I've landed in the UK to study the efficacy of British counter-terrorism legislation and tactics, and their impact on minority communities. These are my observations, some of which relate to my research, while others describe my attempts to colonise these lands.
The Daily Mail: First to report, Last to Retract
As the UK awaits the formation of an official press regulator, the Daily Mail has exploited what might be considered a pre-existing loophole through which the tabloid can sensationalise stories from abroad in order to stir up racial, ethnic or religious hatred here at home. The penalties outlined for knowingly reporting false information here in the UK do not appear to cover international events. Compounded with the speed and coverage of social media, tabloids’ free-wheeling vilification of minorities is doomed to continue.
In classic tabloid style, the Daily Mail used the tragic Boston Marathon bombing to vilify Arabs, and by extension, Muslims, before anything was even remotely clear as to a perpetrator or motive. Despite the fact that, at 18:05 (Boston local, 23:05 GMT) Monday, Boston authorities denied there were any suspects, the Daily Mail went ahead and implicated a Saudi national as a suspect on Tuesday’s front page. In response to published reports of a Saudi suspect, on Tuesday morning law enforcement officials reiterated that they have no suspects and confirmed that the Saudi student injured in the bombing was, in fact, a witness, not a suspect. The Daily Mail did not update their website to reflect this confirmation (of what the FBI had said the night before) until 19:21 (14:21 Boston local time). Whereas the Daily Mail was among the first to sensationalise the unconfirmed account, they were among the last to correct it.
Meanwhile, for over 15 hours the Daily Mail’s flammable story skidded across social media, pseudo-news sites and political blogs, before it was corrected. The damage, however, is done. Social media pages were sharing the false story’s link as late as 18:00 (by my research, but perhaps later). One particular right-wing hate group posted the link on their page at 18:09 Tuesday. Not only is the link still there, it has been shared 52 times and received 25 comments which include, “death to Islam,” “extinguish Islam,” “only a matter of time before Islamist try to attack the UK,” [sic] “they enemy is the religion of Islam” [sic], etc. Beyond the original 52 shares, there is no way to know how many times the story was shared, and what hate messages they elicited.
When the new committee for press oversight is established, the tabloids may find it more difficult to sensationalise local stories to stir up Islamophobia. They can, however, continue to exploit international events to incite local divisions, anger and resentment. Sound familiar?
Incidentally, the only rag looking worse than the DM is the alleged source of the “Saudi suspect” story, The New York Post, which has yet to retract or correct the article on their website. See post below.
Can You Fill in the Blanks?
See if you can guess the missing words from the following passage—answers are at the bottom!
“The [media’s] sensational reporting of PTA (Prevention of Terrorism Act) cases affects the whole of the _______ community and can incite racial hatred. The constant use of essentially prejudicial terms such as terrorists, terrorism, bombers, ____—often linked with some reference to __________—creates and sustains the idea that hundreds of _______ are terrorists or involved in political violence and perpetuates the impression that the whole of the _______ community is suspect. These points are often reinforced by the failure of the media both to give the same coverage to the release of PTA suspects as they give to the arrests and the failure to report regularly that 86 per cent of all people arrested under the Acts have been released without any action being taken against them.”
1. Irish 2. IRA 3. Irish people 4. Irish people 5. Irish
An excerpt from Paddy Hillyard’s Suspect Community: People’s Experience of the Prevention of Terrorism Acts in Britain
UAV’s from You & Me
Every few weeks the US Justice Department charges someone with providing material support to terrorist groups. This support is often made through financial donations to overseas organizations, many of which provide social services. Whether or not these donors knowingly supported terrorism, our unflagging justice system attempts to provide irrefutable evidence proving the donors are complicit in the alleged beneficiaries’ terrorism agenda.
On the other hand, do we know where our tax-financed drones are going? Do we trust the intelligence and agenda of those dispatching them? With all of the coverage of drone attacks—including bombing of weddings and funerals, an assassination of an American in Yemen—it would be easy to submit convincing evidence of our “material support” for, or demonstrate our complicity in, acts of terror, if such a case were brought forth in an international justice system.
According to the US Code of Federal Regulations, terrorism is “premeditated, politically motivated violence against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents.” Drones are clandestine agents (one is named Predator). Their method of violence is premeditated, indeed, programmed. Many of their victims are noncombatants. The purpose of their violence is political. There is scant difference between the remote shadowy figure triggering an IED or dialing a cell-phone bomb, and the shadowy Air Force pilot launching a Hellfire missile from the comfort of some suburb in California. By our own definition, we are a terrorist network and we American citizens are terrorists.
Rather than sacrifice our own troops, we gladly sacrifice the truly “innocent bystanders” of our drone strikes. Perhaps “sacrifice” is too generous a word, since it connotes a sense of genuine anguish over our actions. Instead of lamenting the loss of innocents, we take pride in our ingenuity in picking off “our enemies” without shedding a single drop of (American) blood. The tactics of the suicide bomber willing to sacrifice his own life are more respectable than ours.
We all know the phrase, “either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.” But these two categories are not mutually exclusive.
Our rhetoric on spreading democracy around the world is inconsistent with our behavior. Sure, democracy is about free and fair elections, civil rights, and other liberties we so cherish. Although we expect and enjoy these freedoms within our borders, we see no hypocrisy in the lawlessness we wield internationally. For example, while the domestic use of drones enrages Americans as an invasion of privacy, or a ‘big brother’ in the sky, Pakistanis, Afghanis, and Yemenis are killed with impunity by a judge and jury in the sky.
As a Democrat, President Obama cannot appear indecisive or weak on fighting terrorism, and the numbers show he does not hesitate using drones. His administration, hawks, and unimaginative opportunists on both sides of the aisle might argue that we have no choice; the use of drones is not ideal, but it has to be done. The Iraq War, however, is still in our cache and we do not have the requisite assurance that these drone strikes are not based on a ‘hunch’ by someone who has a severe deficiency in estimating the value of life.
The estimate of those killed in drone strikes is nearly equal to the total number of those killed on 9/11. But the number of innocent drone strike victims is unknown and the overall total continues to rise. Is an innocent American girl’s life more important than the Pakistani girl who will be killed today for the sake of our freedom? Can we accept the fact that our freedom relies less and less on the efforts of lost soldiers, of both yesterday and today, and increasingly on the blood of noncombatants in Asia? So far, it seems we have. Pakistan is far away, but distance does not diminish the value of a life.
Looking back at peace crimes such as witch trials, slavery, forced sterilization of Native Americans, we think, ‘The horror—so glad we don’t do that anymore!’ However, drones, extraordinary rendition, enhanced interrogation, Guantanamo—these will also be scourges on our American history, and future generations will demand answers. What will we say? We are not more civilized, we are just more crafty in our cowardice.
We can no longer pretend we are innocent, that our leaders know what is in our best interest, or that these victims ‘must have had it comin’.’ We all know the phrase, “either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.” But these two categories are not mutually exclusive. US drones are terrorizing the citizens of Pakistan and Afghanistan. We have become the enemy we set out to destroy.
I am not a bleeding heart idealist (as if that were a dirty word), I am an American citizen whose pride has been bruised and battered by the range of crimes committed on my behalf since 9/11. Despite the fact that our hands are clean and we are not wearing dingy military fatigues, my fellow Americans, we are all terrorists.
—-From a Concerned Terrorist