Finsbury Park Attack Reinforces Terrorist Ideology
KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
Now we're going to talk about London where an attack yesterday on Muslims has left many people frustrated. And among the targets of that frustration is the British news media. People who live in Finsbury Park where the terror attack happened say the way the media covers Muslims has fueled hatred of their community. NPR's Frank Langfitt reports from London.
FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: When reporters arrived on the scene where a white man drove a van into Muslim worshippers, they were met by anger and distrust.
MOHAMMED: It's 'cause of the media, yeah, of course. The government and the media has done this.
LANGFITT: The speaker, a 30-year-old resident in a New York Yankees cap, would only give his first name, Mohammed, because he said he had no confidence in reporters or officials. Miqdaad Versi understands why.
MIQDAAD VERSI: We have had people within even mainstream news organizations giving platforms to people who spread hate about Muslims.
LANGFITT: Versi's assistant secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain. He pointed to a tweet by Katie Hopkins, a columnist with the MailOnline. It followed last month's bombing in Manchester. Quote, "22 dead, number rising," Hopkins wrote. "We need a final solution." Hopkins lost her talk radio show for that tweet which referred to the Holocaust but not her column. Miqdaad Versi says extreme rhetoric like this has helped poison public opinion against Muslims. He cites figures from a University of Cambridge study.
VERSI: More than 50 percent of the richest population think Islam is a threat to Western civilization. More than 30 percent of young children between the ages of 10 and 14 think that Muslims are taking over England. Where does this hate come from? It comes from - this atmosphere of hostility against Muslims comes from media organizations.
LANGFITT: Consider the headlines of these British tabloids - "Christianity Under Attack," "Millions Are Eating Halal Food Without Knowing It." Charlie Winter says headlines like these and terror attacks like the one at Finsbury Park encourage online supporters of groups like ISIS. Winter's a senior fellow at the International Center for the Study of Radicalisation at King's College London.
CHARLIE WINTER: In the last 24 hours after the attack, I've seen a lot of people who are not quite celebrating the attack, but they are talking about it as confirmation of what they believe to be the case for a long time.
LANGFITT: That the West is out to get Muslims, and they can never feel at home here.
WINTER: According to the Islamic State's world view, there is a international conspiracy against Sunni Islam, and Muslims in the West are doomed to face this inevitable war. And there is nothing that can be done to stop that inevitable conflict apart from respond to it with violence.
RAFFAELLO PANTUCCI: All of this points to a really quite menacing threat picture which - it wouldn't be surprising if it was to lead to further violence.
LANGFITT: That's Raffaello Pantucci. He researches counterterrorism at the Royal United Services Institute. Pantucci suspects the driver, a middle-aged man from Wales, was retaliating in some way for three earlier attacks by Islamist extremists. Witnesses quoted the man as saying he wanted to kill Muslims.
PANTUCCI: I mean it's a sort of incredibly difficult moment now in the United Kingdom because I mean we had this sort of chain of terrorist incidents that in part no doubt were spurred on by each other. The fact that we're now having a reaction does set a really worrying precedent.
LANGFITT: Pantucci says the nation's security forces will have to work even harder to prevent more attacks, and politicians will have to reassure communities and bring people together to prevent a cycle of violence. Frank Langfitt, NPR News, London. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.