Unitas Communications has today published the report that it has submitted to the Leveson inquiry entitled: “Race and Reform
: Islam and Muslims in the British Media.” Overall, the report finds that:
a persistence of anti‐Muslim trends in British Media reporting on issues relating to Islam and Muslims has directly contributed to inaccurate stereotypes and misconceptions about British Muslims in wider British society, and thus to an increasingly hostile climate that has enabled a escalation of anti-Muslim hate crimes over the last decade.
The report has some interesting survey findings detailing the sheer scale of negative reporting towards Muslims, Islam and the repeated assertion that British Muslims are ‘extremists’ and a ‘threat’ to the UK. The report also details the impact that such reporting has had, making non-Muslim British citizens increasingly believe the narrative being spun by an influential media – and the report does comment on the ability for tabloid newspapers to set the agenda and tone of news coverage in Britain. The figures are stark:
In 2010, 75 per cent of non‐Muslims now believe Islam is negative for Britain and that Muslims do not engage positively in society. 63 per cent do not disagree that “Muslims are terrorists”, and 94 per cent agree that “Islam oppresses women.”
The report makes several recommendations – some of which address the issues that this blog and others have repeatedly highlighted. For example, their first recommendation:
A key problem that has been identified with the PCC is that the code of conduct applies only to individuals who have been reported about inaccurately, with a resulting inability to launch third party complaints. Therefore the code of conduct must be amended to address discrimination against groups through false and inaccurate reporting, rather than just individuals.
This is something that is badly needed, and something that seems so obvious. It is has been frustrating over the years to blog about purposefully inaccurate reporting targeted at groups, knowing that the PCC (powerless as it is / was to provide effective sanctions) couldn’t even pass comment on one of the most popular and insidious hobbies of the press.
There seems to me to be an concerted effort in Western societies to solidify the misguided belief that the systematic targeting of a race or group of people stopped when Hitler shot himself in a bunker in Berlin. Our obsession with Nazism stems from the belief that this was something extraordinary, unique and never to be seen again. World War II has taken on some kind of mythic status in which the good civilisation – and more worryingly, America, a nation that had all but wiped out the indigenous population of the land they claimed as their own and whilst fighting the horrors of Nazi Germany still retained its right to segregate its black population – won and evil was defeated, for the final time (after all, the war was labelled as a sequel).
Although nations swore never to stand idly by whilst millions were persecuted by the apparatus of the state or its population, it remains a fact that genocide didn’t stop with the death of Hitler. We have seen plenty of genocide since then – in Europe as well as beyond – but we now refer to it dishonestly as ‘ethnic cleansing’ so as to avoid the legal obligation (drawn up after WWII to prevent such horrors ever happening again) to do anything about it.
My point is that we need to move on from this belief that we’re all decent folk because our ancestors played a part in defeating Hitler, this doesn’t make us his antithesis, and it doesn’t prevent our institutions from targeting groups through the systematic use of propaganda. It seems to me that we use WWII as some kind of persecution benchmark, which means that unless British Muslims are being rounded up and sent by train to deathcamps then they’re not really being persecuted. It leads to a society in which Right-Wing newspapers can publish an wilfully inaccurate article aimed to demonise Muslims as an homogenous group, whilst offering a free DVD about Britain’s glorious role in defeating Hitler who demonised Jews as an homogenous group.
We need to start making more of these worrying incongruities, because they really matter.
The report makes interesting reading and it reminds me of this strange Internet phenomenon where apparently any argument is automatically lost if any parallel is drawn between the point under discussion and Nazi Germany. This is, again, trying to isolate Nazi Germany as exceptional, something that captures our imaginations so vividly because it seems to us a kind of fantasy world in which a civilised country abandons any kind of moral code and commits state-led genocide. I just think this kind of attitude – even if it is intended to be flippant and aimed at people whose first response to any argument is to mention Hitler and consider the discussion over – is dangerous because it makes us complacent. It makes it sound as if we are absolutely certain that we would never commit those acts and therefore any comparison of events in our society to events in Nazi Germany is inherently laughable and should immediately result in that person being labelled as so wrong they are do not even require refuting.
I think there are a great deal of parallels that can be drawn between the Nazi persecution of Jews and the British press’ treatment of Muslims. When anyone is taught about propaganda they are, again, taken back to WWII with an analysis of Nazi propaganda, as if propaganda began and ended in Nazi Germany. In truth, you could easily study the increasingly negative and hysterical propaganda aimed at British Muslims and gain just as clear an understanding of the evils of propaganda in a civilised state as you would by looking at Nazi propaganda.
Just because the end result is unlikely to be the same, doesn’t mean we don’t need to start asking serious questions about the kind of press that the citizens of the UK fund with their buying choices. Not to mention a regulatory system that doesn’t even concern itself with the possibility that newspapers could target groups with dishonest reporting in order to demonise them.