The recent terrorist tragedy in Norway has garnered major attention in the news as of late, and also sparked much outrage at the instant accusations launched against Muslims for the attack. The media ran purely on speculation that the attacks were linked to an Islamist group based on incomplete and unverified information, and although the real culprit, a blonde and blue eyed Norwegian, has now been caught, the vast majority of the media has shown that so-called “Islamic” terrorists and terrorists of European descent are treated very differently within their pages. By following the media’s tone and usage of language, one can easily see that the word “terrorist” is now a label that is primarily reserved for Muslims.
On July 22nd, reporters were quick to speculate that Islamists, notably an al-Qaeda linked faction, were likely responsible for the attacks on Oslo; that the attack was to “punish Norway for deploying troops in Afghanistan” or Libya and for “unspecified insults to the Prophet Muhammad” (PBUH), including the reprinted series of offensive Danish cartoons in a Norwegian newspaper. Some reporters even went so far as to use the opportunity to defend Defense Spending against jihadists, make outrageous accusations that the “presence of so many Muslims in… Europe… is (in fact) leading to ‘cultural annihilation’”; that those attacked essentially deserved to be targeted because they “sided with Islamic terrorists”, and other strong and rather ridiculous anti-Muslim attacks.
After it was learned that the terrorist, Anders Behring Breivik, was himself Norwegian, wide speculation began that he was in fact a convert to Islam, a radical Islamist, influenced by Islam, or learned the techniques from Islamic terrorists, as if Islamists were the only ones capable of terrorism. Islam was still seen as somehow to blame for this horrendous terrorist action, even though Breivik claims he was influenced by a small group of American bloggers and had clearly copied multiple passages of his Manifesto from Ted Kaczynski, the American Unabomber. Former UN ambassador John Bolton even noted how “(t)his kind of behavior is very un-Norwegian” and that it was classic “Islamist terrorism”. As could be expected, the commentary and public reaction was quick to turn this assumed blame into racist ramblings about “rag heads“, “Muzzie scum”; calling for borders to be shut against all Muslims, lumping all Muslims together and labelling Islam as a violent hypocritical religion. A few commenters realized the dangers of the impulse to place blame without full knowledge, and spoke out against the biased attacks and rush to judgment, but the vast majority across the media seemed to be intent on anti-Islamic hatred.
A UN human rights expert was quick to condemn the unverified reports, calling them “revealing” and “embarrassing” examples of “the powerful impact of prejudices and their capacity to enshrine stereotypes”, while reiterating that “proper respect for the victims… should have precluded the drawing of conclusions based on pure conjecture”. Despite printing incorrect information, many of the papers issued no public retractions or apologies for their mistake, and some even went so far as to defend the error by suggesting that it was “not unreasonable to suspect the atrocities in Norway were committed by Islamists” under the assumption that Muslims are “predominant” in committing “mass-atrocity”. Many left their publicized mistakes as is, while others quickly changed their previous content without offering apologies, retractions, or even noting the changes publicly, contrary to good journalistic practices.
Besides the initial reaction to blame Muslims, the language used by the vast majority of the media in describing the attacks and the attacker shows how the words “terrorist” or “terrorism” seem now almost exclusively reserved for describing Muslims. A survey of the evolution of articles following the attacks clearly demonstrates this.
For example, Reuters, an incredibly popular and reputable news site that is widely known as a first line of reporting, who describes itself as “the world’s leading source of intelligent information”, fell into the trap of relaying incorrect information and has yet to apologize or retract their mistake. Since the identity of the accused has been released, they have also, subconsciously or not, used language that avoids the “terrorist” or “terrorism” label when describing the Norwegian events. On July 22nd, Reuters issued an article with the headline “Islamist militant attacks in Europe”, that described all the recent Islamist terrorist attacks in Europe and painted the Norwegian event by framing it clearly as a “terrorist” attack. There were six stories filed about Norway that day by Reuters, five of them extensive in their language suggesting Islamist terrorists, and describing terrorism in general. Only one, with the headline “Man arrested after shootings is Norwegian”, which came out much later in the day, had no mention of the words “terrorist” or “terrorism”, and instead described the accused as “a gunman” and was now labelling the terrorist attack “shootings”, and “a bombing”.
The next day, on July 23rd, after...
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