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The dichotomy of reporting terrorism

Before I begin, let me first extend my most heartfelt condolences to the family of Jo Cox. She was an admirable woman who campaigned to end the suffering of children, and was very recently and up until her tragic and untimely death championing the human rights of the Syrian people who have suffered untold horrors at the hands of the Syrian regime and Daesh extremists. It is despicable that her life was snatched away by a white, hard-right terrorist. For that is exactly what Tommy Mair is – a white supremacist terrorist. He viciously killed one of our elected representatives, repeatedly shooting her even after she had fallen, and then proceeded to stab her again and again in a frenzied manner. My mind is drawn to the equally disgusting murder of Lee Rigby, who was slaughtered in public in an equally savage manner by Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale.

The difference between these two gruesome crimes? The press was ever so quick to link the two Michaels' warped mentalities and aberrant beliefs to that word to end all words in this modern age, "terrorism", and then to associate terrorism with Islam. I have yet to see a major news outlet describe Mair as the terrorist that he is. In fact, even in an article highlighting Mair's white supremacist leanings, the Independent focused more on the fact that he was a "loner" with mental and psychological issues.

Now, compare and contrast the same newspaper's coverage of Omar Mateen, the American armed to the teeth with automatic assault weapons who, unsurprisingly, managed to kill dozens of American citizens because he was deranged and allowed access to weapons. The Independent suggests that Mateen's trips to Saudi Arabia for the minor pilgrimage of Umrah was perhaps to blame for his violence. In fact, in a caption posted on their Facebook page, they even went so far as to claim that Mateen had "links to Saudi Arabia" suggesting a state-sponsored connection to terrorism.

This kind of crass journalism is not only unprofessional, but it is Islamophobic in nature and racist and demeaning to the 1.6 billion Muslims who, in all likelihood, will make serious attempts to visit Saudi Arabia at some point in their lives. I have been to Saudi Arabia for Hajj, and so have many of my Muslim brothers and sisters living around the world. Does that mean that we have some kind of subversive links to some sort of Saudi-sponsored extremism? The logic is flawed, blatantly discriminatory and serves only to demonise the entire global Muslim population.

The vast majority of victims of terrorism are Muslims, yet this glaring fact seems to evade the senses of most people thanks to the media. The reason for this is because the media reports "Western" suffering in a far more personalised way because acts of terror in the West are understandably closer to home. However understandable such reporting may be, it is not balanced by a clear picture of the Middle East which would that show that those who suffer the most from terrorism, whether by groups like Daesh or the bombing of civilians by developed nations (for it is one and the same), are themselves Muslims.

As a result of this dichotomy of reporting terrorism and suffering, and not enough efforts being made to humanise these victims, Western audiences have come to expect violence to be commonplace "over there" and that violence is invariably linked to Islam, no matter how tenuous such connections are.

For instance, it is not commonly known that the 9/11 hijackers would have been considered morally reprehensible by orthodox Muslims, and that is even before they murdered thousands of people. These so-called radical Islamic extremists were known to the FBI to have been in Las Vegas, the City of Sin, engaging in all manner of extremely sinful activity. Not only did they indulge themselves by ordering lap dances and gambling, but they were also monitored as drinking alcohol. Those of you who know practicing and pious Muslims will know that they frequently get into fits of exasperation when trying to make a determination over whether the chicken before them was slaughtered in a Halal fashion or not.

As such, and rather than linking people like Mateen to his religion and then extrapolating a false logic from that link by assuming that his trips to Saudi Arabia have anything to do with terrorism, would it not be more helpful for the media to realise that he, just like Mair, was a lonely, deranged individual? Would it not be more useful to look at the terrorist organisations as being alien to Islam, and encouraging Muslims to feel closer to the societies that have adopted them in the West rather than alienating them?

No one says that there are no problems in the Muslim community, and I myself have come across some very reprehensible individuals with warped mentalities. However, I and the Muslims around me in Britain and even beyond have always condemned such people, and challenged them wherever we find them and made it clear that we do not accept their violence and that they do not represent us. The sad thing is that, while hostile characters like Anjem Chaudhary are given a platform to allow him to represent Islam, Muslims who are not hateful are ignored and not given a voice.

Perhaps it is time that the mainstream media proved that they are balanced in their reporting, and for them to give normal British Muslims who are active in the fight against extremism the chance to set the record straight, and to challenge the established narrative that seeks to tarnish the reputation of Islam, a beautiful religion and way of life. Until the media changes tack, we Muslims will be constantly demonised and this will encourage violence against Muslims that will grimly remind Europe of the attitude it adopted to the Jews throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. No one wants to see that repeated ever again.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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