Peshawar madrassa blast: Is international media biased against Pakistan?

The Peshawar madrassa blast today was covered by both national and international media. The differing approaches with which the same news was covered beyond Pakistani media, however, is worth highlighting.

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“News outlets cannot cover everything, so priority is given to stories considered relevant to their perceived audiences. In the case of US media, decisions on where and what to report around the world are often based on relevance to US interests — economic, humanitarian or security. Pakistan often falls into all three.” – Global Voice, news website.

Time and again, it seems that International media seems to prioritise covering those stories that will potentially receive the most views, and rightfully so. This, however, impacts the individual nation more negatively than the media perhaps anticipates, for a constantly negative image is painted for the world to see.

The Peshawar madrassa blast today was covered by both national and international media. The differing approaches with which the same news was covered beyond Pakistani media, however, is worth highlighting. Prominent news channels, such as but not limited to, The Guardian, BBC News and The New York times portrayed a far more religious picture of the atrocity, almost as if advancing their own Islamophobic agendas.

How BBC news covered the blast

Almost immediately, BBC News termed the blast as a Taliban act of “militant violence”, associating the incident with the terrorist attack on Army Public School (APS) in 2014. BBC then proceeded to highlight Pakistan’s battle against Taliban instigated terrorist attacks on schools, religious or otherwise.

“Islamist militants have long been seen by analysts as proxies of the security establishment, working to further its strategic aims in the region”, reported BBC. In summary, therefore, BBC termed the blast as Islamist.

The Guardian calls out the Taliban

Much like BBC News above, the Guardian too proceeded to highlight the “deadly bombing at the religious school” recognising that the children, at the time of the blast, were having their “Quran classes”. The news website further identified prior terrorist attacks in the country, all the while maintaining that the Pakistani Taliban were behind the majority of these blasts and/or outbursts, continuously using terms such as “Islamist”, “radical” and “extremist”.

There is no such thing as radical Islam, claims PM Khan

Pakistan’s prime minister Imran Khan addressed the United Nations General Assembly for the first time on September 17th. It was a passionate speech that came across as more spontaneous than most others, and touched on several important issues: Kashmir, in direct response to India’s prime minister Narendra Modi, who spoke shortly before Khan; the struggle of poor nations toward development; the necessity to hold wealthy people accountable in order to achieve a more just society.

Perhaps the most powerful and passionate part of his 50-minute speech, which went beyond the time allotted by the proceedings, was a plea to world leaders to end Islamophobia. Khan said that he had always hoped, were he ever to take such a prominent global stage, to use it to clear some of the misunderstanding surrounding Islam and its followers—and the responsibilities of both Western and Muslim leaders in fostering it.

“Islamophobia since 9/11 has grown at a pace which is alarming,” said Khan. He blamed some Western leaders for it, as well as Muslim ones. “Certain Western leaders equated terrorism with Islam,” he said, by employing labels like “radical Islam.” Khan finds the very concept intrinsically contradictory, because “no religion teaches radicalism. The basis of all religion is compassion and justice, which differentiates us from the animal kingdom.” Still, Khan said the use of “radical Islam” by Western leaders has created an association between a whole religion and terrorism, and put people in the position of suspecting all Muslims. “How is a person in New York, in a European country, or in the Midwest of the US going to distinguish between who’s a moderate Muslim and who’s a radical Muslim?”

PM Khan states Muslim leaders equally to blame

Western leaders, he added, aren’t solely to blame for the rise of Islamophobia—Muslim leaders are equally at fault, as the fear of being labeled as radical made them embrace the concept of moderate Islam. “In Pakistan…our government coined the phrase ‘enlightened moderation.’ No one knows what it meant,” he said.

“We, as the Muslim world, did not explain to the West that there was no such thing as radical Islam,” said Khan. He went on to talk about the tolerant history and values of Muslim civilizations, but didn’t shy away from breaking down some of the aspects that may lead some to think of Islam, he said, as “an intolerant religion, against freedom of expression.” Khan addressed the issue of religious satire, and the strong reactions it elicits in the Muslim community, and said the perception that such reactions are exaggerated stems from a lack of knowledge and understanding of the way people think about religion.

Read More: Pakistan files complaint against BBC

“When I first went to England, there was a comedy film on Jesus Christ. That’s unthinkable in Muslim societies,” Khan said, adding that any kind of criticism or mocking of the prophet generates emotional pain amongst his followers. So he asked to be sensitive toward this, rather than assume that all cultures accept the same standards. “In human communities we have to be sensitive towards what causes pain to other human beings,” he said. “In the Western society, and quite rightly, the Holocaust is treated with sensitivity, because it gives the Jewish community pain. That’s all we ask: Do not use freedom of speech to cause us pain by insulting our holy prophet. That’s all we want.”


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