The UK should take strong measures to protect Muslims from criticism in the press, including downplaying or erasing the Muslim identities of known terrorists, according to a new report by the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI). The ECRI is the human rights organization affiliated with the Council of Europe, a 47-country independent body.
The 84-page report was released on October 4 and analyzed the state of racial equality in post-Brexit Britain, noting an increase in anti-foreigner sentiment in general and anti-Muslim bigotry in particular. The report concludes with 23 recommendations, most of which fall outside the scope of radical Islam and will therefore not be addressed in this piece. It did praise many positive aspects of Britain’s treatment of racial issues.
You can read the full report here.
“ECRI considers that, in light of the fact that Muslims are increasingly under the spotlight as a result of recent ISIS-related terrorist acts around the world, fuelling prejudice against Muslims shows a reckless disregard, not only for the dignity of the great majority of Muslims in the United Kingdom, but also for their safety.”
It is first important to note that however many terrorist attacks take place, bigotry against Muslims in general is never an appropriate reaction. It is certainly more helpful for the press to correctly identify the Islamists, those Muslims who wish to impose their interpretation of Islam over others in society, as distinct from the broader Muslim community.
The report continues:
“In this context, it draws attention to a recent study by Teeside University suggesting that where the media stress the Muslim background of perpetrators of terrorist acts, and devote significant coverage to it, the violent backlash against Muslims is likely to be greater than in cases where the perpetrators’ motivation is downplayed or rejected in favour of alternative explanations.”
In other words, in the wake of a terrorist attack the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance feels it is more important to willfully mislead the public about the motivations behind an attack in order to protect Muslims than it is to protect British citizens against terrorism by being honest about the problem.
The report utterly fails to acknowledge the deep and lasting damage done by such an attitude in the very recent past. Consider this example.
“According to a study by Faith Matters,” the report writes “based on comments taken from Britain First’s Facebook posts on 26 August 2014, the day the Rotherham scandal was first published in the press, derogatory discourse denigrated the Muslim community as a whole, painting all Muslims as rapists and paedophiles by nature.”
Obviously calling to kill all Muslims or saying they are all rapists is deeply offensive bigotry that should be opposed regardless of the context. What the report fails to mention is the Rotherham scandal was only a scandal to the extent that it was because of the efforts by police and council officials who knowingly allowed young girls to be raped by Muslim gangs rather than speak out, because of fear of being branded as racist.
In Rotherham 1,400 girls were systematically raped and abused by gangs of Pakistani Muslim men over a period of 16 years. We now know that many attempts to raise the issue were made but higher-ranking officials preferred to ignore the problem out of concern for “community cohesion.”
The MP for Rotherham, Denis MacShane (Labour party), even told the BBC “there was a culture of not wanting to rock the multicultural community boat, if I may put it like that. Perhaps, yes, as a true Guardian reader and liberal Leftie, I suppose I didn’t want to raise that too hard.”
Had authorities not been shy about “rocking the multicultural community boat” earlier on and had they acted robustly to prevent the Rotherham scandal from taking place, there would have been far less ammunition for far-right groups such as Britain First to use in their attempts to paint all Muslims as evil.
There is also the problem of combating future crimes. On October 6 a Muslim man was convicted of stabbing his wife eight times and killing her, because she came into contact with men while working in her job as a caregiver. He explicitly told his wife “it's not halal for you to work with men.” In cases like these mentioning the Islamic aspect of the crime is vital to understanding what happened and enabling human rights and social workers to be able to recognize the warning signs and act appropriately in future cases.
Some of the recommendations were laudable. Recommendation 12 called on the government to establish dialogue with Muslim communities to promote integration and combat anti-Muslim bigotry, something that could be very helpful in combating extremism if done properly.
The chief recommendation to combat anti-Muslim sentiment in the media was the establishment of an independent press regulatory body and a new editors’ code of practice that would allow aggrieved groups to submit complaints about biased reporting.
“The Government is committed to a free and open press and does not interfere with what the press does and does not publish, as long as the press abides by the law,” the British government wrote in its full response to the report.