Imagine if a Scottish Muslim pleaded guilty to threatening to blow up Glasgow Cathedral and behead one Christian a week until all British troops were pulled out of Iraq and Afghanistan.
There would be outrage, right? It would be splashed over the front page of every newspaper in the land. It would be the top of all news bulletins.
There would be volumes written on what motivated him, his family background and his beliefs. There would be a rich stream of analysis from a variety of positions. Government would be asked what it was doing to avoid such a thing from happening.
So when news came into the Scottish-Islamic Foundation office this week of one Neil MacGregor pleading guilty to threatening to blow up Glasgow Central Mosque and behead one Muslim a week until all Scottish mosques were shut down, we thought it couldn’t possibly be true.
There had been no build up to such a trial, no coverage during it and none on the verdict. We Googled it, and nothing came up. Not a sausage, nada, zilch.
Immediately, we fired out a press release. If this hadn’t been brought to the attention of our media, surely they’d cover it once they heard of it? Seems not. Well, apart from Scotland Today (brief mention 10 minutes in).
So I phoned up the newsdesks of some of our major newspapers and asked how this could have happened. Some said they’d get back to me, but haven’t. Others put their hands up and said it was a big mistake. Helpfully, it was pointed out that some news outlets rely entirely on output from the Glasgow Courts Press Agency, and it seems that they might not have put anything out on this. It’s something we’ll be following up. At the Atif Siddique trial in 2007, there were even unidentified figures there on hand to brief the press on a plot to behead the Canadian prime minister which wasn’t even brought up during the trial, but led the news the next day as a result.
There is a chance for redemption. MacGregor will be sentenced on March 6. This should provide a sufficient hook for media outlets to give coverage.
In addition, there are a number of questions around this. Why was this tried at Glasgow Sheriff Court, rather than a higher body where the sentencing would be stiffer? What was he charged with? It looks unlikely that it was offences relating to terrorism.
What evidence is there on him? In particular, was he working with, or being led by, other people? What inspired and motivated him to avenge Ken Bigley’s death, two and a half years after his brutal beheading in Iraq? There have been numerous recent cases of far-right extremists being caught in possession of explosives or the material to help. How far along the road was MacGregor to carrying out his threat?
There is lip service given by government and police to tackling and preventing far-right extremism. What work is being done, because the impression certainly is that the focus is only on extremism amongst Muslims?
There is hysteria about Al-Qaeda inspired terrorism that isn’t set in the context of all the other forms of terrorism that exist. When the coverage is as biased and disproportionate as we’ve seen this week, it isn’t surprising.
Posted by Osama Saeed