The South African Muslim Network (Samnet) has expressed frustration at mainstream media’s inconsistency and apparent bias in handling issues relating to terrorism and religious extremism after four people allegedly involved in a terror plot were arrested and charged with contravening the Protection of Constitutional Democracy Against Terrorism and Related Activities (Pocdatara) Act as well as harbouring a wanted suspect. On Friday morning it was further revealed that a fifth person seemingly linked to the alleged terrorist group was arrested by the Hawks in Cape Town.
Samnet says that they have “pointed out a glaring double standard that exists in the mainstream media when it comes to the way mainstream media reported this case versus how they report issues when there’s a Muslim or when the religion of Islam is involved.” Samnet’s chairperson, Dr Faisal Suliman argues that it is even possible to compare South African media coverage to that seen in America as far as the contradictions and inconsistent reporting on terrorism when it relates to Muslims or Islam is concerned.
Harry Johannes Knoesen, Riana Heymans and brothers Eric and Errol Abrams were arrested some time ago, while most recently on Thursday a man from Kuilsrivier was reported by Times Live as being arrested at his business premises for the illegal possession of a firearm, explosives and explosive devices. Knoesen is a retired pastor and former SANDF member who is alleged to be the head of a right-wing organisation in South Africa, the National Christian Resistance Movement. The alleged terror organisation is also known as the Crusaders. Reports by Times Live further indicate that the plot allegedly hatched by the Crusaders targeted national key-points, shopping malls and informal settlements.
Dr Suliman explains that inconsistently, when compared with cases of alleged Muslim terrorism, there’s no implication of Christianity or the influence of the Bible on this extremism in the media. He highlighted that Christian groups have not been called on or forced to come out and explain why Christianity doesn’t promote terrorism, fundamentalism or extremism – as is usually imposed on the Muslim community.
“I think part of it is our fault in the sense that Muslims haven’t been engaging enough with the media…certainly we can go into ownership of large mainstream media [but] we haven’t gotten ownership and we haven’t been aggressive enough with lawsuits and community activism in holding these people to account – even at the level of Sanef (the South African National Editors Forum),” said Dr Suliman.
Dr Suliman says Muslims have failed partly because of a lack of resources, a lack of adequate skills and also a failure to have a community psychology focused on seeing these things as important.
However, he stressed that he is not looking for bias and unfair reporting on Christian or other religious and cultural groups, but rather for consistent and fair treatment. He indicated that there needs to be a rethinking of how Muslims are portrayed in mainstream media, considering how media is somehow able to cover these Christian stories without making all the demands that we see made of Muslims when these stories break.
“We want to see balance – facts more than inuendo… The same circumspection with which we treat stories emanating like this Crusaders one should be afforded to all religions,” said Dr Suliman.
Samnet has called for Muslims to become more proactive and to take these issues of media coverage and portrayal more seriously.
“This will keep happening until the Muslim community puts more time, resources and activism against the media so that when we see these things happen, it’s not just for us to talk about on platforms but for Muslim communities to speak about it in mosques and on radio to galvanise communities and to march to a newspaper or wherever the guilty party is…
That’s what other communities do and I think Muslims should be doing the same,” explained Dr Suliman.
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