24-hours after the Finsbury Park attack, the news headlines had already moved on to a different agenda — whereas after the previous three attacks news headlines were, quite rightly, still focused on them days afterwards.
Terrorism has no religion and is not unique to any particular community. There should be the exact same response to far-right Islamophobic violence and terrorist attacks as there is to Isis-related terrorism.
Instead there is a narrative that Isis-linked terrorist attacks are a consistent threat, but there is no such narrative applied to far-right racists and fascists, despite the wealth of evidence that such attacks are on the rise.
In Europe last year a French man was arrested for planning a string of terrorist attacks during the Euro 2016 football tournament and in 2011 Anders Breivik carried out a terrorist attack in Norway which killed 77 and injured 209 people.
In Britain, prior to the Finsbury Park attacks we had seen the murder of Jo Cox in 2015; the murder of an elderly Muslim man Mushin Ahmed in 2014 and the murder of Mohammed Saleem in 2013, whose murderer went on to bomb mosques in the West Midlands.
Yet when these attacks have occurred the possible influence of far-right or fascist groups is downplayed, with the media often reporting them as so-called “lone-wolf” attacks, thereby implying that organised extreme-right, racist organisations are exempt from any responsibility for this violence.
The police must investigate possible links between the Finsbury Park attack and far-right and fascist organisations and individuals such as former EDL leader Tommy Robinson and Britain First.
Robinson led a violent demonstration in Manchester on June 11 2017. Pigs’ heads — in order to offend and provoke Muslims — and glass bottles were thrown at anti-fascist demonstrators opposing Robinson’s thugs. Those on his demonstration went on to attack mosques in Manchester, intimidating worshippers.
This was simply an attempt to exploit the Manchester terrorist attack in May to build support for a violent, racist and Islamophobic hate movement in Britain.
Britain First is continuing to attack mosques. People on the group’s Facebook page described the Finsbury Park attacker as a “hero.”
The National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) confirmed that the number of far-right referrals to Prevent in England and Wales has increased by 74 per cent, from 323 cases in 2014-15 to 561 in 2015-16.
Islamophobic hate crimes have shot up following the Manchester and London Bridge attacks. In Manchester there was a 500 per cent increase in the week after the attack on the Arianna Grande concert. Police have recorded a spike in attacks after the London Bridge attack, although no precise data is available yet. Strong political leadership is needed to break this vicious cycle of hate.
Leadership is also needed in tackling problematic and outright racist media coverage.
Good Morning Britain would rightly not dream of inviting someone claiming to be an Isis supporter a day after the London Bridge, Manchester or Westminster terrorist attacks.
But the equivalent was deemed appropriate after the Finsbury Park attack when Robinson was invited on to comment. Racists and fascists want a platform to peddle hatred and the mainstream media should not give it to them.
Hours after the attack on Monday morning, the Daily Mail’s website published a misleading headline reading: “White van driver injures at least 10 people after ploughing into a crowd outside London’s Finsbury Park Mosque where hate cleric Abu Hamza once preached as Muslims finish their evening prayers.”
Abu Hamza was extradited to the US in 2012 and is currently serving two life sentences. As the Metropolitan Police confirmed earlier this week, Finsbury Park Mosque is well integrated in the local community, works hard to combat terrorism and has good relations with the police. Unfortunately this is not made clear in some of the tabloid press.
We need action against those who preach hate in the media. This was underlined by a report published by the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI), which singled out The Sun and Daily Mail and said reporting on immigration, terrorism and the refugee crisis was “contributing to creating an atmosphere of hostility and rejection.”
Theresa May’s speech in response to the London Bridge attacks conceded to racism because she wrongly implied that the Muslim community was tolerant of extremism and was segregating itself and linked this to terrorism.
There is no evidence linking terrorism with segregation. For example, the Westminster attacker was brought up by a non-Muslim, white mother in Tunbridge Wells and was the only black pupil at his school — so very much integrated in British society.
The Muslim community demonstrated its intolerance of Isis-inspired terrorism in its response to the recent attacks.
Muslims had reported the Manchester attacker five times to the police and Didsbury Mosque banned him. One of the London Bridge attackers was also reported to police and banned from Barking Mosque in east London. This attempt to help the authorities root out terrorism is the real face of Islam in Britain.
Countering terrorism is a hugely complex issue and is the responsibility of the intelligence and security services, not any one faith or community.
After four attacks in three months, the counter-terrorism strategy needs a serious rethink.
Any successful strategy must place anti-racism and challenging Islamophobia at the heart of it, which undermines the racist far-right and Isis extremists who seek to portray Britain as intolerant of Muslims.
• Sabby Dhalu is co-convener of Stand Up to Racism and joint secretary of Unite Against Fascism.