Terrorism or mental illness?
Curtis Daly examines the way acts of terror are reported depending on who the perceived perpetrators are and how this fuels the persecution of certain minority groups.
On Sunday 14 November, the country was shocked to hear the news of an explosion outside Liverpool Women’s Hospital . The suspected bomber was killed when a home-made device exploded in the taxi he was traveling in, causing the terror threat to be raised for the first time in months.
Thankfully, no members of the public were killed, but the driver of the taxi was injured after heroically locking the attacker inside after he noticed the device.
The police have deemed this an act of terror, and Priti Patel has raised the terror threat to severe, signalling that another attack is highly likely.
The suspect was alone, and currently no evidence has been released, so it is difficult to say whether this is a part of a wider network or another attack could come soon.
In all honesty, this is an incredibly sensitive subject, but I want to study the clear bias in the mainstream media when it comes to terrorism.
It poses the question, why do we consider it either terrorism or mental illness on the basis of colour and creed?
“Terrorism, the unlawful use of violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims.” – Oxford Languages.
The definition doesn’t refer to religion, race, or creed. Yet, the word terrorism invokes images of certain people depending on time or place
In the 80’s, the Irish were depicted as terrorists; in the aftermath of 9/11, for the most part it was Muslims. ‘In recent years, environmental activists have found themselves listed alongside terrorist groups for following so-called ‘extremist ideology’. Really, terrorism is what anyone wants it to be. For some demagogues, it’s designed to divide us. Most of the time, it’s unconscious bias, and it can be hard to spot.
Subtle differences between media reporting depending on the suspect can have long term dramatic effects. When a heinous act is committed by a BAME person, or they happen to call themselves Muslims, you can be sure that terrorism is given as the official cause.
In the past 10 years, two of our elected representatives have tragically been murdered. Five years ago, Jo Cox was shot and stabbed in Birstall. David Amess was stabbed multiple times in his constituency.
Both horrible crimes, but one was given a layer of complexity. In one instance Amess’s attacker was identified by looking like a ‘man of African appearance’.
Any nuance on the suspect’s character was never discussed. Yet if we compare to Cox’ murder in 2016, the Guardian – a so called liberal paper hardly anything like reactionary right wing press, had this to say:
“Reclusive, nervous and by his own account gripped by feelings of worthlessness”
The Guardian brings up Mair’s self worth, almost a hint of empathy is given here. It seems as if the article wants to ask questions of society and why it may have led this person down a violent path.
Whether society is at fault or not, why is there a level of context, or complexity given. Yet, if the suspect happens to not be white, then it’s treated with an open and shut case.
The double standard narrative is poisonous, oftentimes it’s subtle. Particular kinds of language are used which then feeds into the minds of many, changing people’s feelings about ethnic or religious minorities. Biased reporting in this way over and over again clearly contributes to the treatment of minorities in society.
Thomas Mair was a neo-Nazi white supremacist. He kept far right books and Nazi memorabilia at his home. In his own words, the “white race” was on the brink of a “very bloody struggle”.
Maz Saleem is the daughter of Mohammed Saleem, an 82 year old man who was murdered in Birmingham by far-right terrorist Pavlo Lapshyn, she herself described the media bias in reporting her fathers death.
A paper authored by Karsten Donnay, Lukas Feick, and Katherine T Mccabe aptly named The Subconscious Eﬀect of Subtle Media Bias on Perceptions of Terrorism, concluded that it “highlights the potential dangers of media coverage fuelling otherwise unjustified fears by injecting unnecessary editorial tone.”
We can ask ourselves if there is a link between a mental health crisis, feelings of loneliness, and extreme violent politics or racism. We can ask whether society is allowing people to become deeply lost, which potentially leads to some going down a dark path.
Yet we must ensure that we can look at things objectively, in a balanced way, safeguarding minorities from being gaslit, leading to spikes in hate crimes, the hostile environment, and genuinely less empathy.
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