I wanted to address a problem at this blog that grabbed my attention earlier this morning, concerning coverage of last night’s stabbing incident in Russell Square. Thanks to a BBC app notification, I was made vaguely aware of the attack before I went to sleep, but only decided to read more carefully into the report once details had emerged a few hours ago. I wish to express my solidarity with the family of the poor woman killed, and wish the five who were injured a speedy recovery.
I have, though, been left extremely disappointed by the immediacy with which fingers were pointed at mental health issues, and felt the need to raise my concern and explain why this is so. I haven’t the time to cite every media publication, for obvious reasons, so will use major outlets as examples.
Just after its introduction, the BBC’s news update reads:
‘Police using a Taser arrested a man of 19 who is being held under armed guard at hospital. The Met said mental health was a “significant factor” in events’.
This angle is also reported in ‘The Guardian’, which (to nobody’s surprise) leads with its involvement:
…Daily Telegraph, who note: “Early indications suggest that mental health is a significant factor in this case and that is one major line of inquiry. But of course at this stage we should keep an open mind regarding motive and, consequently, terrorism as a motivation remains but one line of enquiry for us to explore.”
…and Daily Mail, which reports: “Scotland Yard’s top anti-terror officer Mark Rowley gave a press conference outside Scotland Yard at 3.40am and said the 19-year-old appears to have ‘significant mental health issues’ but admitted terrorism could be a motive.”
How generous of Mr Rowley to concede that terrorism *could* be a motive in a terrorist incident. I can feel comforted this morning by the foresight of our intelligence chiefs.
I am angered by the sudden focus on mental health (though do not deny its involvement) for several reasons. It is obvious to me that ‘The Guardian’ chose to lead with Scotland Yard’s mental health angle, as would be expected of any Left-leaning, liberal publication, in order to avoid immediate anti-Islamic hysteria. The Mail and Telegraph would have no such motive.
Notice how frequently phrases such as “early indications show” crop up in these reports. How often do we hear of ‘sane’ knifeman roaming the streets of London, chopping people to pieces? Which other indications (aside from the blood spilling rampage) *suggest* that mental health issues were a major factor in last night’s stabbing spree?
By definition, terror attacks are committed by people who are not all with it. If they were, why would they take it upon themselves to commit mass (or attempted) murder?
But this is not the point. I could care less by how obvious the cause is, and I am not disappointed by the lack of emphasis on Islamism either. My annoyance at this reporting has been caused by two things.
Firstly, there is the alarming lack of consistency. If the media are intent on pointing fingers and outlining allegedly definitive causes before blood has dried, then they must be consistent about it. Quite rationally, links to Islam or Islamism are not included in premature reports, even if links are suspected, so as to reduce any stigmatisation of Muslims. I am happy for this to be the case, and think it wise to continue with such a policy.
But, as I alluded to a moment ago, we need to ask why the mainstream media display such a startling lack of consistency over the matter. If we are reluctant to engage in the stigmatisation of Muslims, then why are we not so in the case of the mentally ill? The term ‘mental illness’ (far too often used pejoratively, and seldom an expression associated with amazing achievement or ability) is wonderfully umbrella.
Savants and those with strains of autism, for example, often exhibit rare mathematical, kinaesthetic or literary genius. We never attempt to decipher between different kinds of ‘mental illness’ and nor is it fair to associate the ‘mentally ill’ with perpetrators of terrorist acts. In this, or indeed any other circumstance, quick fire reporting on suspected motives before police action or a trial have taken place would seem to me to be a mistake. In my view, media publications should avoid speculating upon motives in the aftermath of such incidents, and should instead stick to reporting on what they know to be cold, hard facts.
On a side note, a video of Nick Ferrari exploding on this very issue on his radio show exists somewhere on social media, but, alas, I cannot find it. It may be worth searching in your own time.
The second reason for my disapproval at this kind of reporting is that it could well help to undo years of good work trying to unravel exactly the sort of mental health stigmatisation that I referred to a moment ago. We have come a long way in recent years and, while we do tend to over-diagnose and perhaps still fail to understand certain conditions, for our progress to be threatened by the actions of murderous terrorists would be a huge step backwards. It is not morally correct to encircle those fighting to overcome a whole range of mental problems with those willing to kill in the name of Islam. I urge journalists to remember this.
Readers may at this point be interested to know that I suffer from a condition called bipolar disorder, also known (more sensibly) as manic depression. I suspect that quite a few people reading are familiar with depression, having experienced it themselves or seen it affect other people. Without making last night’s stabbing incident about me or people like me, I wanted to express my concern that those, like me, who experience difficulty on a regular basis could well find themselves subject to unfair prophecies or labelling. To take steps in this direction would damage our society and split tolerance asunder.
Content with protecting British Muslims from stigmatisation in the wake of terror attacks, the mainstream media has turned its attention towards ‘mental illness’. It’s far too easy, damaging and contradictory. But will anybody listen?