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The London Blasts


The London Blasts: Media Review

DAY TWO: 9 July 2005 Part 3 The Perception of Islam

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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 below).


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 on Shahara 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, the Al Rahma mosque in Liverpool. Columnist Johann Hari visits the East London mosque (page 30 or paid-for access here). 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 bought here): '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.'


The Guardian 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'.


The FT 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).


The Times 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 a bus?':


'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 Islam.


'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 Muslims.'


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 services:


'Police 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 to terrorism.'

'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 extent counter-productive.'


Where is the Gandhi of Christianity?


Charles 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 strikes.'


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 current disaster?


Where is the Gandhi of Christianity who will put herself or himself in jail to challenge the oppression of Muslims?


JNV welcomes feedback.

Back to Introduction

This page last updated 9 July 2005






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