Barely a day has passed since the shocking murder of Jo Cox and there is still much that we do not know about why this terrible killing occurred. For good reason, most people in politics and the media are waiting for more information before rushing to judgment on the killer’s motivation and the influences which might have led him to this appalling murder.

But there is, I would suggest, one thing we do know. Had she been struck down by a Muslim, or someone of immigrant descent, significant sections of the British media would not be so judicious. We would not be reading on front pages that this was the work of a “crazed loner” even if there was reasonable evidence that it was. There are reports that Jo Cox’s alleged killer had links to far-right groups and had far-right influences but rightly these are being handled carefully.

This is how it should be. Even if certain facts are beginning to emerge, we do not know enough about the alleged killer. We do not, for example, yet know if he had any history of antagonism towards Jo Cox, or whether there were any other factors at play.

It is striking that both The Sun and the Daily Mail, two news organisations not widely known for their careful and understated coverage, have both stressed that the alleged killer was a “crazed loner” or a “loner with a history of mental illness”. Both titles featured this fact in their front page headlines and straplines; both reported claims that the killer shouted “put Britain first”, but neither highlighted it. The Sun did not mention it on its front page.

They are not necessarily wrong in that judgment. The “Britain first” claim is just that — a claim. Witnesses do not entirely agree what he said.

But one can only wonder how carefully certain media organisations would be weighing the evidence were the killer to have had a different background. How, one wonders, would those titles have treated claims that the killer yelled, say “Allahu Akhbar” as he struck? Some ethnic minority groups have been quick to note that in a number of countries a Muslim attacker is normally depicted as a sane terrorist while a neo-Nazi is normally described as a lone wolf.

Sometimes, of course, the motives are terror and religious extremism and, when that is clear it should be reported. But too often, certain sections of the media are playing into public fear and stereotyping by not waiting to find out.

n 2014, when a grandmother was hacked to death in her garden, The Sun front-page headline was “Muslim convert beheads woman”. The report noted that he was only “said to be a Muslim convert” (later his religious background would prove less clear cut). Before killing Palmira Silva, the murderer, reportedly of Nigerian descent, had been decapitating cats he thought were demons. At the subsequent trial the killer was determined to have been a paranoid schizophrenic and found not guilty of murder on the basis of insanity. He had, in other words “a history of mental illness”. He was sent to Broadmoor psychiatric hospital.

We can only wonder what made The Sun so certain that the key fact about one killer was that he was a Muslim convert and that the key fact about the other was that he was a crazed loner.

All one can say with certainty is that when, in future, a crazed loner also turns out to be a Muslim, it would be nice to think they will show the same restraint about his motivation and background as they have about the alleged killer of Jo Cox.

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