As a British, Muslim woman and journalist I have called on the media countless times to hold some form of accountability in the way they represent Muslims and Islam. Frustratingly, all those calls for the press to stop fuelling anti-Muslim hate appear to have gone unheard.
The double standards in the way the media reports on issues relating to terrorism and Islam is beyond my comprehension. The terrorist attack in New Zealand, which left 50 people dead and others injured, is a prime example of when the British media decides to focus more of their attention on humanising the terrorist instead of showing the faces of all those victims that have been killed. The Daily Mirror’s front page headline after the attack was, “Angelic boy who grew into an evil far-right mass killer” and also aired several minutes of the attack in an edited version online including showing the terrorist shooting at civilians on the street. The Daily Mail allowed readers to download the terrorists 74-page manifesto just hours after the massacre and defied requests from New Zealand police not to share the terrorist’s footage.
The question is, if the terrorist had been a Muslim or a person of colour or from a minority group, would the British press humanise them? Would they give a terrorist backstory into their life so much attention, or would they quite rightly focus on all the lives that have been lost? Frustratingly, the answer doesn’t need to be spelled out. There are double standards that have been present in the media for years and politicians and those in power are also to blame for the rise in anti-Muslim hate around the world. We know the template, when a terrorist is white they may have carried out an attack due to “mental health issues” or are described as being a “lone wolf”, as was the case when a man ploughed into a group of worshippers outside the Finsbury Park Mosque in 2017. However, when the perpetrator is allegedly supporting Daesh we hear nothing at all about them or their story into becoming radicalised.
The representations of Muslims in the media hold many stereotypes and tropes, which I believe can only further fuel anti-Muslim hate. There are countless dramas and Hollywood movies that continually represent Muslims as the other or as being complicit in terrorism and this is far from the truth.
Words have an impact, they have influence, especially when many of these far-right fanatics take inspiration from what they see and hear in the media. When more and more lives are being lost and when religious intolerance is at its highest, when misconceptions of Muslims are being perpetuated, when representations that do not represent the faith I stand for are being splashed across our screens, it’s time we say enough is enough.
We need legislative measures that ensure that any form of hateful rhetoric that is pushed by the media or those in power that may lead to inciting hatred is reprimanded by the law. Better interfaith understanding is paramount as many people who have friends who are Muslims understand that Islam is a peaceful religion and that by getting to know one another better we can create better interfaith relations with one another. It is time now for the media to reflect, for those who have the authority to do something about Islamophobia and anti Muslim rhetoric in the media to take a stand. I for one would support new measures but only a new law would pave the way for real change.