Media reports from the British press in the aftermath of Wednesday’s truck and knife attack on Parliament, resulting in the death of at least three people and “catastrophic” injuries to more than a dozen more, have focused in on the identity of the perpetrator in vague terms. We know, according to The Telegraph (UK) that the attacker was described by witnesses as an “Asian guy in about his 40s carrying a knife about seven or eight inches long.” The Daily Star (UK) calls the suspect a “black or Asian man who was spotted running with an eight-inch knife.” The Daily Mirror (UK) called him “reportedly Asian in appearance.”
The picture above is of the actual suspect.
In America, Asian has a different connotation than it does in the British press. It generally means people of Pakistani or Indian descent, not people from Southeast Asia, as it does in the United States. It’s also often a cover for Islamic background – the press will generally avoid talking about the religion of a suspect in favor of focusing in on ethnicity, and they’ll broaden out the ethnic label to include people who aren’t Pakistani in order to avoid the impression that the Pakistani perpetrator might be a Muslim.
In May 2012, the BBC reported that groups representing Sikhs and Hindus complained to the media about the use of the term “Asian” to apply to nine Pakistani suspects arrested for grooming girls for sex; the Network of Sikh Organizations UK, The Hindu Forum of Britain, and The Sikh Media Monitoring Group UK accused the media of unwillingness to mention the “disproportionate representation of Muslims in such cases” and the non-Muslim identities of the victims, calling the “Asian” label “unfair to other communities of Asian responsibility, adding “We believe that in this case the government itself is sanctioning the use of the term Asian as a way of clouding responsibility.”
The same pattern held true in reporting of the Rotherham, where British authorities, fearful of supposed backlash, held back on investigations into a serious upsurge on rape and child sex slavery involving Muslim men – up to 1,400 children were involved. The police filed a report in 2010 openly mentioning “a problem with networks of Asian offenders both locally and nationally” and stated that the crimes were related to culture. From 1997 to 2013, the crimes were underpoliced and underreported.
This is how media and government turn individual criminal issues into actual tribal conflicts. By refusing to hold everyone to the same standard, refusing to acknowledge that not all cultures are equally compatible with Western standards of decency, and instead using ethnic descriptors rather than ideological ones, the media and authorities actually drive xenophobia rather than alleviating it, as well as sweeping up innocent people into the net. Sikhs and Hindus do not deserve to be placed in the same risk category as radical Muslims with regard to terrorism; attempting to protect moderate Muslims by ignoring all ideological leanings whatsoever is foolishness. And using the overbroad ethnic descriptor “Asian” – pretending that Indians and Pakistanis are part of the same ethnic group for purposes of avoiding ideological conclusion-jumping – is purposeful obfuscation of accuracy. Perhaps this terrorist isn’t Muslim. That’s perfectly possible. But it’s not fine to give the public misleading information on the grounds that they may jump to conclusions suggested by probabilistic thinking, and lump in innocents in the process.