Terrorism

The Senior Editor (Politics) of the New Statesman Writes…

Mehdi Hasan has responded to Brett’s piece on the reporting on neo Nazi terrorism.

Hasan’s thesis is as follows:

Imagine, for a moment, that Neil Lewington, who is on trial at the Old Bailey for preparing for a “campaign of terrorism” using tennis-ball bombs, was a British Muslim. The story would be splashed across the front page of every newspaper in Britain, and Sky News would be rolling a loop of images of his scowling, bearded, dark face.

The reality, however, is that you’ve probably never heard of Lewington (who denies all eight charges of terrorism) because he is not Muslim, or black, or of Asian origin. He is white. And our gloriously impartial, truth-seeking, “colour-blind” media don’t seem to care. The coverage of the Lewington trial has been negligible – a few short stories buried deep inside a handful of newspapers, but, as I write, no rolling coverage on Sky News, and not a peep on the main BBC news bulletins or on Newsnight.

Brett then showed that, contrary to Hasan’s prediction, all the major British newspapers and news sites  covered Lewington’s conviction. His white scowling face was indeed the illustration to the lead story on most of these sites, immediately following his conviction.

So, it is not that this story is being ignored.

Hasan is a news man. Therefore, he will have some insight into what gives a story legs. Let us consider, first, what makes stories involving Islamist terrorism particularly long lived:

1. How many died?

There have been a large number of extremely deadly Islamist terrorist attacks, all over the world, during the course of the last decade. By contrast, – despite the recent rise in neo Nazi terrorism – there have been almost no successful ‘spectaculars’ in the UK and in Europe.

Then, we had 9/11, Madrid, Bali, 7/7 and so on. That is enough to command attention.

What makes Islamist terrorism a particularly big story isn’t that the perpetrators are “dark skinned” (not all of them are, in fact), or Muslim. It is that Islamists kill lots of people.

Nobody has been killed – thankfully – by any of the neo Nazis, recently. The last big UK spectacular was Copeland. As Brett observes:

More than a decade later, people still talk about David Copeland. Some of the survivors of his bombing spree were interviewed on TV a few months ago. In fact, until 7/7, he was probably the most talked-about terrorist bomber in the UK

Copeland’s crimes killed relatively few but created a long lasting climate of fear in London. The Islamist terrorists have done precisely the same.

2. How complicated are the conspiracies?

The neo Nazis in Britain have largely been lone actors, with no connection to an organised or international terrorism network. That was not the case during the 1970s and 1980s, when there was a significant European neo Nazi terrorism network. At that time, the subject was reported in great detail.

By contrast, the Islamist terrorists have often turned out to have had links to terrorist networks in South Asia, and to each other. The conspiracies have involved large numbers of people. Quite simply, this gives newspapers a lot to speculate about.

God knows, I’ve tried to say something profound about the Nazis who have been on trial recently. I’ve researched their backgrounds and the groups they’ve been active in. I’ve spoken to anti-fascist ‘insiders’. There just isn’t that much to say about them.

Brett put it well:

If it turned out that this neo-Nazi was more than a disturbed crank and that he was part of an international network of conspirators, you can be sure the coverage would be epic

As it is, stories about Nazi bombers come and go. They’re prominently reported, but the stories only stay on the front pages as long as there is something new to say about them.

In fact, the mid ranking Islamist bombing plots received similar coverage, in terms of detail, to the Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (“SHAC”)  plot. That is because what makes a story newsworthy is how much of a story there is to tell.  You can’t explain the prominence of reporting about SHAC in terms of anti-White or anti-middle class or anti-animal welfare sentiment. It is what they did and how they did it which justified the focus of the papers on this terrorist campaign.

In both SHAC and the Jihadis, you’re talking about a complicated long lasting plot, with a strong ideological component, lots of players, and so on.

3. The nature of the debate

There has been an extremely hot debate over Islamist terrorism over the last decade.

Why do they do it? Are they to blame? Are we to blame? Is British foreign policy to blame? Is “multiculturalism’ at fault? Is Islam to blame? Is the reporting part of a plot to justify imperialist wars? Is this “blowback”? Were they framed?

We could continue for ever, couldn’t we?

As far as Nazis are concerned, what is there to say? All you can reasonably say about the Lewington case is that he was a very bad man who is an ideological racist who tried to kill brown and black people, but mercifully was stopped. We know Nazis are murderous racists, so what is there to debate? Is anybody seeking to “understand”, let alone justify their actions?

This is Hasan’s take:

Dear “Brett” (do you have a surname? Or do you all of you ‘bloggers’ hide behind first-name-only, cowardly, online identities?)

Who are you? Have you ever worked in a newsroom or on a newspaper? I know I have, at Sky, Channel 4 and ITV. Your posting on my piece is as hilariously hopeless and ill-informed as it is disingenuous and dishonest. Do you not understand that screen-grabs from websites on one specific afternoon do not amount to national, mainstream media coverage of what should have been a huge story (a man on trial for terrorism charges, involving plans to use ‘tennis ball bombs’)? And to pretend that screen-grabs from the day he was found guilty (convenient!) proves your case is laughable.

My two favourite bits from your ‘post’ is 1) when you try and cite your own random, unread blogging as evidence that the “media” covered the Cottage, Worrell, Lewington and other stories that I cited in my column. Er, you’re not quite the front page of the Daily Mail, yet, mate. But you certainly don’t lack modesty. And 2) when you say your research is based on ‘Google News’ which, as you say, only goes back a few weeks. If you were a proper journalist, and not a self-appointed rumour-monger, you would know what Lexis-Nexis is and you would note, as I did, in my column, that the number of stories on the likes of Lewington, Gilleard, Cottage and co is miniscule (and includes not a single front page!)

By the way, do you see any mention of the Lewington guilty verdict on the front pages of any national newspaper this morning? Or on the BBC News at Ten headlines or Channel 4 News headlines last night? No? Neither did I. I did see it buried on page 23 (!) of the Telegraph today. Case closed, methinks.

As for you, Ali Kismet, who thinks I see “Islamophobia under the bed”, I don’t – I see it on sites like this. Check out Shaun Pilkington’s posting above your own nonsensical ravings for evidence.

By the way, guys, if you liked my Lewington piece from last week, you’ll love my piece in the magazine today:

http://www.newstatesman.com/international-politics/2009/07/press-iran-british-channel

Oh, and before you tar me as an ‘Islamist’, check this out:

http://www.newstatesman.com/religion/2009/04/islamic-state-muslims-prophet

Thanks for your time and for your lies,

Mehdi Hasan

New Statesman

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