Saturday, July 02 2016

New Statesman on putting 'mainstream Islamophobia' on trial

The New Statesman cover story last week focused on the trial of Anders Behring Breivik and the shocking fact of his anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant attitude finding popular resonance.

The cover page of the NS suggests that “it’s time to put mainstream Islamophobia on trial” and Peter Wilby in his weekly column explores some of the misrepresentations, distortions and outright lies peddled by the mainstream media in stories on Islam and Muslims.

Wilby begins by recounting the wholly misleading, ‘Cafe owner ordered to remove extractor fan in case smell of frying bacon offends passing Muslims’ story, which was published in the Daily Mail in October 2010. The complainant was a British non-Muslim, whose daughter’s health was affected by the extractor fan, and who allegedly had Muslim and non-Muslim friends who avoided his house because of the smell. The only Muslim mentioned in the story was the café-owner’s Turkish-Muslim husband (the story was shockingly cleared by the PCC).

Wilby continues:

“This is just one example of how British newspapers use every opportunity to highlight how Muslims, abetted by “politically correct” politicians and bureaucrats, allegedly undermine our way of life. “They” want to ban Christmas, force our children to eat halal meat and make us all submit to sharia law…Nearly all these stories are, if not downright false, grossly inflated or distorted. Studies suggest more than two-thirds of British press stories about Muslims portray them as a threat to British values.

“Though Anders Breivik, the Norwegian mass murderer, quoted British newspapers and magazines during his trial in Oslo, we should not accuse them of inspiring him. Yet the similarities between his mindset and theirs are striking. Both see Islam as an existential threat and argue that establishment “liberals”, through their zeal for multiculturalism, are as culpable as Muslims themselves, if not more so. Since guilt by association is no guilt at all, we should leave it there, observing only that editors and journalists should mind both their language and their facts”

Wilby’s comments are reiterated in the issue’s editorial:

“It is convenient for some to dismiss Breivik’s views as the ramblings of a mad narcissist and a psychopath. But strip away his more outlandish rhetoric and there is little to separate them from those frequently expressed on the pages of the conservative press. It was Breivik’s actions, rather than his beliefs, that distinguished him from other right-wing ideologues. His tropes of choice – the rise of “Eurabia”, the insidious influence of “cultural Marxism” – will be familiar to anyone who has read the work of Melanie Phillips or Mark Steyn, two of the writers cited in Breivik’s manifesto. The neoconservative author Norman Podhoretz titled his work on “Eurabia” World War IV. Breivik merely pursued such ideas to their extreme conclusion. As Voltaire wrote, “those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities”.

“Even now, supposedly mainstream figures encourage the beliefs that animate fanatics such as Breivik. In France, fighting for re-election as president, Nicolas Sarkozy has run a shamelessly demagogic campaign, indulging anxieties over immigration and the influence of Islam in a desperate attempt to win over the supporters of the National Front’s Marine Le Pen. He has argued that there are “too many foreigners” in France and has vowed to ban halal meat from state schools. In Britain, much of the mainstream press continues to treat Muslims as an alien force, fuelling Islamophobia through misinformation and distortion. So long as this remains the case, the rhetoric of those same publications that express horror at Breivik’s behaviour – his fascist salute, his absence of regret – will be seized on by more of his kind.”

The message of the article and the editorial is a fervent reminder of the need to tackle head on the issue of mainstream Islamophobia both in Britain and Europe.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 22 May 2012 22:20

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