Four days ago the Daily Mail was caught doctoring a stock image to illustrate a story about a ‘Christian’ foster child who was ‘forced’ to live with a Muslim family. The report stated that the family allegedly made the little girl learn Arabic, barred her from eating non halal foods, and even went as far as to take away her Christian cross necklace. To further reinforce the apparent ‘heinousness’ of this child’s situation, the paper took it upon itself to photoshop a niqab onto the woman’s face.
This decision was without a doubt obscene, almost to the point of comedic were it not for the fact that this was yet another attempt by the paper to further this hyperbolic ‘us’ and ‘them’ narrative. It is one more endeavour to further the paper’s attempts to vilify the Muslim community in the UK and stir up more panic among its readers. And while the scene of a woman in niqab strolling side by side with her husband and child in Safa Park in Dubai (where the stock photo is actually set) is a common and entirely non threatening one, the paper did its damnedest to make the notion of a woman wearing the face covering as foreign and as nefarious as possible.
Indeed this kind of fear-mongering is nothing new for the paper — it’s what the Daily Mail, and its readers, thrive on. On any given day you can find some rehashed story about how immigrants are stealing jobs from hard working Brits and how the Muslim community is trying to infiltrate the government by implementing Shariah Law. Yet it’s the fact that this kind of Islamophobic trope has become so common place in one of the UK’s mainstream news outlets, and the lack of outrage by journalists, politicians and the public alike, that is so concerning.
When Kevin Myers, formerly of The Sunday Times, wrote an article last month ultimately pinning Claudia Winkleman’s and Vanessa Feltz’s higher BBC salaries down to being Jewish, he was rightfully sacked. That sort of anti-Semitic nonsense has no place in modern day journalism. Yet here we are, four days into the Daily Mail running this article, and so far there’s been no retraction, no apology, and little to no outrage from the public, other than to point out photoshopping of a stock image is nothing short of idiotic. The Muslim community in Britain has once again been left to defend itself.
Perhaps what’s worse is that the fault of said normalisation does not fall sole on the shoulders of the Murdoch publication alone — coverage of recent terror attacks are testament to this. When looking at the reports that came out of Barcelona, for example, the use of the word ‘terrorist’ to label alleged attacker Younes Abouyaaqoub was used extensively. The same can be said for Salam Abedi who detonated a bomb during an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester; Khalid Masood who carried out the attacks on Parliament; and Khuram Butt, Rachid Redouane and Youssef Zaghba, the three men who drove a van into a crowd on London Bridge. When Darren Osbourn drove his van into a group of worshipers leaving a mosque in North London, initial newspaper reports described him as a ‘father of four’, while his neighbours were described as ‘shocked’ that Osbourn had the capacity to commit such a crime. And when Thomas Mair killed Labour MP Jo Cox in 2016, the majority of news coverage paired the focus of his ‘extremist’ views with his history of mental illness.
This is not to say some attacks were less heinous than others — all of them were acts of cowardice brought on by hate and extremism. Yet it’s difficult to ignore how strikingly different the lexicon is for Muslim assailants than for non-Muslim ones. Likewise, there seems to be a need to humanise one group, while demonising the other.
Admittedly none of this is new. Newspapers have molded and shaped how people view entire groups of people the way they do for decades, simply by the repetitive use of certain words, phrases and images. What’s concerning, however, is the outcome of this. Without the intent of evoking Godwin’s law, the role of the European newspapers in 1930s helped pave the way for the treacherous results of the Second World War. While I wish I could say we have learned from the mistakes of our past, the rise of hate crimes, specifically those geared towards the Muslim community, proves otherwise.
Indeed in these tempestuous times we must hold our national papers, even the likes of the Daily Mail, to a high standard and call them out when they fail — this includes the literal doctoring of photos to serve a paper’s narrative. While for some this might seem like nothing more than a school boy doodle, akin to painting a mustache on the face of some old dead historical figure, the consequences of this kind of irresponsible journalism could easily wind up costing lives.