They seem odd bedfellows but bedfellows they are: ISIS / Daesh and the Sun.
The attacks in Western European cities are an attempt by a moribund and largely rejected ideology to try and divide our society in two. Nice is no different. It takes limited analysis to understand that Daesh and Al-Qaeda have a very simple modus operandi: it is to shock and split communities. In their limited, barbaric and binary worldview they need a world where there are visible community tensions; splits between Muslims and non-Muslims; they want to create a narrative of them and us; and yes they feed off Islamophobia and recruit young and often lost individuals on the back of that Islamophobia.
Channel 4 News decided to dispatch Jon Snow to the scene whilst back in the studio that night the programme was anchored by Fatima Manji. Fatima is a journalist and in my opinion a good one. She is a journalist who dresses in a hijab. Whether the choice was intentional or not: having Fatima anchoring that night was akin to sticking a pejorative two fingers up at Islamist extremism and in one moment defeats the rhetoric of Daesh. This is Western Europe: it is a world where we coexist and collaborate creatively in our economies, our media and elsewhere. Fatima’s appearance on television is a psychological blow to extremists. Their desire for a ‘them and us’ narrative disappears in a puff of smoke.
So who rescued the narrative? Was it a preacher? Another attacker? A response by the state? This time it was Kelvin MacKenzie of the Sun. His response was both predictable and divisive. He used the usual memes: his attack on Ms Manji and Channel 4 centred on her attire describing the ‘hijab as a sign of the slavery of Muslim women by a male- dominated and clearly violent religion”.
Kelvin – you may have once been my boss – but seriously YOU ARE A FOOL – and as far as Daesh/ISIS or whatever-they-call-themselves – you are their ‘useful idiot’ who has come to their aid. Your article has been reposted by two groups of extremists as evidence for the mainstreaming of their worldview: the far right – and their groups of organised racial hatred and Islamist extremists (ditto). Both will love Kelvin’s article. It reinforces the worldview of those who believe in tribal siloed societies: divided by ethnicity and religion.
The scene in Nice before the attack was a common one in France on July 14th: Bastille Day – a day which France celebrates its overthrowing of the Ancien Regime in favour of the maxim Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité. It is a scene where Catholics, Jews, Protestants, Atheists and Muslims were out celebrating before some petty criminal driven by an extreme ideology ploughed a lorry at high speed into men, women and children – destroying the lives of families on an evening out – FOREVER.
We should be talking about how we mend society. We should be providing a counter-narrative to this. We should be reassuring each other. We should be building bridges and not walls: we can put someone with a hijab on prime time because unlike you Mr MacKenzie we have the confidence to do so…
… And while we are at it… Why would you not put someone looking like me into a reporting role in the Middle East? Or a Hindu journalist on anchor on an evening when their are communal tensions in India or Pakistan?
The first time I met people at work that were openly members of far right groups was when I worked for you Mr MacKenzie. All those years ago in the Sun (I was a summer vacation intern on the Sun when he was Editor – my school thought I’d been assigned to the Times – but the Murdoch Empire had other plans for me ;). It was working there I met members of the ICF – a hooligan group who associated themselves with West Ham. They used to be runners for you at the Sun – indeed most if not all the runners had ICF insignia on their notebooks etc. They were nice enough to me but their views were narrow and siloed and dangerous – and ICF’s violence has been well documented. I had assumed you never knew about their view – too low down the pecking order. And I never thought the editor of Britain’s most successful daily newspaper (ever) would be running for someone else now but there you go: your narrative is one that nourishes the Islamophobia and racism that the polar extremes need to feed on. You are running for them now. Sad. So sad.