Nadia Shamas, Manchester
In this century we have seen and are more aware of acts of extremism than ever before. Extremism by definition, is the idea of ‘holding extreme political and religious values.’ In this year alone, the world has experienced 506 extremist attacks perpetrated by people who called themselves Muslim. However, my question is what about the extremist attacks that were brought on by those who were not Muslim? In no way is this supporting the self-proclaimed jihadists because they do not and are not portraying the morals and teachings of Islam. The religion of Islam teaches and promotes peace and states that there should be no compulsion in religion.
But it does raise the question that why is it that when people use the word ‘extremism’ the first words that crop up in the media are ‘Muslims’, ‘Jihadists’ or ‘Islam’? Why is it that we never hear discussions about non-Muslim terrorist groups such as the KKK (Ku Klux Klan), who have been responsible for burning not only churches and peoples’ property on American soil but also burning people? Why is it that a man such as Mark Conditt is not labelled a terrorist when he was related to an extreme Christian group and committed a suicide bomb attack in which he killed two innocent people and injured five? The answer is because of the role of media and what they do and don’t present to the public.
On Saturday 3rd June 2017, London was hit with a devastating terrorist attack that killed eight innocent people. Theresa May in her speech exclaimed, ‘enough is enough,’ further stating that it was social media platforms that had allowed extremists to ‘breed’ their wrong ideologies and plan so many attacks that had hit all around the world. Many agreed with the Prime Minister’s view. The media covered her speech as well as the terrorist attack. Although we are observing that many social media platforms such as, Facebook and Instagram are now much more rigorously tracking or removing content related to extremism, there is still a huge misunderstanding of extremism, its perpetrators and the role of the western media in how these two factors are portrayed. For example, Kimberly Powell, a professor of Communication and Women and Gender Studies, concluded in her study of U.S. media coverage on terrorism after 9/11, that terrorism was most effective at spreading when given widespread media coverage. Additionally, a recent study that was published in the daily newspaper Independent has shown how misleading the media can become when the topic of extremism arises.
Research conducted by Erin M. Kearns, an American assistant professor of criminology, and her colleagues, included looking at 89 specific terrorist attacks that had occurred during the years 2011 to 2015 in the United States (these were according to the GTD’s – Global Terrorism Database – definition of terrorism) and they found that out of those attacks, Muslims were responsible for 12.4% of atrocities. What they further found out was, out of the 89 attacks, 24 hadn’t received any media coverage, but the small percentage of 12.4% of Muslim perpetrators had received 44% news coverage. They also discovered that there were 192.8 articles out of 2,413 that were related to either Muslim or foreign-born perpetrators, compared to the 18.1 articles that had been written about the rest of the 88% terrorist attacks that weren’t to do with Muslim extremists. All in all, showing that, on average, Muslim extremist attacks tend to receive four and a half times more coverage within the media. The researchers of this study concluded, “In other words, whether intentional or not, US media outlets disproportionality emphasise the smaller number of terrorist attacks by Muslims, leading America to have an exaggerated sense of threat.”
Thus, we come to see that the western media plays a crucial role in how extremist attacks are usually portrayed to the larger audience who witness such atrocities. This not only highlights the sphere of influence the media has, but also calls to attention the responsibility of those who work in this field in depicting the actual truth of extremism, in whatever form it may manifest itself.
Certainly we see that the so-called ‘cherry-picking’ of stories related to extremism that only fit a certain agenda, against extremists claiming to be Muslim, is a grave injustice. Such misrepresentation of information can lead to the disastrous consequences of hate, prejudice and stereotype arising against the many of a particular group of people, due to the deplorable actions of the very few. Such injustices in the media only emphasise the need to educate people on not initially believing everything they read or see as the final truth.
Finally, this also stresses to those in the media that they must give a fair and just account of any matters they report on, not just extremism, because as best said in the words of revolutionary civil rights leader, Malcolm X: “The media’s the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that’s power. Because they control the minds of the masses.”