By Rachel Elgy: firstname.lastname@example.org
Darren Osborne’s sentence has brought online platforms into the spotlight: are they doing enough to prevent extremist material from radicalising vulnerable individuals? The answer appears to be no.
Social media can be an incredible force for good, but it can also be the darkest of places, filled with hatred and abuse. Extremists across the spectrum use this platform to recruit, to brainwash and to radicalise, and this certainly played a huge role in Darren Osborne’s journey.
However, we need to look a bit closer at what is also going on here. In amongst the radical views of far-right or ISIS-inspired extremists, there is a broader, overarching narrative that plays into the hands of both of these groups.
Anti-Muslim rhetoric is prevalent, across all forms of media, and at all levels of society; from world leaders, to TV hosts, to members of the public in the comments sections. Dangerous and negative stereotypes about Muslims are rife, and the over-riding picture painted can be deadly.
Muslim men are painted as terrorists, misogynists or sex criminals, and Muslim women are labelled “oppressed.” The Muslim community is under constant interrogation- about “integration,” about “British values,” about what Muslims should or shouldn’t wear. It’s incessant. Not all of it would be classified as hate material, but it all adds to the narrative.
This narrative has become so accepted that even when a journalist stated that “Muslims are a specific rather than a cultural problem” and asked readers “what will we do about The Muslim Problem…?” the journalist in question faced no consequence, and press regulators were satisfied that this is not a breach of press standards.
Now imagine the Darren Osbornes of the world reading that question… “what will we do?”
It’s a call to arms. It’s an almost direct quote from Nazi Germany, just persecuting people from a different religion. It’s dangerous, offensive, and has no place in a democratic society that claims to promote British Values of “mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs.”
Another crucial issue at play here is not just the presence of anti-Muslim narratives, but the absence of counter-narratives. Where are the articles and news stories to correct the false generalisations? Where is the context to avoid misunderstanding? Where is the platform for people to speak out against the constant barrage of prejudice?
Less than 0.5% of journalists in the UK are Muslim. Even then, Muslim journalists have come under fire, for simply being a Muslim and doing their job, as we saw with Kelvin MacKenzie’s column against Fatima Manji, who again press regulators failed to reprimand.
Here’s where the salt is rubbed into the wound. Muslim organisations, charities and individuals are speaking up. Nadiya Hussain has been consistently challenging Twitter trolls, and organisations such as Tell MAMA and the Muslim Women’s Council work hard to challenge misinformation, raise awareness, and share positive news about Muslims. However, the negative narrative serves to invalidate these responses, and invites further abuse and criticism.
The responsibility to challenge prejudice cannot, and should not, and must not be placed solely on the targets of discrimination. You may know Martin Niemöller’s poem, “First they came for the… and I did not speak up…” It argues that if you don’t speak up for others, then when someone comes for you there’ll be no-one left to help you. It makes sense and it sells the moral idea of standing up for others. However, personally, I find it to be ultimately a bit self-serving: help others so that they might help you.
I say help others because you know it’s the right thing to do. Speak out against discrimination, even if it doesn’t directly impact you, because it’s discrimination. Be an ally, not a silent witness. Question information and challenge those who spread lies and hatred, no matter how loudly they shout. Work towards a society that does not accept any form of hate speech and that holds people fairly to account when they are wrong.
Innocent people are always the victims of extremism, no matter where it comes from. A society divided by prejudice and fear only serves to support terrorists in their missions.
All media must take more responsibility: to eradicate hate material, to regulate against hate speech, and to contribute to fairer and more accurate narratives. And we all have a role to play- thinking critically about the information we’re shown, reporting things that are offensive, supporting victims of discrimination, and working to create a fairer, more truthful, and ultimately a happier story for all of us.
Feel inspired to make a change?
Rachel Elgy is leading a campaign aiming to challenge the decision made not to uphold complaints against Trevor Kavanagh’s “Muslim Problem” article. She is seeking a judicial review, hoping to work towards more effective regulation against hate speech in the press, and a fairer regulatory system.