The London Blasts: Media
TWO: 9 July 2005 Part 3 The Perception of Islam
The Perception of Islam
A growing part of the
coverage of the London atrocities is concerned with the
British Muslim community. Most of the coverage is sympathetic
and concerned. The Telegraph,
on the other hand, takes an accusatory approach (while also
printing a very important poll on this topic, discussed
Sympathy and Concern
Most of the serious British
papers seek to increase understanding of British Muslims,
and to portray Muslims as part of the community, and express
concern at the backlash against Muslims.
The front page of the
Independent focuses entirely
Akther Islam, a young Muslim woman who is now sadly
missing, feared dead. Inside (page 21), there are reports
on the violent backlash against Muslims, at the national
level and taking a close look at a particular mosque,
Al Rahma mosque in Liverpool. Columnist Johann Hari
visits the East London mosque (page 30 or paid-for access
The letters page carries three
moving letters from Muslims condemning the attacks.
Yesterday the Independent
carried an anguished column by Yasmin Alibhai-Brown (on
page 27) - 'My City, my faith, both abused' (which can be
'Every time these dreaded events occur you find yourself
disintegrating, one part deep human compassion for the victims
and their families, another calling you to the truth that
our governments too shed blood for no good reason and create
conditions for hate to infect life.'
also reports on the anti-Islam backlash both at the
national level and focusing on a particular town, in
this case Luton.
The Comment page is also given up to Muslims, the Guardian's
Muslim youth forum, expressing sympathy and solidarity
with the victims of the attacks; Muslim academic Tariq
Ramadan, who calls on progressive, open-minded people
to 'meet and act alongside
Muslims - practically, concretely, daily', not merely
to voice support; and Faisal
Bodi of the Islam Channel, who says 'the
bloody trail of blame leads straight to 10 Downing Street'.
profiles the Muslim community, and the growing disaffection
within it, in an article entitled 'Fear
and frustration for Muslims'. Online, there is also
a piece on the mood in Brick
Lane, in East London. Crucially, there is an important
comment piece on the role of US and British policy in alienating
Muslims around the world (see Media
Review Part 1).
gives over a whole (inside) page to Shahera
Akther Islam (slightly different spelling), and on page
11 carries an article entitled 'Muslims
mourn silently and speak out against terrorism'. (The
report is from the East London Mosque on Whitechapel Road.)
In a break with the coverage elsewhere,
David Aaronovitch, the former Guardian
columnist now writing for The
Times, expresses (without self-criticism) the growing
suspicion of Muslims and 'foreigners' developing amongst
white British people, in a piece entitled 'So how would
you behave sitting next to an agitated man on the top of
'My other friend predicted, based on
previous attacks, how people would now build 7/7 into their
fantasies. How would they behave if they were sitting close
to a strangely agitated man on the top of the bus? Would
they take the risk, challenge him, deftly reaching into
the bag in one lightning movement and pulling the wire away
from the detonator? Or would they scoot downstairs, tell
the driver what they’d seen, get off and run?'
'The Tube was oddest of all. People
getting on would give occupants sidelong looks. Who’s
sitting in the carriage? Do they look doomed? Would it be
better to be at the front or in the middle? I found myself
making gradations of threat.'
'Two large African women with two large
suitcases probably equalled zero menace. Slightly more worrying,
perhaps, was the smart Asian (a doctor? a lawyer?) with
the attaché case. There weren’t any young Arab
men with duffel bags. Probably too scared to travel since
becoming everybody else’s possible nightmare.'
Aaronovitch makes no call to resist
such paranoia and Islamophobia.
The Telegraph Poll
YouGov, the internet pollsters, carried
out a poll
of 1,800 British people yesterday, on 8 July 2005, for the
Daily Telegraph, with
several questions relating to Islam. Anthony
King, the academic, summarises the results:
'The figures in the section of the
chart headed "Muslims and the bombings" show beyond
doubt that a large majority of Britons make some connection
between Thursday's attacks and some of the followers of
'Fully 82 per cent are apparently convinced
already that Islamic extremists - whether foreign Muslims,
British Muslims or some combination of the two - were behind
the bombings and 60 per
cent believe Britain's security services "should now
focus their intelligence-gathering and terrorism-prevention
efforts on Muslims in this country or seeking to enter it".'
'In addition, the proportion
believing that Islam itself - as distinct from fundamentalist
Islamic groups - poses a threat to western liberal democracy
has risen from 32 per cent shortly after the 2001 attacks
on the World Trade Centre to 46 per cent now.'
This is nearly half the population
of Britain, with a doubling
of those believing that Islam itself - not al Qaeda, not
the fundamentalist extremists, but Islam itself - poses
a major threat to
Western liberal democracy, to 20
per cent of the British population.
If this poll
is accurate, and there is no reason to doubt it, one
in five people in Britain believe that Islam itself is a
major threat to British civilization.
To take another detail from the poll,
people were given two options in relation to the question,
'Should Britain's security services now focus their intelligence-gathering
and terrorism-prevention efforts on Muslims living in this
country or seeking to enter it?'
Option one (60 per cent support): 'Yes,
they should, although most Muslims are not terrorists, most
terrorists who threaten this country are Muslims'.
Option two (30 per cent support): 'No,
they should not, nothing should be done that divides this
country and threatens to alienate peaceful and law-abiding
When we look at the actual operation
of the security services' 'intelligence-gathering and terrorism-prevention
efforts', there is much to fear here.
The human rights group Liberty
issued a report on 'The Impact of Anti Terrorism powers
on the British Muslim population' in mid-2004 (pdf),
which concluded that Muslims were being 'criminalised as
a community' by the operation of the police and security
powers have been used disproportionately against the Muslim
population in the UK. The majority of arrests have
been of Muslims, a large number of whom were subsequently
released without charge, or charged with offences unrelated
'All of those detained indefinitely
have been Muslim men. The way in which anti-terror powers
are being used has led to feelings of isolation amongst
many of the 1.6 million Muslims in the UK. There is disillusionment
with a Government which, rather than protecting them from
this backlash, is effectively criminalising
them as a community.'
'The group as a whole is stigmatised,
and Muslims have often described themselves as feeling 'under
siege'. This has had a serious impact upon the efficacy
of anti-terrorism measures, and renders them to a large
the Gandhi of Christianity?
Moore, former editor of the
Telegraph, has been given two pages of the newspaper
to condemn Islam and Muslims, in an article entitled, 'Where
is the Gandhi of Islam?' Moore condemns also those who are
overly concerned at the backlash against Muslims: 'the
truth is that the backlash only threatens because the terror
It would be more accurate to say that
the backlash only threatens because of the fear, ignorance
and hatred of non-Muslims towards Islam in general and British
Muslims in particular.
Charles Moore ends his tirade by claiming
that, 'When a nation, a race,
a political movement, a group of workers, the followers
of a religion have legitimate grievances, there generally
arises amongst them a champion who can command respect for
his advocacy of peace, his willingness to fight without
weapons and to win by moral authority. There may be many
such grievances for Muslims in Britain, and in the West,
but we are still waiting for the Gandhi or the Martin Luther
King to give them the right voice.'
There is something here beyond satire.
A man who has contributed to the mass
media's neglect of Muslim suffering around the world, who
has helped to mobilize public opinion in support of government
policies which have had disastrous effects on Muslims around
the world (in Iraq, Afghanistan, and, indirectly, in Palestine,
Chechnya, Kashmir, and elsewhere), who has helped to make
the British public ignorant and insensitive to the suffering
of Muslims - for example during the decade of sanctions
in Iraq, and who closed his ears and the ears of his newspaper
to nonviolent lobbying and protest by Muslims about all
of these issues, now turns
on British Muslims for not having protested nonviolently.
What happens when Gandhis cannot be
heard, and Martin Luther Kings appear entirely ineffective?
And how much has the British mass media contributed to the
Where is the Gandhi of Christianity
who will put herself or himself in jail to challenge the
oppression of Muslims?
JNV welcomes feedback.
This page last updated 9 July 2005