Cross purposes: The press is cynically conspiring with Priti Patel to turn the Liverpool bombing into an attack on all asylum seekers...
The opportunism is obvious; the cruelty is inevitable.
In the three days since Emad Al Swealmeen was killed in an explosion when his homemade bomb went off/was detonated outside Liverpool Women’s Hospital, the newspapers have moved swiftly to come to conclusions and a settled story even as the facts complicate their usual pattern in cases like this.
Discovering that Al Swealmeen had converted to Christianity confused hacks ready to write a simple off-the-shelf “a bad Muslim did it” narrative and the insistence by investigators that they have still not found evidence of an “ideological or political motive” for his actions has added further wrinkles to their reporting.
Luckily, former freelance foreign policy purveyor, known bully with an excuse note from the Prime Minister, and Home Secretary, Priti Patel, is on hand to help journalists to simplify the story and exploit an extreme (and still unexplained) event to launch a renewed attack on asylum seekers.
A one-two punch of whispers from Home Office “sources” and an on-the-record statement from Priti Patel to hacks on a flight to the US makes many of the front pages today, including The Daily Mail, The Daily Telegraph, The Sun, and The Times. Patel is quoted in the reports saying:
The case in Liverpool was a complete reflection of how dysfunctional, how broken, the system has been in the past, and why I want to bring changes forward. It’s a complete merry-go-round and it’s been exploited by a whole professional legal services industry which has based itself on rights of appeal, going to the courts day in day out on legal aid at the expense of tax payers.
The Times, in a “the lady doth protest too much” touch, is at pains to say that Patel made that statement “separately” to the grumbles and whispers being pushed out by Home Office sources. Do not look at the woman behind the curtain and certainly don’t think she’s telling officials to say:
[Al Swealmeen] attempted to use his conversion to Christianity in the asylum process, which was typical of the way Iranians and Iraqis in particular had attempted to ‘game the system’.
Meanwhile back in The Daily Mail, an unnamed former minister says:
The case [strengthens] the government’s argument for tearing up the Human Rights Act to make it easier to deport failed asylum seekers.
Couple that with the Mail’s front page, which links Al Swealmeen to people crossing the Channel in small boats (“In France hundreds more risk lives to cross the channel…”) and it’s apparent that the right-wing press is in lockstep with Patel in exploiting the events in Liverpool even while the details remain unclear.
Despite reports yesterday — including on on the front page of The Times — that said Al Swealmeen used “TATP explosive known as a ‘Mother of Satan’ because of its propensity to blow up accidentally… [which] has been favoured by Isis over the past decade”, police sources now say he didn’t. But that detail is buried on page 6 of The Daily Mail and does not feature at all in The Times’ reporting.
In a report today, headlined Bomber grew depressed after failed asylum bids, The Times again quotes police sources, saying…
Counterterrorism detectives are understood to have not found material linked to Islamic extremism or any other terrorist motivation.
… but it shares a spread in today’s paper with a story from Fiona Hamilton, The Times’ Crime & Security Editor, headlined Echoes of terrorist who murdered three in park which asserts:
There are strong parallels between the life of the Liverpool bomber and the perpetrator of last year’s terrorist attack in Reading.
Emad Al Swealmeen and Khairi Saadallah, the Reading knifeman, were failed asylum seekers with mental health issues. Both had been stopped by police while carrying knives, and both were Muslims who had converted to Christianity.
That’s not reporting; it’s storytelling. Later in that piece, Hamilton follows a line on Saadallah’s connections to Christianity (“…counterterrorism detectives believed that such behaviour was a ploy to muddy the waters, given that he had fought with an extremist Libyan militia…”) by admitting:
In Al Swealmeen’s case there appears to have been a greater commitment to Christian faith. He took Bible classes and attended Easter lunch with fellow worshippers, although he appears to have dropped off the radar and stopped returning their phone calls more than a year ago.
Another piece on the same spread (Christian conversion speeds up citizenship claim smuggler gangs) adds to the editorial line that Al Swealmeen was ‘faking’ his conversion. A similar angle was pushed by GB News yesterday, when former Muttley to drink driving enthusiast Paul Staines’ Dickhead Dastardly, Tom Harwood interviewed Eddie Munster cosplayer and Henry Jackson Society communications director Sam Armstrong:
Harwood: … this particular man had converted to Christianity in 2017. Does that suggest that he was, potentially, a Christian terrorist?
Armstrong: Well, we’re going to wait and see what his recent history is, but he hasn’t been seen in a church since Christmas Day 2017 and by anyone’s record that’s not a great history of church attendance… Christianity isn’t a religion about awards, or credit, or works1, or anything like that but by that record you’ve got to have some doubt.
There are, of course, allegations that many or some asylum seekers do feign faith in order to seek ‘bonus’ in their asylum processes. So we’ve got to be very carefully scrutinising. What’s happened for these last four years that have seen him go from attending church on Christmas Day 2017 to trying to blow up a cathedral on Remembrance Day 2021?
If the criteria for being a Christian is being seen in church — and there are many groups that are not officially registered as churches — then the number of Christians in Britain is vanishingly small. I suspect that the think-tank cling-ons and GB News ghouls would be rather less questioning if the individual at the centre of this story was a convert to Islam.
Notice how Armstrong claims that Al Swealmeen intended to blow up Liverpool Cathedral — something that has been floated as his aim but remains unproven — and couples that with the same broad claim that asylum seekers ‘feign faith’ to get an easier ride which has appeared in many newspapers. This is quickly becoming the accepted set of ‘facts’ about the case even as investigators say otherwise and inconvenient elements like evidence of Al Swealmeen’s mental health issues are pushed to one side.
In a toxic mix of racism, fearmongering, and political exploitation over ‘fears’ about immigration and asylum seekers — themselves stoked by the same papers, politicos and think-tanks — the events of Liverpool were always going to be used as a means to attack all asylum seekers.
While Patel spits rhetoric about the “broken” immigration system — built and maintained by her department, her government and her party — this story could equally be made about the broken mental health system and the conscious, constructed and deliberate cruelty of the British asylum system. But for Patel and the right-wing papers alike the events in Liverpool are less a horror and more of an opportunity.
Day after day, the newspapers — particularly The Sun, The Times, The Daily Mail, The Daily Telegraph and The Daily Express — pump out stories about the migrant ‘crisis’. The very act of keeping up such a relentless stream of stories is why there is an impression of ‘crisis’ as is the constant use of that word. It suits anti-immigration newspapers and the Home Secretary alike to bolster that impression of constant crisis and of external enemies; not just ‘economic migrants’ but the French who are ‘failing’.
While there’s undoubtedly a cruel trade at work in the Channel and people are risking their lives to make that crossing there is no “migrant crisis”. It is a product of political will to make immigrants another enemy for the government to ‘repel’ and blame for problems that are due to much more complex failings on that government’s part.
In the year ending March 2021, the UK received 26,903 asylum applications. In the same period, Germany had 122,015 applicants and France had 93,475. That, according to the UNHCR, means the UK ranks 17th for asylum seeker intake when measured per head of population.
The UK’s asylum applications peaked in 2002 at 84,132. They hit a 20-year low in 2010 (17,916) before rising to 35,737 in 2019. They fell in 2020 because of far fewer arrivals by air outstripping an increase in arrivals by small boats crossing the Channel. In 2019, asylum seekers made up just 6% of immigration to the UK. The word “crisis” reflects a rhetoric rather than reality.
Appearing before the Lords Home Affairs and Justice Committee in October, Priti Patel falsely claimed 70% of asylum applicants in the UK are not genuine. A Home Office source, backing up the boss, briefed the media that “of 8,500 people arriving by small boat in 2020 87% were men and 74% were aged between 18 and 39”, but they did not provide evidence for those claims.
The same Home Office spokesperson went on to tell the media:
France is a safe country; people should claim asylum in the first safe country they reach rather than making dangerous and illegal crossings.
An analysis by the Refugee Council, published today and based on Freedom of Information data and Home Office statistics, paints a very different picture. It finds that between January 2020 and May 2021, 91% of those crossing the Channel came from 10 countries where human rights abuses are common, including Afghanistan, Iran, Syria, Iraq, Sudan, Eritrea and Yemen.
The Refugee Council report offers a strong argument against the Home Office’s “safe routes” rhertoric. Between January 2020 and May 2021, the UK did not resettle a single person from Kuwait, Yemen or Vietnam and only one person from Iran. As for calling France “a safe country”, a report from Human Rights Watch — Enforced Misery: The Degrading Treatment of Migrant Children and Adults in Northern France — published last month details mass evictions by French authorities, police harrassment and deliberate restriction of access to humanitarian assistance.
The Liverpool bombing allows the papers and Patel to once again focus on an extreme event rather than the quotidian reality of asylum statistics or accept the fundamental cruelty baked into that “merry-go-round”. It’s why The Daily Mail is running headlines like Church faces mounting questions over asylum seekers like Poppy Day suicide bomber lying about converting to Christianity to win refugee status - as one pastor says he raised concerns they were abusing the system FIVE YEARS ago even as it admits later in the story that:
Mr Hitchcott, a former lay minister at Liverpool Cathedral, previously expressed concern about asylum seekers pretending to convert to bolster their visa applications.
But he believes [Al Swealmeen] was genuine and would 'talk endlessly and passionately about Jesus'.
It’s why the same paper features Dan Wootton spitting out bile under the headline The atrocity Liverpool so nearly suffered, the thousands of undocumented migrants hitting our beaches every month and the Establishment conspiracy of silence that puts us all at risk. He writes:
More than 22,000 illegals have entered the country this year – many destroy their passports, throw their phone into the sea and tear up any other paperwork, meaning we have no idea of who we are letting in from France.
… The horrifying reality is that some of the people on these boats may already be operating within terror cells. At least, they are ripe for radicalisation when their dream life in the UK turns out to be less than idyllic.
… They are using the lengthy appeals process to stay in the country; 47,000 failed asylum seekers and foreign criminals were deported in 2013 but just 8,000 were sent home by last year.
I have been horrified by the complicity of the Westminster media in failing to hold the government to account over why this attack happened.
Desperate Dan loves to talk about how much he disdains “the media”, writing for MailOnline and having previously worked for such underground samizdat outlets as The News of the World and The Sun. He is also at his happiest when he is operating at the highest levels of dudgeon, livid that no one is as paranoid or angry as he is (no, not even Peter Hitchens).
Wootton himself is, of course, an immigrant but he’s from New Zealand, a country that is collectively crossing its fingers that he never feels the urge to return. If the authorities in Lower Hutt, Wootton’s home town ever put up a monument to him it’s likely to be in celebration of his abscence.
Elsewhere in The Daily Mail, Sarah Vine’s contribution is headlined, with tedious inevitability, The horror of Al Swealmeen's terror attack aimed at Liverpool maternity hospital showed us the best - and worst - of Britain. She writes of Malcolm and Elizabeth Hitchcott, a Liverpudlian couple who took Al Swealmeen in a few years ago:
They're not bleeding-heart liberals, or virtue-signalling attention seekers. Just ordinary people trying to do a little bit of good.
Sadly, they are also proof of this old cynic's favourite adage: no good deed goes unpunished.
This is how The Daily Mail works; it sees itself as the ultimate moral arbiter. In this case Vine looks on the Hitchcotts with the thin, patronising smile of a supersillious judge at a village flower and produce show confronted with a humorously-shaped parsnip.
The couple are not, Vine assures us, “bleeding-heart liberals” or “virtue-signalling attention seekers” but that’s predominantly because they resemble precisely the kind of reader currently running their eyes over Vine’s column. Had they been a little more left-wing, the verdict would have been quite different.
Vine admits that ‘we’ — who’s ‘we’, Sarah? — “don't yet know enough to truly fathom [Al Swealmeen’s] motives or his intentions” but that doesn’t stop her from concluding that he “[undermines] and [threatens] to destroy our fundamental values, and make us question the Christian principles that underpin our society.” Sorry if you were distracted while reading the previous sentence because so many dogs were barking.
Over at The Daily Telegraph, turns its ire on the Church of England — which it has long felt insufferably ‘woke’ — with a story headlined Church under fire in wake of Liverpool suicide bombing for helping asylum seekers to ‘game’ system. The opening paragraph includes a classic weasel phrase — “The Church of England is facing questions…” — which newspapers use to obscure the fact that they are the ones framing those “questions”.
Elsewhere it goes all out to scare its readers with the shocking fact that… Al Swealeen attended… a cake decorating course. That article opens with the Day Today-esque line:
The Liverpool suicide bomber took a cake decorating course at a local college three years before his attack, it emerged on Tuesday night.
Should we be referring all applicants to The Great British Bakeoff to Prevent?2
In the paper’s comment section, Phillip Johnston ramps up the paranoia with a piece headlined Twenty years after 9/11, we still don’t know how to stop radicalisation (we do but the government has no interest in solutions that don’t make it look ‘tough’ and aren’t explicitly cruel) and former Labour MP turned Telegraph op-ed stooge Tom Harris argues Church groups must learn to accept that some 'Christian' asylum seekers may not be what they seem (the latest example of rhetoric that says everyone must become a part-time border guard and state informant).
The reality of what happened in Liverpool last weekend is not clear yet and may never become clear given the shared commitment by hacks and politicians to see everything through a cloudy prism of ideology. The actions of one man — quickly defined and distorted — will be used to enact even more cruelty on the majority of asylum seekers. When it comes to Priti Patel’s Fortress Britain dreams, feelings always beat facts, and humanity will always come last.
I’m fairly sure that Jesus might have something to say about the notion of Christianity “not being about… works”.
…if only for Paul Hollywood’s clear anti-German sentiment. Bastard.