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Questions on mainstream media response to Westminster attack

By Trevon Muhammad The Final Call | Last updated: Apr 5, 2017 - 11:21:43 AM

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Car had driven into a crowd of people outside Parliament, March 22. Photo: MGN Online

LONDON—Heralded as the most serious terrorist attack in London since the 7\7 bombings, which claimed 56 lives in July 2005, the recent Westminster incident which saw a 52-year-old man use his vehicle to mow down numerous civilians on Westminster bridge before killing a police officer has dominated headlines in recent days. 

Categorized by Prime Minister Theresa May and numerous media outlets as an attack on British values of “liberty, democracy and freedom of speech,” some critics have begun to question whether this is a fair assessment of what appears to be the deranged actions of a single individual. British-born Khalid Masood, 52, is accused of carrying out the March 22 attack. He was shot and killed by a police officer shortly after the attack. 

Speaking to the BBC, Simon Jenkins, a respected author and former editor of the Evening Standard and The Times newspapers, accused the broadcaster of giving too much publicity to an incident he believes is better described as a crime rather than a terrorist attack.

 “All over London people are doing crazier things with knives and cars and people are dying,” he explained.

While he was careful not to underplay the incident, Mr. Jenkins said media outlets were playing into terrorists hands by over reporting the incident due to the suspect being a self-professed Muslim. “In this case, probably some crazy guy for all I know, who’s gone mad, he’s done something really stupid, and he’s dead, it’s a crime,” he said.

“It’s quite different from ascribing it with this tremendous clutter of politics and Islam and religion. It’s quite wrong and it is a new phenomenon, not on the part of the terrorists— terrorism is just a method of getting publicity— we are the people who give them publicity, and we are giving it to them now.”

Numerous journalists and social commentators have shared similar views, some contrasting the classification of the incident as terrorism with the British Governments more moderate view of Irish Republican Army (IRA) during the ‘70s and ‘80s.

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Response teams aiding to the injured on Westminster Bridge, near Parliament in London, March 22. Photo: MGN Online

During this time period the group was responsible for numerous bombings, which resulted in upwards of 1,000 casualties, many of whom were civilians. In 1984, the IRA bombed the Grand Hotel in Brighton during the Conservative Party conference in 1984 targeting then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who survived.

Five others were killed; over 30 people were injured with many being maimed for life. Nonetheless many believe these IRA attacks did not often receive the same frenzied media coverage despite the more pronounced and persistent threat the IRA posed at the time.

There are growing fears that the characterisation of crimes committed by self-described Muslims, as terrorism will continue to fuel the rise of Islamophobia throughout the country.

Last year, Anti-Muslim hate monitoring group Tell MAMA reported a 326 percent increase in incidents in between 2014 and 2015, with Muslims being punched, kicked, spat on and insulted with Muslim women being particularly targeted during physical attacks.

Following the recent Westminster attack, a Muslim woman who was caught up in aftermath of attack, received a torrent of online abuse after a picture of her walking past one of the victims went viral on social media. The young woman who has not been named recently reached out to Tell MAMA to address her accusers directly;

“To those individuals who have interpreted and commented on what my thoughts were in that horrific and distressful moment, I would like to say not only have I been devastated by witnessing the aftermath of a shocking and numbing terror attack, I’ve also had to deal with the shock of finding my picture plastered all over social media by those who could not look beyond my attire, who draw conclusions based on hate and xenophobia.”

In the hours and days following the incident, numerous representatives of the UK’s Muslim community have spoken out against the crime branding it a “cowardly” act completely out of sync with the core principle of Islam, peace.

Meanwhile a crowdfunding effort launched by a Muslim man who was in Westminster at the time of the attack raised more than £22,000 ($27,322) in less than a day for victims and their families.

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