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Islamist Media Spins: What to Look Out For

Protesters hold up signs in Australia at a rally against racism and Islamophobia.
Protesters hold up signs in Australia at a rally against racism and Islamophobia. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

In the days immediately following the Manchester bombing, the perpetrator’s family and mosque began trying to spin the media in a direction favorable to the Islamist narrative. There were three types of spins that are worth pointing out, as they are continually used by the Islamists and their apologists whenever they and their ideology come under scrutiny. We can assume we will be seeing these familiar spins in the coming days after the latest terror attack in London.

 

1.Cry “Islamophobia” and Claim Anti-Muslim Persecution

Islamists often honestly see “Islamophobia” and bigotry in the West everywhere, as they view the West as inherently anti-Islamic and hostile towards them. It’s the best political example of projection if there ever was one.

At other times, Islamists simply lie and use false accusations of bigotry to defame their opponents and deter future ones.

This mindset was apparent in Salman Abedi from a young age. When he was a teenager, he and his friends filed a complaint against their teacher for being “Islamophobic.” As the story goes (and we don’t have the full story), the teacher asked the Arabic-speaking boys their opinion on suicide bombers.

Ironically enough, Abedi did express support for suicide bombers years later in college and then became one. We don’t know how the conversation began in the classroom or what prompted the teacher to ask the question. It could very well have been an innocent attempt by the teacher to use the boys as an example that most Muslims don’t support suicide bombings, or perhaps she was responding to their own initial raising of the topic.

Whatever the case may be, this is an important anecdote: A future suicide bomber, with a father linked to Libyan jihadists and a family that attends a radical mosque, said that questions about his opinions on suicide bombing are “Islamophobic.”

In all likelihood, he knew this was the best way to shut down a conversation he didn’t want to take place—for his sake and the sake of others like him.

His father, Ramadan, likewise responded with this spin immediately after his former home in Manchester was raided. He started chastising British security personnel for being aggressive and scaring the neighbors. He claimed that the “security forces [are] doing something against the Libyan community, especially the youth there.”

He even accused the British police of spreading a false rumor that there were explosives inside the home, as if they just wanted to cause panic. The father took a very reasonable expectation on the part of the British police that explosives would be inside a terrorism-linked home and spun it to mean that the British were purposely hyping the threat, demonizing the innocent and unnecessarily damaging private property.

Ramadan also went to work to protect the broader Islamist ideology that he almost certainly shares with his son. He claimed that Salman Abedi did not express any radical ideas or belong to any organizations. In other words, if his son committed a suicide bombing, he was driven by factors other than ideology.

It’s hard to believe the father’s claim since friends and community members reported his son to the authorities because he openly expressed support for terrorism and suicide bombing. Salmon Abedi wasn’t exactly tight-lipped about his aspirations.

And we now know that the bomber’s cousin made repeated postings on social media that expressed hostility towards the U.K., anti-Semitism and even a wish that Hitler were alive today so “these Jews would be burnt in chambers.” This cousin posted pictures of himself with Salman. (The cousin is now under arrest.)

Ramadan, once the leader of the call to prayer at their mosque in Dinsbury, surely would have known about the time his son confronted their imam in front of an audience, accusing him of talking “bullocks” after the imam condemned ISIS and the Al-Qaeda-linked Ansar al-Sharia in Libya. If that story is true and wasn’t spread by the mosque’s spinners, then it was a well-known incident and Ramadan lied.

There are reports that Ramadan was so concerned that his son might travel to join a terrorist group, that he took away Salman’s passport. Salman got it back from his mother by saying he wanted to go to Saudi Arabia for the hajj, the pilgrimage required of Muslims. If the story is true and is not a tale from anonymous sources seeking to defend the parents’ reputation, then Ramadan definitely lied.

Keep in mind, Salman died in the suicide bombing. Ramadan wasn’t being a protective father trying to save a son from prosecution or shame. He is dead, along with the 22 innocents he murdered. Ramadan was just doing as Islamists do.

 

2.It’s Always the Fault of the West.

This is the common theme of Islamists. They may condemn ISIS and Al-Qaeda and terrorism of the sort we saw in Manchester, but the Islamist point-of-view (as well as that of many non-Muslim Westerners) is that it is our fault for triggering them. And so, without endorsing an attack, the Islamists and their apologists use such attacks to vindicate their political talking points and then use those points to excuse their ideology from carrying the bulk of the responsibility.

If you are an Islamist who believes in sharia governance and craves a caliphate, then you’ll believe the root of the conflict is the West and its man-made, un-Islamic systems and societies that are inherently unjust and inevitably oppressive of Muslims.

Therefore, everything—even actions you condemn like suicide bombings—are simply an overreaction to the West’s oppression, rather than a byproduct of the holy ideology that you believe reflects Allah’s will.

From this perspective, if assigning responsibility to those radical beliefs is unavoidable, then cite those radical beliefs as evidence against the West and not against Islamism.

This is where conspiracy theories come in. Ramadan, the father of the Manchester bomber, immediately began asserting that a “hidden hand” orchestrated the bombing. That’s a subtler way of pointing the finger at a global Zionist conspiracy against Islam.

The bomber’s sister, Jomana, reflexively responded to the identifying of her brother by suggesting that he was triggered because he saw Muslim children “dying everywhere.” She said she believed “he saw the explosives that America drops on children in Syria and he wanted revenge;” a depiction of the U.S. as the “Great Satan” that she did not distance herself from.

Note that she didn’t even claim that he said this. She was being asked about whether anything she experienced with her brother might explain his rationale. She could have left it at “no” and stopped. Instead, she used the opportunity to become an activist and influence the media to print a report that would make readers blame the West as the root cause.

This is what Islamists always do when atrocities are committed against the West—they paint them as misguided freedom fighters struggling for liberation from Western imperialism. They just leave out those uncomfortable parts about believing that dying in jihad is the guaranteed ticket to paradise and that they believe Muslims must wage jihad for the sake of theocratic sharia law until global conquest is achieved.

But what about the West’s gross mistreatment of Muslims in non-Muslim democracies?

A 2016 poll of British Muslims debunks that line of spin. British-Muslims have a higher-than-average sense of belonging to their local area and Britain as a country. British-Muslims are also more likely to feel that their local MP represents their interests and that they can impact the decision-making process.

About 94% say they feel they can freely practice their religion and 88% say that Britain is a good place for Muslims to believe.

Yet, despite this widespread acknowledgement from British-Muslims that the U.K. treats them very well, only one-third would report a Muslim suspected of involvement with terrorists in Syria. Nearly a quarter support having sharia Law replace British law.

A little more than half want to outlaw homosexuality. About one-third won’t condemn those who violently retaliate against those who mock their prophet. Only about five percent admitted having some sympathy for suicide bombers and terrorists, but those terms are relative and many jihadists disagree with the tactic of suicide bombing.

To sum things up, don’t buy the Islamist spin that the root cause of jihad-driven atrocities is Western imperialism overseas or anti-Muslim persecution at home.

 

3.The jihadists’ mosque is part of the solution, not the problem.

Salman Abedi, his family and at least two other ISIS recruits worshipped at the Dinsbury Mosque, also known as the Manchester Islamic Center. As I discussed in my article about five lessons to learn from the Manchester bombing, the mosque has a long history of extremism.

The mosque brought in guest speakers widely known for advocating many of the horrid things that ISIS and Al-Qaeda do and believe in. It was recently found that the mosque’s YouTube channel still hosts videos from these guest speakers’ lectures.

And new information has also come out about the bomber’s father—who led for the call to prayer for years– associating with a radical Libyan cleric, Sadiq Al-Ghariani.

Almost instantaneously, anonymous sources told the media that the imam’s supposed moderation had drawn the ire of Abedi. The imam confirmed the account, saying he saw Abedi’s “face of hate” and how much the future bomber disliked him.

It’s worth pointing out here that the imam’s account directly contradicts the account of Abedi’s father, who said his son never expressed extremism. Someone is lying. The Islamist spin machine wasn’t on the same page.

It is claimed that a small number of attendees at the imam’s speech against ISIS and Ansar al-Sharia were so upset that they signed a petition against the lecture. That would be a list of admitted supporters of ISIS and Ansar al-Sharia. That is critical, hard-to-come-by intelligence for the authorities. The mosque and none of these anonymous sources ever even alleged that the list was reported.

Then some media reports escalated the story to say that Abedi was banned from the mosque—something you’d assume that the imam and mosque would have immediately disclosed to exonerate themselves.

And then media reports emerged that the mosque reported Abedi’s extremism to the authorities. Again, something you’d assume the mosque leadership would have immediately said.

The Telegraph then reported, “A well-placed source at Didsbury Mosque confirmed it had contacted” the authorities about Abedi. It turns out that these mosque sources were lying. Flat-out lying.

The mosque just confirmed that they did not report him to the authorities.

A 2016 poll of British Muslims found that only 34% would report a Muslim they thought was getting involved with terrorists in Syria. The mosque’s non-reporting of Abedi is enraging to most of us—but it’s the popular position in the British Muslim community, as per the poll results.

So where did these reports come from? Spinners with an agenda that they felt was more important than the truth.

Mosque trustee Fawzi Haffar admitted, “We have a lot to learn, have to be more conscious.” He claimed that three attendees were reported two years ago and that the mosque would implement “proper policies” against extremism.

It’s the year 2017. If you aren’t proactive against extremism by now, then you simply don’t desire to be. There’s been enough bloodshed that any lack of action can only be accurately interpreted as indifference.

If you think that analysis is too harsh, consider this: This same mosque trustee, appearing so humble and ashamed and committed to a stronger fight against extremism, has sent out anti-Semitic tweets. Those were found shortly after he boasted of his mosque’s “interfaith dialogues.”

The bomber’s father did his part, as well. He told the media, “We do not believe in killing innocents. This is not us.” He was using the typical Islamist wordsmithing when asked about terrorism. Yet no jihadist considers his victims to be “innocent.”

The statement implies that Ramadan Abedi views those who died at the Manchester Arena as innocent and perhaps that is so—but that is not a rejection of violent jihad against the enemies of his ideology. After all, he is an open supporter of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, so he obviously doesn’t consider their targets to be innocent.

The Islamists are practiced in the art of media spin. And there is much to spin.

 

Ryan Mauro is ClarionProject.org’s Shillman Fellow and national security analyst and an adjunct professor of counter-terrorism. He is frequently interviewed on top-tier television and radio. To invite Ryan to speak, please contact us.

 

Ryan Mauro
Ryan Mauro is ClarionProject.org's Shillman Fellow and national security analyst and an adjunct professor of counter-terrorism. He is frequently interviewed on top-tier television and radio.