On August 30th the BBC News website published an updated version of a commissioned backgrounder which first appeared in June of this year. Titled “Who was behind the jihadist attacks on Europe and North America?“, the backgrounder is based on a study analysing 63 terror attacks in the 28 EU countries, Norway, Switzerland and North America over the past three years.
“A series of attacks in Europe over the summer months has raised the number of people killed in the West by jihadists during the past three years to more than 420, writes Dr Lorenzo Vidino.
The deaths of 16 people in Barcelona and Cambrils earlier this month highlighted the continued threat posed by Islamist militants.”
Along with many other countries, Israel does not fall into the geographic area covered by the study concerned and readers are told that:
“Although the vast majority of Islamist attacks are elsewhere in the world, an unprecedented number have taken place in Europe and North America since the declaration of a “caliphate” by the so-called Islamic State, in June 2014.”
The first link in that paragraph leads to a feature published on the BBC News website in December 2014 under the title “Jihadism: Tracking a month of deadly attacks”. Israel was not included in that study either for reasons discussed here at the time.
The BBC’s narrow focus on what it terms ‘jihadist attacks’, together with its long-standing refusal to classify attacks against Israelis as terrorism, means that while audiences are provided with a backgrounder concerning 63 terror attacks that resulted in 424 deaths in geographical areas with a combined population of some 883 million, a country with less than 1% of that population that saw over 70 people killed in acts of terror during the same time period (September 2014 to August 2017) remains off the radar.
At the foot of this backgrounder readers are provided with a link to the study upon which it is based. That paper includes analysis (from page 78) that does not appear in the backgrounder but is relevant in light of the BBC’s standard portrayal of the topic of radicalisation.
“…it is not uncommon for many voices within the media, the policymaking community and the general public to make sweeping statements about what causes radicalization, often attributing the phenomenon to one causal factor. Arguably the most common factors utilized in these mono-causal approaches is integration – or, more specifically, the lack thereof – and socio-economic deprivation. While variations of this argument abound, at its core the theory argues that radicalization is simply the byproduct of the marginalization that plagues large cross-sections of Muslim communities, particularly in Europe. The theory argues that a lack of access to opportunities education, and jobs, alongside a general level of disenfranchisement, that drive young Muslims to lash out at the societies in which they were born and embrace an ideology that enables them to avenge their frustrations and offers new meaning to their lives.
This theory applies the broader axiom that extremism and terrorism are byproducts of poverty and exclusion to the specific case of Western Muslims. The issue has been debated for decades and has polarized both the academic and policymaking communities. While it is not this report’s aim to enter this debate, it can be safely said that a large body of evidence has refuted the existence of a clear and linear link between poverty and terrorism. Rather, many studies analyzing radicalization dynamics throughout the world have shown that contrary to commonly made assumptions, higher degrees of sympathy for extremist ideas and involvement in terrorist groups are found in individuals with higher degrees of education or economic success.” [emphasis added]
Following last month’s attacks in Spain, the half-hourly news bulletin ‘BBC Minute’ told audiences around the world that:
“The factors pushing people towards groups advocating violence are familiar. Unemployment, a feeling of exclusion from Spanish society, a certain degree of racial prejudice. There is a class that feels it’s excluded from normal society.”
Similar messaging was seen at the time of the 2015 attacks in Paris when the BBC heavily promoted the message that the terror attacks were attributable to radicalisation prompted by socio-economic factors and alienation.
“…when someone becomes an extremist later in life, it’s called radicalisation. Why does this happen? Well, life can be hard. Complicated problems to do with politics, economics, culture, jobs, environment, jobs, government, can overwhelm us. When life feels unfair extremists attract other angry people by giving them someone to blame.”
Obviously the BBC’s presentation of the issue of radicalisation is rooted in a chosen political narrative rather than being based on the evidence found in studies such as those cited in Dr Vidino’s report and elsewhere.