Given that everybody else has been doing so, I feel I ought to say something about the strange campaign that Miqdaad Versi is currently running against the reporting of the fact that two members of the public spotted the Manchester Bomber, Salman Abedi, praying in the foyer of a pop concert, prior to detonating his bomb.
Miqdaad Versi is the director for media monitoring at the Muslim Council of Britain. His job essentially consists of firing off complaints to news organisations, whenever he takes the view that there is something “off” with their reporting on subjects relating to Islam or Muslims.
That is a useful thing to be doing, within reason. Most newspapers are less bad than they have been, when it comes to lazy and stereotypical reporting about Muslims. But there’s still value in making a fuss, when they do.
It is difficult to understand the logic behind the identification of these two images as problematic. There isn’t a racist myth that Muslims are secretly behind the COVID pandemic to tackle, so it isn’t that. I doubt that Miqdaad is saying that images of Muslims at prayer, or wearing traditional Islamic garb its itself a damaging stereotype. Indeed, one imagine a criticism of a news organisation for not showing visibly Muslim people going about their business, for contributing to “Muslim invisibility” or what have you.
But this sort of complaint is a trivial matter.
Of greater concern is the mini campaign that Miqdaad Versi has been running over the last few days, which various academics and commentators have joined, that focuses on the reporting of the “praying before bombing” evidence that emerged from the Manchester Bombing inquiry. That falls into a very different category.
As everybody has pointed out, prayer in itself isn’t in itself a warning sign of an imminent terrorist attack. But very few devout people go to the foyers of pop concerts and, surrounded by excited exuberant teenage girls, start to pray. Few do so while wearing a huge backpack. This was a warning sign. The two members of the public who noted this conduct, were right to be concerned.
This being so, it would be an appalling and dangerous outcome, were members of the public discouraged from reporting their suspicions to the police, because of a fear that to do so would be regarded as racist. As Liam Duffy points out, it was apparently fears such as these which resulted in the neighbours of the San Bernardino shooters deciding not to report their suspicions.
I’m not saying that Miqdaad Versi’s concerns are wholly without merit. There will undoubtedly be some people who will read an account of a terrorist who prayed before murder, and will think badly of Muslims and Islam as a result. The right way to combat that problem is to explain that Abedi was part of a terrorist enterprise, which was inspired by a religious-political ideology that primarily victimises Muslims, and which represents only part of a vast spectrum of Muslim beliefs, practices and perspectives.
But the bottom line is this. When an act of terrorism is carried out by a person who understands his actions in terms of faith, no censoring of the news record will effectively disguise that fact. Nor should anybody attempt to do so. Preventing murderous carnage must be our top priority.
I’ve been a critic of the phenomenon of the “instant expert“, where people leap to conclusions on the basis of scant evidence. But when the facts are presented to an inquiry, it is essential that they are reported. To do otherwise is massively corrosive of trust in the press.
These arguments have been made by many over the last few days. Miqdaad Versi’s response to them has been rather poor. Instead of engaging with them, he published the following tweet:
I have to say, it is pretty disgraceful to associate Robin Simcox and Tom Wilson with the likes of Robert Spencer. There is no similarity between the perspectives on Islam and Islamism of these two – who I know well – and Mr Spencer. I do not know the other individuals who have been mentioned.
As a footnote, I played a part in encouraging the Government to ban Robert Spencer and his sidekick, Pamela Geller from the UK. Spencer, in turn, described the website for which I formerly wrote as “the English Leftist dhimmi hate site Harry’s Place”.
The Guardian ran a profile of Miqdaad Versi in which he was described as “scrupulously courteous”. This is true. His work is also described as “quixotic”. That is a good description of it.
But windmills are not usually dangerous giants. A few are doing the valuable job of crushing artisanal flour, and most produce electricity. It is therefore not wise to attempt to destroy them.
A man who repeatedly jousts with windmills will ultimately not be taken seriously.