Demanding apologies risks alienating Muslims

Kay Burley of Sky News has recently attracted controversy over an interview with a representative from Cage UK, an activist group that aims to help victims of the ‘War on Terror,’ after she dismissed some of his comments; her line of questioning eventually resulted in Cerie Bullivant abruptly leaving the interview.

Burley’s line of questioning, which included her asking Bullivant how he felt about the beheadings, mirrors a trend seen within some parts of the British media, in the expectation that it is the duty of the international Muslim community to publicly denounce terrorist attacks carried out in the name of Islam by extremists, such as the beheadings committed by ‘Jihadi John’ Mohammed Emwazi. This is inherently Islamophobic. It rests on the assumption that Muslims who do not do so therefore both share the views of the attackers, and support their actions as morally just. This trend did not appear, however, after the 2011 terrorist attacks in Norway carried out by Anders Breivik, killing seventy seven people. Breivik himself stated, “Well, I am a militant Christian; to prevent the de-Christianisation of Europe is very important.” Christians were not questioned by the media on their opinions of the killings; it was an inherent assumption that any reasonable person would find them abhorrent. The complete reverse has occurred in relation to instances of Islamic terrorism including ‘Jihadi John,’ where there seems to be an assumption that Muslims support their actions unless they explicitly express otherwise and justify their opinions.

Neither the Christian population of Norway, nor the worldwide Christian community, were expected to apologise or denounce the heinous actions of Breivik, and Christianity was not held accountable in any way. Other influences including right wing extremism, Islamophobia, and mental health problems were explored and all used to justify his actions. On the other hand, in the analysis of Mohammed Emwazi and the Charlie Hebdo attackers, the primary motivating aspect of their actions is their adherence to Islam. Whilst this may be a valid conclusion, the dismissal of other external influences and interacting factors when discussing Islamist extremism is something largely unseen when analysing extremism within other religions, namely Christianity.

Boris Johnson, in his column for The Telegraph, recently published an article, “Young British Muslims should realise that extremists like Jihadi John are not honouring Islam.” Whilst he writes: “I believe – and I certainly want to believe – that this jihadi madness is rejected by the overwhelming majority of Muslims,” the title and general tone of his article would suggest that he in fact believes quite the opposite. The title itself implies that Johnson does in fact believe that young British Muslims find the actions of Emwazi honourable, and the article as a whole patronises the entire British Muslim community, whose only connection to Emwazi is religion. He later calls on Cage UK to apologise to the families of the victims of Emwazi, reinforcing the tendency of expecting Muslims to accept guilt for actions committed by other Muslims.

It should be noted that this trend is more concentrated within the more conservative elements of the British media, primarily The Telegraph. Sky News, under impartiality laws is legally required to remain neutral, although it has come under criticism in the past for its lack of neutrality, for example during the 2010 General Election. There certainly appears to be less demand for Muslim apologies within more central and left leaning news outlets, such as the BBC and The Guardian. However, this trend within any part of British journalism is concerning, as the British Muslim community is not, and should not be presented as being, accountable in any way for the actions of fellow Muslims.

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