A ruling by the Independent Press Standard Organisation has criticised the Mail Online for a headline which speculated that the death of a woman in Luton earlier this year might have been an “Islamic honour killing”. While it appeared that the police were investigating the possibility that the woman may have been the victim of an honour killing, IPSO concluded there was no basis for imputing a religious motive.
The verdict in this case comes a day after an incident in which a French woman and her three daughters were apparently stabbed while they holidayed in the Alps. As news of the attack broke, it was noted that the alleged perpetrator was a Muslim man, born in Morocco. Not only that, but early reports suggested that the deputy mayor of the locality had referred to the attacker being motivated by distaste of the victims’ clothing – said to be shorts and T-shirts.
It was unclear where the information about the deputy mayor’s remarks had come from. Copy from “newswires” did not contain any direct quotes, nor any explanation as to why he might have come to know about the attacker’s state of mind. Given that the detail was likely to lead some readers to infer a religious motive, The Independent hesitated to repeat it until clearer information emerged.
Sure enough, further reports from news agencies in France indicated that the deputy mayor had subsequently indicated there was no evidence that the victim’s clothing had inspired the attack. The local prosecutor told journalists that there was no “firm answer” as to motive. No doubt more details will emerge through the necessary legal enquiries.
Nobody would dispute the fact that many acts of violence have been perpetrated in recent months by individuals claiming to act on behalf of Isis and more broadly in the name of Islam (however distorted their vision of the religion). In the last week we have witnessed appalling carnage in Nice, claimed by Isis to have been committed by a “soldier” of the group – though even in this case the actual reasons for Mohammed Lahouaiej Bouhlel’s hideous actions remain hard to determine. And in Germany, investigators found an Isis flag in the room of an Afghan asylum seeker who injured five train passengers with a knife and an axe.
Even so, the unrelated incidents in the Alps and in Luton show that clearly there is a real imperative for care when reporting crimes which happen to involve people of faith; and especially, in the current climate, those involving Muslims, whether as victim or culprit.
Readers will always seek to impute particular motives – it is human nature to try to figure out why somebody has fallen prey to a heinous crime, or why an alleged perpetrator has acted in a way so at odds with social norms. But that is all the more reason for the media to be cautious about jumping to conclusions; or even including unverified information that will lead an audience to draw inferences which may not be sustainable.
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