British tolerance is never a given. Post-Woolwich, it must be defended

If you’re living in a Muslim country you’ll notice Ramadan in many wonderful ways – but a not so wonderful way is the one where you live next to a mosque with really bad speakers over which it broadcasts those early, longer, seemingly louder calls to prayer during the holy month. In stark contrast, it is hard to imagine Channel 4’s planned 3am broadcasts of the Ramadan prayers will be observed by anybody not already observing this special holiday. And yet this move has been cast as a deliberate provocation by the channel itself – to bust our stereotypes of Islam – and by bigoted newspapers spinning the call to prayer as a call to impose sharia law in Britain.

 

And yet, rather than recognise how alarming and frightening this vicious spike in anti-Muslim attacks truly is, sections of the British media have been engaged in trying to underplay it. Underpinning all this was a confident appraisal of British culture, such as that suggested by Tony Parsons in the Mirror, who noted that we are “a civilised, polite, tolerant people” – as though that could magically stop us also being capable of bigotry or hatred. Forty percent of anti-Muslim attacks recorded by Tell Mama UK last year were linked to English Defence League sympathisers. But these attacks can only take place and then be so casually diminished in a culture that sees some degree of hatred or suspicion of Muslims as acceptable and understandable.

 

Fortunately, though, tolerance really is a component of British life: that is what has prompted the flood of messages of support for British mosques, the solidarity across communities, and the anti-fascist protests that are organised to face down racist mobilisations by the EDL. Tolerance is something that makes people proud of Britain, but it is never a given; it always has to be defended – more than ever in the testing times we face today, and even when the attacks seem as superficially schoolyard as the one about the televised call to prayer.

 

Report calls Leveson Inquiry to investigate Islamphobia in the media

July 2012

Following to News International phone hacking scandal the Leveson Inquiry has been investigating misconduct of the British press, mostly Rubert Murdock’ News Corporation. The inquiry has revealed shocking relations between the media, politicians and the police, and has informed the public how the media has been effectively used to influence certain government politics and to manipulate the public.

In an important report that has been submitted to the inquiry by Nafeez Ahmed entitled Race and Reform Islam and Muslims in the Britsh Media pointed out overwhelmingly negative, stereotypical, and racist media coverage of Islam and called the Leveson Inquiry along with a number of media professionals to urgently investigate how to hold the media accountable for this shocking lapse in journalistic standards.

Some of the senior journalists who were interviewed by the author of the report acknowledge the gloomy situation in the British media:

‘Jason Beattie, political editor of the Daily Mirror, said: “In general, though not exclusively, the portrayal of Muslims in the mainstream media has been unsatisfactory… [including] sloppy and sometimes stereotypical reporting.” Brian Cathcart, former deputy editor at The Independent on Sunday, similar notes that “where Muslims are concerned, some of the country’s top-selling newspapers have too often failed… damaging stereotypes have been adopted and repeated by some newspapers… Since these papers enjoy such wide circulation, this cannot fail to disadvantage Muslims in British society.”’

The report also provides valuable data regarding the rise of Islamphobia in the public as a result of negative media coverage.

Islamophobic attacks largely ignored in UK

According to editor of The Muslim News Ahmed Versi, Islamophobia in Britain is not given the necessary amount of attention. He claims that Islamophobic attacks in Britain will continue to rise until there is a wholesale change in attitudes, including new legislation against religious hatred.

“It will get worse unless something serious is done to curb this,” warned Versi, who has been reporting incidents of attacks and abuse against Muslims for more than 20 years and presented many papers at conferences on the issue. “Lack of legislation is the problem – we have only small number of cases of racism and anti-Semitism because they are protected by laws and are outlawed,” he said.

Recent incidents included arson attacks on mosques and other Islamic institutions such as charities. Individuals have also been harassed or violated, students on campus for example, particularly veiled women, who had their head scarves or face veils removed by attackers. Verbal abuse labeled Muslims as “Osama bin Ladin” or “Terrorists” and extended to insults such as “You Paki go home”.

Despite the scale of attacks and abuse, there are very few reports on the issue by national media.

Mohammed novel: The Jewel of Medina, has UK launch postponed

The launch of controversial novel The Jewel of Medina about the Prophet Mohammed has been postponed: American writer Sherry Jones has also delayed a three-day publicity tour of the UK for her book scheduled for next week. The novel focuses on Mohammed’s relationship with his child bride Aisha but has been dismissed by one academic as “softcore pornography”. The Jewel of Medina was due to be released by Gibson Square Publishers this month but two weeks ago the home of Martin Rynja, who works for the publishing house, was targeted in a suspected petrol bomb attack. Denise Spellberg, an associate professor of Middle Eastern studies at the University of Texas, was quoted in the US media as saying the Jewel of Medina took “sacred history” and turned it into “softcore pornography”. A spokesman for Gibson Square Publishers said today: “We respect Sherry Jones’s decision. In her view the best thing to do is to postpone her visit and the publishing of the novel in Britain. “It is not an easy call for any author, particularly in the case of a debut novel that attracts so much attention from the British media. “We appreciate that she will continue to make time available to any interested British groups to dispel misinformation about The Jewel of Medina.” The statement added: “We hope that they will get in touch with us to receive further information about her hopes for her novel to foster greater understanding of Islam for Western readers.

See full-text articles:

Telegraph

Guardian

Demonization of Muslims confirmed in some western media

A “torrent” of negative stories, showing a “hostile and scare mongering attitude” has been revealed in a new study into the portrayal of Muslims and Islam in the British media. The research, commissioned by London mayor Ken Livingstone, found that 91 per cent of articles in national newspapers about Muslims were negative during just one week of news coverage. Livingstone slated the findings as a “damning indictment” of the media and urged editors and program makers to review the way they portray Muslims in their broadcasts and publications.