It is -- sadly -- an all-too-familiar storyline.
I'm talking about the Manchester attack, which appears to be tied to a radical Muslim extremist. As Rod "friend of this blog" Dreher boiled it down over at the American Conservative, "Once Again, Islamic Terror."
Once again, a related storyline involves Muslims concerned about a backlash because of their religion. Such reaction pieces have become a staple of terrorism coverage at least since 9/11. Most of these pieces are pretty predictable. However, some are better than others, as we've discussed repeatedly here at GetReligion.
Newsweek's quick hit from Manchester is not bad:
In a run-down back street in the Northern Quarter of Manchester, England, less than a mile from the arena where a bomb killed 22 people on Monday, is the Muslim Youth Foundation (MYF), a local mosque and community center that runs programs for young people.
Pinned to a notice board in its lobby is a simple three-paragraph message, welcoming all to pray and attend activities at the center. Below, it includes an addendum: “We do not tolerate any kind of extremism or extremist ideologies inside this center.” And then, in red type: “We urge everybody to stay within the Islamic and the U.K. laws.”
That message has become all the more apt since Monday night, when a suicide bomber detonated an improvised explosive device at the end of an Ariana Grande concert, causing mayhem among the 20,000-strong fans flooding out of the arena.
Then there is the usual online blast from you know where:
On Tuesday, the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) said a “soldier of the Khilafah [caliphate]” was responsible for the attack. The attacker, who died detonating the device, has been unofficially named as 23-year-old Salman Abedi, though police have not responded to Newsweek’s request for confirmation.
Many of the city’s nearly quarter-million Muslims dread the seemingly inevitable backlash against their community. Mohamed Abdul Malek, an imam and trustee of the MYF, says the aftermath of such attacks is a time marked by fear. “I think with past experience, that fear is there in our [community], especially among women,” says Malek, 61, shuffling in his leather chair in a back room in the MYF’s office.
“But I pray and tell those who want to take revenge against Muslims that Muslims are equally victims of this act. Muslim youngsters were in the concert. The taxi drivers who helped take youngsters to their homes—some of them would be Muslims. People in the city center are Muslims. We are part of this community, and what hurts the community hurts us,” he adds.
One interesting thing about the Newsweek report -- and this won't surprise regular GetReligion readers -- is that the imam seems more interested in addressing the reality that is radical Islam than the news organization:
Malek, the imam, says he is concerned that radical ideology appears to have taken root among some young Muslims in Manchester. “We are worried that young people could do such a thing. One wonders where did this young man get hold of these explosives, how did he connect with the people who helped him to enact this,” he says.
But that radicalization comes alongside something else: a rise in anti-Muslim hate crimes, in part stoked by attacks claimed by ISIS in Brussels and Paris, as well as the aftermath of the U.K.’s vote to leave the European Union. In December 2016, the Muslim Council of Britain urged British politicians to urgently address Islamophobia in the face of growing attacks against Muslims in the U.K. Figures released in October 2016 showed that hate crimes against Muslims in London had increased 65 percent on the previous year.
Did you see how the imam raised important questions?
Did you then see how Newsweek immediately rushed right back to the backlash angle?
Meanwhile, these paragraphs in the New York Times' main story on the suspect's identification stood out to me:
Richard Barrett, former director of global counterterrorism operations at MI6, Britain’s foreign intelligence agency, said that the security and police forces were stretched, having to monitor more than 400 people returning from jihad in the Middle East, and 600 or so others who had tried to go but had been stopped. “So that’s already 1,000 people,” without taking into account other sympathizers in Britain, he said.
“It’s not that complicated to build a bomb,” Mr. Barrett told the BBC. “I’m not sure it requires someone to go to Syria to get that expertise.”
Mr. Barrett urged the authorities to engage more with the Muslim communities of Britain “to understand why people do this,” saying that information from local communities was more important in stopping terrorism than putting up barriers or bombing in the Middle East. “It’s about engaging the community and letting the community inform us about how to avoid attacks,” he said.
“The external stuff,” he added, “is easier to do but is not protecting us.”
The backlash story is the easy one. It's the safe one. It has become the oh-so-predictable one.
But it seems to me that the radical Islam story -- albeit more complex -- is the more important one for journalists to pursue in the wake of the Manchester attack. But that requires talking about that angle, and that would require, what, taking seriously the obvious religious questions and answers?