June 23, 2017
CNN, the New York Times, Daily Mail and News.com.au all decided to use the horrific attack on London’s Finsbury Park Mosque welfare center as a chance to litigate the mosque’s past behavior.
A 48-year-old white man rammed his van into a crowd of people outside an Islamic welfare center associated with the Finsbury Park Mosque, killing one and injuring up to ten. Immediately, the “context” trolls at major corporate media decided to jump in and began digging up dirt on the victims’ place of worship.
The most egregious example stateside, CNN dedicated almost 30 percent of its article on the attack to dumping on the Finsbury Mosque, bringing in their resident “terror expert” Peter Bergen to paint a portrait of an Al Qaeda breeding ground:
CNN national terror analyst Peter Bergen said the Finsbury Park neighborhood has a large Muslim population and the nearby mosque had a notorious reputation as a place where Islamist militants used to gather.
Bergen’s analysis could be read as suggesting a justification for the attack on worshipers:
If you were interested in targeting a group of Muslims at a mosque that was notorious, this would be the mosque you would do it at. I think it’s significant that they had the reputation historically of being one of the most militant mosques in London.
OK then. Thanks for that insight.
CNN’s analyst appeared almost to be offering tactical advice to potential anti-Muslim terrorists:
Ramadan, particularly in a country like the UK, where the days are very long in June, you know you’re fasting from dawn to dusk and you’re breaking the fast at night…. Night comes pretty late in London this time of year. It wouldn’t be odd that you would have large numbers of people breaking their fasts and praying at this time.
The section went on for another 150 words, getting into narrow detail about the mosque’s past associations. CNN spent more words talking about Finsbury Park’s checkered past than they did quoting witnesses to the attack.
Likewise, the New York Times dedicated 100 words to the Finsbury Park Mosque’s history, noting how it “became a hotbed of Islamist militants” 20 years ago. To the Times’ credit, they did note “it was reconstituted” with new management in 2005.
Tabloids Daily Mail and News.com.au led with the Terror Mosque! framing. An original headline for the Daily Mail read, “White Van Driver Plows Into and Hurts at Least 10 People Outside Hate Cleric Abu Hamza’s Former Mosque in London’s Finsbury Park.” The headline has since changed several times (presumably after online outrage), and as of publication, the word “hate” has been replaced with “well known.”
Rupert Murdoch’s News.com.au would take the award for the sleaziest iteration of the victim-blaming genre, printing a whole article on Finsbury Park Mosque’s “radical” past without even once mentioning the attack itself.
“Finsbury Park Mosque Links to Radical Islamic Terrorism,” the headline screamed, followed by a photo of last night’s attack captioned “Finsbury Park Van Incident.” It’s possible the article was simply cut-and-pasted from a previous one on the mosque, but this was never made clear, and News.com.au published the story and promoted it on social media late last night.
Omitted from all of these articles, of course, was any good the mosque had done throughout the years. After being associated with 9/11 co-conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui and would-be “shoe bomber” Richard Reid, Finsbury Park has gone to considerable lengths to redeem itself. But the “terror experts” and “context” mongers didn’t feel the need to note the mosque’s work on interfaith outreach, providing food for the homeless, or how, in 2014, it won an award for combating extremism in what the Islington Gazette called an “exceptional turnaround.”
As FAIR has noted before, a similar phenomenon of airing victims’ “dirty laundry” a mere hours after they’ve been killed is common for African-Americans targets of hate crimes and police killings.
In contrast, when US or UK military facilities are attacked or US congresspeople are shot, it’s not media practice to provide “context” as to why the US or UK military, or said US congressperson’s specific actions, may have motivated the killer.
There’s a difference between providing context and suggesting excuses; between the explanation of motive and rationalization. The problem is when context only goes in one direction: in this case, in favor of the white supremacist forces wanting to paint Finsbury Park Mosque as, in effect, a militarized zone where no one is innocent and everyone is a combatant. So mentions of good works or interfaith outreach don’t fit; stories instead are populated with only one side, the side that just so happens to line up with the motives of the killer.
When Muslim people kill, “context” is employed to suggest violence is tied to their religious or cultural milieu; when Muslim people are killed, context can be employed to justify it.