Wednesday, 13 July 2005

British muslim bombers, NY Times & selective reporting

On the subject of crap reporting.

Check out the New York Times report on the revelation that the attacks in London was carried out by British muslims:

"Neighbors, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they did not wish to draw attention to themselves during a time of tension, said Mr. Tanweer had worked at his family's fast-food store selling fish and chips. "When he was 15 or 16, he got all religious, and started praying five times a day," a woman said."

"The neighbors said Mr. Tanweer had attended two local schools and had been known as a soccer and cricket player. "He was more British than anything else," said one of two women who said they were neighbors."

The NY Times prefers to zoom in on only one of the four suspects, who though "more British than anything else," suddenly "got all religious and started praying five times a day" (ironically is the number of prayers expected daily according to Islam - more or less like Christians are supposed to go to Church every Sunday).

What irritates me here is the not-so-subtle perpetuation of the structure of thought that every devout muslim is a latent suicide bomber. Religious devotion should not be treated as a necessary condition for fundamentalist political stances (In fact, I would argue that most religious fundamentalists are on the periphery of the core religious tradition, but that is for another time).

If you compare it to the Reuters article, which I presume the NYTimes journalists used as filler, then a different picture emerges (it also emerges that Reuters uses The Daily Mirror, The Guardian and The Times as source material - what do you think of that Pollen?):

"They were four ordinary British lads from ordinary British homes who loved football and girls... So why did they become the suicide murderers?" The Daily Mirror wondered on its front page.

Neighbours in Leeds were shocked that their young might have been responsible for the blasts.

"He was a sweet guy who gets on with everyone," said Mohamed Ansaar Riaz, 19, in The Times newspaper, of one of the four suspects, a 22-year-old sports science graduate who was said to adore football and cricket.

"He had a fantastic sense of humour and could make you laugh... The idea of him going down to London to explode a bomb is unbelievable; it is not in his nature to do something like that."

The suspect, who was said to help out in his father's fast food shop in Leeds, was described as "sound as a pound" by Azi Mohammed in The Guardian.

"I only played cricket in the park with him around 10 days ago. He is not interested in politics."

Another neighbour, who declined to be named, told ITN News that the "always smiling" sports graduate had spent two months in Afghanistan last year and four months in the Pakistani city of Lahore.

Another suspect, a 19-year-old also from Leeds, was said to have turned to religion after being a "bit wild".

"He went off the rails and his parents were very worried. They wanted to instil some discipline in him; I don't know what happened but 18 months to two years ago (the suspect) suddenly changed and became devoutly religious," a cousin was quoted in The Times as saying.

A third suspect was said to be a 30-year old married father of one and according to an unnamed member of his wife's family they had originally disapproved of him because he was not as traditional a Muslim as they would have wished.

"He does not believe in having a beard or wearing a hat. But he has always seemed a really nice guy and has never been in any trouble that I know of. He has been to Pakistan a few times but not for long periods," the in-law was quoted in the Daily Mail as saying.

Well, if you look past the irritating, "I cannot believe that our nice neighbour turned out to be an ax-wielding serial killer" - then it seems that only one of these bombers could be considered devout and then only after a "damascus moment". Surprise surprise, that is the one on which the NY Times prefers to shine their human angle spotlight. I am not only making a point about selective reporting. I am also making a point about the nature of fundamentalist Islam - most islamic fundamentalists are not really the devout muslims they are made out to be. Put another way, they are not driven by their religious beliefs, rather they mobilise around their religious identity, but they are driven by their politics.

Another Reuters article gives devout muslims the chance to respond:
The Muslim Council of Britain said it was stunned that English Muslims appeared to have carried out the attacks. "We have received today's terrible news from the police with anguish, shock and horror," secretary-general Iqbal Sacranie said in a statement. "Nothing in Islam can ever justify the evil actions of the bombers."

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