Darren Osborne was recently found guilty of murder and attempted murder and sentenced to 43 years in prison. There has been much confusion and anger over his being found a murderer rather than charged with terror offences – especially as the British Government’s anti-terror strategies seem geared to put every Tariq, Dawud and Harith through de-radicalisation programmes for crimes as minor as mispronunciations and misspelling.
Justice Cheema-Grubb explained,
Although he had committed a terror attack, specific legislation was not necessary to prosecute him. “Murder is murder, whether done for terror motives or some other motive.”
Explanation excepting, the issue has once more brought to the fore discussion on the racism proliferating media coverage of similar crimes where the sole difference is in race and professed creed of victim and perpetrator.
Were it not for the very real threat it poses to Muslims and BME citizens of all ages (29% increase in xenophobic hate crime; over 80,000 reports of racially motivated crimes, and 500% increase in Islamophobic attacks in 2017 alone), it is almost comical how criminals amongst Muslim, black and minority ethnic groups are promulgated as symbols of their communities and their crimes attributed to their beliefs while their white, non-Muslim counterparts are conveniently packaged as ‘loners’, ‘complex’, ‘troubled’ or, indeed, acting on a misguided – yet at its root, noble – cause.
White supremacy and irresponsible reporting is not the limit of the problem here. It is far greater and far more sinister; it is the systematic subordination of targeted racial groups with relatively little social power by institutional structures and practices in society. Media outlets on all ends of the spectrum from The (thinly veiled racist) Sun and The Daily (Hate) Mail to the ordinarily more respectable BBC are culpable of such racist and Islamophobic social engendering. This is particularly unacceptable from the BBC who are a public service organisation constitutionally bound to provide accurate, impartial news and information to help people understand and engage with the world around them; to reflect, represent and serve the diverse communities of the UK, and to raise awareness of different cultures, contribute to social cohesion and aid understanding of the UK as a whole.
A rudimentary analysis of news coverage from a single home affairs correspondent in a series of ‘What led so-and-so to kill?’ demonstrates the double standards, as does a look at coverage from other news outlets. The cases of Darren Osborne (a white, non-Muslim who hired a van in the hopes of committing mass murder at a Palestinian liberation march and who, failing that, drove into a crowd of multi-ethnic, Muslim worshippers outside Finsbury Park Mosque running over and killing one and injuring 9 others) and Michael Adebolajo (a black, professed-Muslim who took to the street in the hopes of committing murder and ran over, stabbed and killed a white, non-Muslim British Army Soldier) are the subject of this narrative comparison.
Though there is not much need to expound upon the media’s presentation of Michael Adebolajo as his name has become one and the same with “terrorist” and ingrained in the consciousness of British citizens as such (and rightly so), for the purposes of fairness I will look at the presentation of both.
Using humanisation as a tool
If I were to ask average casual news-viewing British citizens who Makram Ali is (or Mohammed Saleem or Nabra Hassanen or Nahid Almanea or Deah Shaddy Barakat or Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha or Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, for that matter), it is almost guaranteed that no one would know; even the Muslims amongst us. If I were to likewise ask who Lee Rigby is, it is almost guaranteed that every single person asked would answer with some idea of who he was. Both Makram Ali and Lee Rigby were victims of what have been described as terror attacks and both representatives of the communities the perpetrators aimed to cause injury to. According to reports, Lee Rigby was targeted due to his affiliations to the British Military of which Michael Adebolajo felt animosity towards. Makram Ali was a Muslim immigrant of Asian descent; visibly Muslim and unashamedly adhering to the practices of his faith, attending congregational prayers at his local mosque. He, like Lee Rigby, was targeted for his symbolic representation, of the ethnic minority immigrant group and the Muslim orthodoxy that Darren Osborne felt animosity towards. Both British citizens, both victims of brutal and calculated attacks described as terrorism by the authorities, and yet, through media manipulation one has received 5 years of media circulation, sympathy and rage, their story told and portrayed painting a vivid picture of the victim as the man he was; the other is an incidental footnote in another man’s story, the topic of a single conference, a name amongst the crowd.
Such is the power of using humanisation or de-humanisation as a tool. Media reports humanise white individuals, whether they are criminal or victim, and they dehumanise the ethnic minority, Muslim other, whether criminal or victim. Lee Rigby is idolised, commemorated and dedicated a shrine to. Darren Osborne’s story is told and concerns shared. We are made to empathise with the man with misdirected indignation at the suffering of little girls in Rochdale.
“[U]nemployed Osborne, 48, became a “ticking time bomb” after watching Three Girls, a drama based on events in Rochdale, where young girls were raped and abused by a group of predominately British Pakistani men.”
A “loner” in a “drunken” stupor with “a history of violence, a history of alcoholism and drug abuse, depression, a dysfunctional family background.”
Darren Osborne is judged as an individual, influenced, brainwashed, depressed, unstable – what you will, but an individual. His crime does not bring into question the place of white men in British society, white men in accordance with British values, white men’s failure to integrate in a multi-ethnic, multi-faith society.
Conversely, Makram Ali and Michael Adebolajo are not portrayed like their white counterparts. The Cardiff School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies examined reporting of Muslim issues analysing over 900 stories. They found that approximately 67% of all “news hooks” for stories about Muslims involved either terrorism or portrayed Muslims as a source of trouble. By contrast only 5% of stories were based on problems facing British Muslims. Victim Makram Ali (raḥimahu Allāhu) is not mourned nationwide and his murder does not cause widespread indignation against those who seek to change “our way of life” and seek to oppose “British values”. He is not hailed as the representative of Britishness he truly is in this land of immigrant men, raising educated, loving families, contributing to society and holding fast to their tie to the “Almighty Lord and everlasting God” Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā). He is portrayed as an individual.
The power of symbols in constructing emotional responses
Where the white man is victim he is a symbol, where the white man is criminal he is an individual. Where the Muslim is victim he is an individual, where the Muslim is criminal he is a symbol. Such is the case with Michael Adebolajo, the Birmingham “jihādis” (identified as such and thus inextricably tied to Islamic scripture despite their corruption and dishonour of it) and the Orlando shooter. With regards to the latter, his crime is controvertibly framed as having stemmed from his “leanings towards radical Islamist ideology” though evidence strongly suggests he committed the deadly shooting due to severe self-loathing for his own homosexual preference. An almost identical crime and an almost identical terrorist is packaged under the heading “Ethan Stables: Bisexual terrorist who hated himself” – note the rhetoric in the headline forcibly swaying opinion on Ethan Stables, framing his crime within a narrative of psychological dysfunction.
In 2013 and in all the years since, reporting on Michael Adebolajo has been a thorn in the sides of Muslims tirelessly working in the Dawah sector of our community, Muslim converts drawn by a religion of tolerance, black Muslims who are tired of the association with violent inmates drawn to a ‘death cult’. Such Islamophobic and stereotypical reporting is a scourge in the peaceful existence of all Muslims. Adebolajo is described as having been a ‘bright boy’, from a devout church-going Christian family, with a value for education until he found “Islām”. It is then that he came to think of education as useful only for ‘mortal life’, and sought “greater success” in “Paradise” by seeking vengeance for all those killed in Muslim countries by brutally murdering the innocent Lee Rigby. In essence, reports on Adebolajo suggest Islām corrupted a decent boy filled with potential, and drew him into a culture of murder in the name of the global Muslim community against Western society.
With reporting such as this, it is no wonder the average British, European and American citizen believes they are under threat by sword-wielding Muslims. If they believe all Muslims are exacting revenge on the west because of western military intervention (read: invasion) on multiple Muslim countries, the 26,171 bombs dropped in a single year, with the US dropping three bombs every hour, 24 hours a day, is much cause for concern. With western bombs raining down upon Muslim-majority countries such as Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan, the innocent western citizen believing what their media outlets portray of their neighbourhood Muslims retaliating are likely to fall victim to mass moral panic. With such media-engineering is there a wonder that there has been a 500% increase in anti-Muslim hate crime? Western media, while simultaneously airbrushing their involvement in Muslim-majority countries, are fuelling hate against Muslims with their biased, over-representative, carefully constructed reporting.
Since 9/11, 80% of terrorist attacks worldwide were conducted by non-Muslim groups. According to the FBI, 94% of terrorist attacks carried out in the United States from 1980 to 2005 were by non-Muslims and non-Muslims make up the majority of terrorists in Europe at 98%. And yet, despite overtures of political correctness and diplomacy, the word “terrorism” has become synonymous with “Muslim” and “Islām”.
Though the vast majority of global terrorist attacks in the history of the world have been committed by non-Muslims, there is absolutely no way a non-Muslim could be ‘confused’ for a terrorist. Media moguls and those possessing geo-political power would never allow such a stereotype to persist. After all, where would the political benefit be in that?
Since the advent of Islām, those in power have sought to tarnish the name of Muslims using every demeaning term in their contemporary vocabulary. In a time when people feared soothsayers and magicians, Muslims were portrayed as such; in a time when the white man feared the ‘virile black man’ enticing their women, Muslims were labelled ‘moors’; when the Church feared the decline of their congregation and loss of control of Jerusalem, Muslims were called ‘Saracens’ (a derogatory term with etymological roots of ‘thief and plunderer’).
Today, what is sought above all else by western powers is socio-economic and geo-political power; to achieve this an individualist, secular and consumerist ideology has been propagated encouraging a mass preoccupation with the self, the here and the now. This is in direct opposition to the preoccupations of Muslims who, ideologically, do not fit into a neoliberal capitalist paradigm. We are taught to “feed the hungry, spread peace, maintain your kin relationships, and pray at night while others are asleep” – that is: be a community, be selfless and maintain a sincere connection with Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) and thus a constant awareness of the Hereafter. As Muslims do not fit ideologically with the desired framework, the “terrorist” label has been used against them, propagated incessantly by many media outlets to convey Muslims as incongruous to British society, incompatible with western norms, antagonistic to western governments. 
Linguistically, a terrorist is not, as we have been led to believe, a Muslim; and it is not limited to a Muslim criminal, it is not even the striking of terror in the hearts of the innocent in displays of anti-government sentiment. The first recorded use of “terrorism” and “terrorist” in 1795 was, in fact, related to the Reign of Terror on citizens instituted by the French government.  Thus, terrorism historically is when those in power engender fear in their people. Today, those in power have engendered fear in their population of the inexcusable actions of less than 0.00009% of all Muslims, and as a result have caused hundreds of thousands of hate crimes, including murder, against innocent Muslims in the UK alone.
Whether or not Darren Osborne made headlines as a terrorist is inconsequential. The “terrorist” label ascribed to Muslims has become ingrained in psyches of the western populace. No amount of tokenistic portrayals of non-Muslim criminals as terrorists will disentangle the term from its Muslim association; at least, not until policy makers, popular broadcasters and discriminatory institutions cease their double standards, cease their institutional attacks on British Muslim citizens as young as 4 years old,  and cease their propagation of an “us and them” mentality which divides their communities into those who fear Muslims and those who do not – yet.
 Whether or not racism is more than prejudice plus power and whether or not it is more than a tool to subordinate the non-white other is not the topic of exploration here.
 Deah Shaddy Barakat, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha: https://www.islam21c.com/politics/chapelhillshooting-the-media-complicity-in-the-murder-of-muslim-student/
 Christoph Behrends, “Consequences of Planned Obsolescence for Consumer Culture and the Promotional Self”