Yesterday morning the Sun newspaper’s splash had just two words in big type: ‘Jihadi Junior’. Next to it was the video-still of a tiny four-year-old boy wearing a bandana of the Isis flag, who had a minor role in their latest video.
I looked at that picture and felt sad. Little Isa Dare’s life has barely started but it is already in tatters. His mother took him to a country ravaged by civil war, among a hell-hole of religious extremists, and now he has been nicknamed ‘Jihadi Junior’ by publications in his home country. That nickname will haunt him for life and he had nothing to do with it. He has already been condemned.
I have submitted a complaint to the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO). This isn’t just about four-year-old Isa Dare. The Sun is demonising underage Muslim children just because of their parents. We are being pushed into a world where even Muslim toddlers are fair game if their parents are extremists.
I’m not a bleeding heart liberal - I want to see Isis militants meet the cold face of justice. I want to see them utterly destroyed. But I don’t want to see us turning into demons in the process.
The “Jihadi Junior” splash, complete with unpixellated image, was utterly vile because it implied that a child, at the age of four, was a terrorist. But four-year-old Isa Dare was the victim, not the perpetrator. The child was used as a prop by Isis; he wasn’t an accomplice.
And it's not just The Sun. The Canadian government has listed a six-year-old child as a ‘security threat’ and put him on a no-fly-list. The British Home Office is asking nursery staff to spy on Muslim toddlers to see if they are at risk of becoming terrorists. It’s the same line of thinking: Muslim children are potential terrorists from the day they’re born. They’re dangerous. That’s precisely the sort of over-reaction and paranoia that ISIS want us to develop.
The story of the Isis video was clearly in the public interest. But the main story is not about the child. Since he is a toddler, his face should have been pixelated, as media outlets such as the Daily Mirror, the Independent and Channel 4 News did.
Under IPSO Editor’s Code of Practice, it states: “Editors must not use the fame, notoriety or position of a parent or guardian as sole justification for publishing details of a child's private life.”
My main issue is this. By dubbing him ‘Jihadi Junior’ and showing his face the Sun turned a four-year-old child into a terror suspect and a target of hatemongers. He will likely be treated with scorn and suspicion even though he isn’t old enough to know what he was doing. Would a white girl get the same treatment: be branded a religious extremist if her parents were?
In a wider context, Muslim children are being used as pawns - as propaganda tools - by jihadis. The children aren’t fully aware of the context: they are either doing what they’re told or trying to impress their elders without really knowing the implications. They are being groomed in the way that child sex offenders groom children.
They should be treated as victims, not as willing perpetrators. And yet, British tabloids have almost always branded such under-18 Isis victims as accomplices. Why? Just because they’re Muslims?
Newspapers who publish images of children under ‘Jihadi Junior’ nicknames want Muslims to speak out against Isis, yet eagerly brand even toddlers as jihadis. This wrong-headed strategy effectively buys into Isis propaganda - and does their job for them.
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