Tuesday, 26 July 2011
“The central question still remains,” Jeremy Paxman began on BBC Newsnight last night, “was this the action of a solitary, deranged individual, or do his actions reflect a wider unease both in Norway and perhaps beyond, about immigration and asylum seekers, which people like Breivik can exploit?” The third, and most obvious answer is left ignored; that Breivik was a white supremacist emboldened by the right-wing, Islamophobic rhetoric of European governments. When Muslim extremists commit atrocities, their entire ideology, beliefs and even religion are examined, analysed and condemned, but in the case of Breivik, his are real problems in society that one man took too far. Indeed, if this had been carried out by a Muslim attacker, or any person with brown skin, we would currently be witnessing a media frenzy of racist and xenophobic propaganda. Because Breivik is a white, Christian, European man, only the individual, and not those elements of his identity, is blamed.
It seemed that the “#blamethemuslims” trend, so aptly initiated by Sanum Ghafoor in the wake of the Norwegian tragedy, had died down, but BBC Newsnight continued with the myth:
“Many in Norway presumed they were being attacked by Islamic terrorists,” the report continued. How does this make sense, when the first person arrested was a Nordic man with blond hair and blue eyes? How does this make sense, when, as Gary Younge observed in his Nation column this week:
“According to Europol, between 2006 and 2008 only 0.4 percent of terrorist plots (including attempts and fully executed attacks) in Europe were from Islamists. The lion’s share (85 percent) were related to separatism.”
Nevertheless, the Newsnight reporter seemed genuinely surprised when he said, “But this wasn’t the work of al-Qa’ida,” as if that was the logical conclusion. So-called ‘experts’ reminisced of a time when “Norway was lily-white”. Never one to fail to provide an opportunity for self-glorification and pity, the BBC had once again invited the leader of the EDL, Stephen Lennon, for an extended interview.
Paxman is notorious for his harsh and confrontational interviewing style, but with Lennon, this never seems to have been the case. Lennon is not interrupted often, and allowed to repeat a hateful narrative of intolerance over and over again. Not once does Paxman raise the point that the frustration and anger of Muslims living in England may have something to do with the foreign policy of the British state, which has recently engaged in the bombing of three predominantly Muslim countries; Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya.
The EDL are consistently emboldened and empowered by these much-discussed media opportunities; it legitimises their rhetoric, and provides them with the platform they thrive on. So much is their confidence growing that, throwing off the pretence of a focus on “Islamic extremism [and/or] fundamentalism”, Stephen Lennon now has no qualms with announcing, on national television, that “Islam is a threat.” I cannot begin to imagine the stream of apologies that would be emanating from BBC headquarters had an interviewee made this assertion about any other religion. At one point, Paxman and Lennon were even finishing each other’s sentences:
“No-one is denying there is great anxiety,” Paxman began.
“About Islam,” Lennon agreed.
The argument that rational-minded people will see Lennon’s racism for what it is does not hold water when one takes into account the constant attack on Muslims and immigrants by government officials and respectable media sources. With increasing frequency, the EDL are being presented as the genuine and legitimate voice of a disillusioned population. Tommy Robinson warns that a Breivik-style attack could happen in England within the next few years. If it does, then the BBC, which continues to provide the platform for right-wing leaders such as Stephen Lennon and Nick Griffin to spread their ideals without rigorous questioning, will have to recognise the role they have played.