November 29, 2009

Can the BBC shirk its responsibility if anti-Muslim attacks increase?

I was glad to see the panellists and members of the audience confront British National Party (BNP) Leader, Nick Griffin, head on during the BBC Question Time, with regards to his despicable views of the Nazi Holocaust and ethnic minorities earlier this month. However, I was equally raged when asked about his views on Islam, he was left to openly preach hate and ignorance without any challenge whatsoever from neither the panellists nor members of the audience. A sad sight indeed.

While most commentators are consumed with how he came across long after the programme, with his unchallenged remarks on Islam, it will inevitably lead to more and more attacks on British Muslims. In recent months the so-called English Defence League have openly been demonstrating throughout the country against British Muslims. We have witnessed attacks on mosques in Luton, Sunderland, Woolwich and recently in Bishops Stortford. The national press are also at it. Recently the Daily Express ran with the headline, ‘Now Muslims Demand Full Sharia Law’, clearly an exaggeration. The alarming rise in Islamophobic attacks on British Muslims, sadly fanned by some parts of the media, is flourishing unchallenged by politicians as well as security forces alike.

Under the current climate it was clearly a serious error of judgement on the part of the BBC to give the BNP a national platform. Today the situation facing British Muslims is identical to that of the American McCarthyite era in the 1950s. We are merely seen through the prism of security; surrounded with suspicion and continuously faced with claims of disloyalty that our way of life is incompatible with the British way of life.

No. We are part and parcel of this society and our contributions speak for themselves - not least the Muslim soldiers who fought for Britain during the First and Second World Wars. Yet we are always misunderstood. Yes, there are a handful of Muslims who wrongly, for example, call for Shari’ah Law in the UK. But one bad apple should not equate an entire community.

The BNP and far-right fascists are concealing their true colour under a veil by attacking British Muslims and Islam (because we are an easy target), but they will soon move to the rest of the “non-indigenous” population. By allowing Griffin a seat on their flagship political programme, the BBC has given the once convicted criminal his much craved legitimacy and recognition.

Many commentators have said that ‘the only way to defeat the BNP’s ideas is by having them out in the open and properly contested’. Of course we all agree. But don’t give them a national platform with 8 million viewers. It was completely the wrong setting. If he is to be robustly challenged, let it be in local community centres up and down the country; not a short debate on a panel alongside real mainstream panellists. It has created an unprecedented interest in the BNP which the recent YouGov poll in the Daily Telegraph clearly shows. 22% of people questioned now “seriously consider” voting the BNP. The taboo of voting for the BNP vanished overnight. The BBC cannot shirk its responsibility.

During the summer I was travelling as a Global Fellow of the Prime Minister: learning about culture in India. Every Indian I spoke to said how brilliant, open and free they thought Britain was: as one student said, “The UK is the real land of opportunity.” While there, the Indian media and public were gripped by reports of racist attacks on Indian students in Australia. One student where I was teaching said: “We should cut all ties with Australia until they act.” The image of Australia is now tainted in India. Sadly, I think the image of our country will now be tainted internationally too.

As a young British Muslim, I feel the saga surrounding the BNP and Question Time marked a dark period in our country’s history. A dark week in fact for democracy. Because democracy is not about giving a platform for one to openly preach hate and vilify a whole community without debate. It sadly marked a grave period for mainstream political opinion and a rise for far-right extremism. At the end of the day: there is only one community who will suffer: the Muslim Community.

I, as well as many British Muslims up and down the country, feel let down. Let down by the silence on the panel and in the audience of the unchallenged Griffin attack on Islam, and let down by the BBC for allowing the media hype. As the Guardian wrote, it was “a once in a generation PR opportunity.”

Make no mistake. British Muslims will be left picking up all the pieces of the BBC’s decision. And frankly, from anger, the sentiment amongst British Muslims is now turning to more alienation, disenfranchisement and mistrust with resulting negative implications for our society. No one seems to be challenging the fact that the Far Right are using Muslim extremism as a pretence to gain mainstream following. It appears our politicians and the media alike do not seem to appreciate the real threat the BNP and other far-right fascist groups are posing to British Muslims and for that matter our society.

Tragically, Griffin’s appearance on the Question Time has played into the hands of those who seek to demonise Islam and its teachings. By leaving Griffin’s attacks unchallenged, the BBC has recklessly added fuel to an already ignited fire. And for that the BBC should be held responsible, if as I suspect, there is a rise in anti-Muslim attacks.

Kawsar Zaman is Vice-Chair, Youth Committee, Muslim Council of Britain

The Muslim News


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