There is a marked discrepancy in the media’s treatment of killer and mosque bomber Pavlo Lapshyn and the way the Muslim ‘threat’ is highlighted by British populist politicians and media. In the case of Lapshyn, here is very much the ‘lone operator’.
The Police, so preoccupied with hunting ‘Muslim terrorists’, were amazingly slow in picking up the trail. The student Pavlo Lapshyn was able to avoid detection even after committing a murder in April, planting a bomb outside a Walsall mosque in June, then one outside a Wolverhampton mosque, and finally in July at Tipton mosque. The Police were reluctant to categorise the murder of Mohammed Saleem as an Islamophobic attack; the debris in Walsall was not immediately recognised as the result of an explosive device; while in Wolverhampton, “officers were called to the scene….but they were not specialists and did not realise the significance of the debris” (Vikram Dodd reporting in The Guardian, 22 October).
It seems that the authorities, like Khoja Nasruddin, only look for the misplaced needle by the street lamp, because that is the spot illuminated! Inordinate public resources have been deployed to train teachers how to ‘spot extremism’ in the classroom, and even engage hospital chaplains to inform on the views of patients, as measures to deal with the ‘Muslim threat’. Meanwhile Islamophobic and racist extremism is spawning below the covers and above.
In the case of young Muslims, the Preventing Violent Extremism (PVE) programme has created an elaborate narrative of Muslims as suspects. Muhammad Khan, an expert on Muslim youth in Britain, rightly observes that PVE and Islamophobia go hand in hand because PVE constructs Muslims as the threat (see his essay in Thinking Through Islamophobia, edited by S.Sayyid and A.Vakil, 2010). Thus the Home Office guide, ‘Learning to be Safe’, widely circulated throughout educational institutions in the UK as a handbook for teachers and support staff, focuses on the ‘Muslim problem’ with an emphasis on faith, culture and religion. According to University of Manchester researcher Katy Pal Sian,
“The message of never making too many assumptions, and always questioning the ‘what if?’ demonstrates the pervasiveness of the PVE agenda in establishing the construct of the ‘dangerous’ Muslim. Moreover, if it is the case that a Muslim child is visiting family in Pakistan or Afghanistan this is subject to scrutiny, whereas a white pupil going away on holiday to visit relatives is not questioned.”
The ‘what if’ scenarios are based on a methodology that allow white extremists to remain below the radar. This is the outcome of a mindset pervading the Police and security organisations, whereby Muslims can be conveniently stereo-typed. Thus there is the ‘escalator theory’ and the Channel Programme, in which the pathway to extremism can be traced through actions such as regular attendance at a mosque, holiday trips or getting into political arguments.
It seems that the media is portraying Lapshyn case as a ‘shy, polite, normal guy’ who became self-radicalised. Where are the journalistic investigations into his religio-cultural background or links at university? Some time ago the MCB noted the “lacklustre response from our political leaders to speak out against anti-Muslim hatred”. The Lapshyn case has revealed the harm caused by the bias in the PVE programme.