The way that the British news media covers Muslim stories is challenging some of its most basic editorial values. Many Muslims feel that all British news outlets have a liberal, anti-Muslim slant, and as a result turn to outside news outlets such as al-Jazeera. But journalists who report on political Islam say that there is an equal danger in neglecting to challenge radical Islamist views. The role of the news media, they say, is to pose the difficult questions. They cannot back down from this responsibility just to maintain an appearance of total cultural sensitivity. What would help mutual understanding would be if more Muslims worked in the news media, and if a wider range of Muslims, not just extremists, sought and were given a voice in newspapers and broadcast news.
The enemy wears a dark blue tie over a striped shirt under a black suit jacket, gold-rimmed glasses and a friendly twinkle in his eye. He speaks English with an Asian accent, prays five times a day, searches Berlin’s eateries for sticky rice, and is surprised by the ticket controls in the S-Bahn. The enemy speaks quietly, out of obligation; he lets the other speak more, he doesn’t complain about the Pope, doesn’t protest over the opera and his wife and daughters don’t wear the headscarf. The enemy does not consider himself to be the enemy. And probably he isn’t. Probably. This article goes on to convey the points of view of a variety of second or third generation immigrant Berlin Muslims, with particular attention to the controversy over the Berlin Opera’s cancelled performance of “Idomeneo”.
By Dominic Casciani The organisers insist it is a coincidence, but the fact that IslamExpo fell on the first anniversary of the London bombings was the powerful symbol British Muslims needed to say very publicly what they stand for. The $1.8m show at London’s Alexandra Palace could have been just another event where Muslims talks to Muslims about being Muslim. But instead the organisers found a simple formula of exhibitions, market stalls, and robust debate that very successfully managed to bring in a healthy proportion of white, non-Muslim people and, critically, create some dialogue. And so, while the two-minute silence came and went, and Britain reflected on how we find, in simplest terms, a way to all get on, the many different people at IslamExpo just got on with it. For Ihtisham Hibatullah, co-ordinator of the massive enterprise, this was what it was all about. Taking his guests through the entrance hall of a Bedouin-style tent, and a very lavish interactive history of Islam, he said the show’s mission was to give confidence to Britain’s Muslim communities.
Black in the Union Jack Stopping at a gallery of work by British Muslim artists, he said the images were a perfect way of understanding the reality of the modern world. “Islam is not just part of the East anymore,” said Mr Hibatullah. “It began there, but is now very much part of Europe, part of Britain. “Look at these pictures. Here is one of the Union Jack in the style of Islamic calligraphy. I don’t think the flag is the trade mark of the British National Party anymore, is it? “We are trying to give people a sense off Islamic history, of identity but, crucially, we are trying to provide means through which British Muslims can show how they have contributed to our society.” Among the thousands trooping through the doors of Ally Pally were an estimated 4,000 school children from all over the UK.
History comes alive In the marquee of Exhibition Islam, a touring organisation that takes historic artefacts into schools, children of all backgrounds crowded around Imtiaz Alam as he showed them a 16th century Koran. “It has been fantastic to be here and see the non-Muslim kids taking an interest,” said Imtiaz, who has received invitations from American and Australian organisations. “I am really glad that so many people have taken the time to listen and learn. “Every time we do our show, and we must have taken it to 250,000 people by now, we find a good reception. People want to learn and understand and appreciate what Islam means to Muslims.” And this was key for the diverse audience. While the tough lectures and deep thinking went on in some of the marquees, the biggest attraction for the children were workshops with a lighter touch. Khayaal Theatre Group was among those holding music and dance shows for the kids, drawing on traditional Islamic stories from around the Muslim world. Luqman Ali, founder of Khayall, has long campaigned among Muslim communities for them to use the arts to both understand themselves and forge links with wider society. “It is through story-telling and the universal values that they contain we can improve inter-cultural understanding and start dealing with issues like alienation, isolation and segregation,” said Luqman. “It’s through stories that people and civilisations better understand each other, rather than through dogma and doctrine.” Luqman said however that he had mixed feelings a year on from the bombings. “The consequences were not uniform – in some parts of society it’s been a catalyst for much more dialogue and for individuals to bridge the gap of understanding. “In other ways it has increased anxieties – I have times when I am optimistic and times when I am very pessimistic.”
New generation Intissar Khreeji-Ghannouchi shared Luqman Ali’s mixed feelings, saying the past few years had been an “emotional rollercoaster”. A recent Cambridge law graduate, Intissar is representative of a new emerging generation of confident Muslim women determined to take on prejudices stereotypes. “I think there is a lot of optimism created by this event – it shows how we can all overcome the actions of individuals [the bombers] who want to break the Muslim community away from the rest of society. “We need to find ways of having a genuine dialogue with each other and I feel IslamExpo is a very important step. Look at what you have here today – you have an opportunity to properly introduce people to Muslim culture. The public perception is very negative but if we are open, we can combat it.” Intissar said that she had personally found it frustrating to sometimes explain to non-Muslims why she wears a headscarf. “Then I started reminding myself that while it is a normal part of me, I should put myself in their shoes – they are curious and may not understand. I would be naturally curious about another culture and what it means. “I think since 9/11 we [the British] have had to think more deeply about identity. “This has been an invigorating experience but also one of urgency because Muslims now recognise that it is not enough to be passive.” And the pro-active stance taken by people such as Intissar was one that went down well with the non-Muslim visitors who had come to learn and talk. South London A-level students Laura Burtonshaw, Lucie Robathan and Katie Carpenter were among the significant number of non-Muslim visitors. They said they had been enormously enthused by the experience which had helped them understand the relationships between Islam and Christianity. “We really think it has been brilliant,” said Katie. “It is really what we all need to see and hear. I just can’t get over how friendly everyone has been.” Laura said the trio had been studying the roots of religion at school but the show had given them a real opportunity to really understand the daily lived-in culture of Islam. “The most important thing is that we find a way to learn and understand each other,” she said.
PALMA – Muslim immigration to Mallorca revives a historical presence. The relatively peaceful coexistence of natives and Muslims is at least partly due to the surviving elements of a once common culture, including poems, songs, language and cuisine. Toleration and mutual understanding seem natural.
BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — A first-of-its-kind Muslim-American television network launched a year ago has gone from being a premium pay channel to a basic-cable offering on several cable and satellite systems, broadening its reach from 10,000 to more than 1 million U.S. homes. Bridges TV, featuring Muslim-American lifestyle and cultural programming, also has been approved by the Canadian Radio & Television Commission to start broadcasting in Canada. Founder and Chief Executive Muzzammil Hassan said the transition in markets including Detroit, Chicago, Boston and Washington means viewers while channel-surfing between Fox News Channel and CNN are coming across the English-language network and its coverage of issues like the Dubai ports controversy. “That completely changes and gives America a completely different and unique perspective that America has never had available before,” Hassan said. “That has been the biggest driving factor.” Bridges TV, with a staff of 25 to 30, produces a daily hourlong newscast at its studio in suburban Orchard Park. Broadcasts also include children’s educational programming, current affairs, cooking and travel shows, soccer and cricket matches, documentaries and sitcoms. As a premium channel for $14.99 per month, virtually all Bridges TV subscribers were Arabs and Muslims, Hassan said, giving the sense the network was preaching to the choir rather than advancing its goal of bridging understanding of American and Muslim cultures. The network “really fills a void,” said Adnan Mirza, a director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. “There’s a clear disconnect between popular American media and the Muslim audience. … Americans are increasingly interested in better understanding Middle Eastern cultures, and Muslim Americans want to be better understood. Bridges TV creates a public platform for this dialogue.” The Buffalo office of the FBI has taken notice and will use the network for an “FBI Townhall Meeting” May 15, during which an FBI agent will field on-air questions and comments from Muslim and Arab-American viewers. Over the last several weeks, the network has been added to the basic cable packages of WOW! Cable, which has a presence in Chicago, Detroit and Columbus; Buckeye Cable in Ohio; and Shrewsbury Cable in Massachusetts. Verizon FiOS, a broadband service, and Globecast Satellite reach markets in Boston, Dallas, Tampa, Fla., and Washington, D.C. Bridges TV will soon launch on Rogers Cable in Canada. A charter sponsorship by Ford Motor Co. has offset the loss of premium subscription revenue, Hassan said. In its hometown market of Buffalo, Adelphia Communications will keep Bridges TV as a premium channel. A spokesman, Thomas Haywood, cited a low subscriber rate.
By Greg Flakus Dallas Hundreds of Muslims have gathered in Dallas, Texas for the Islamic Society of North America’s Third Annual South Central Regional Conference. The main goal of conference organizers is to build understanding with people of other faiths. Several hundred people came together in a hotel ballroom Friday to pray as the three-day conference got under way. Although men and women sat in separate sections of the hall, the Muslim cleric spoke to all believers, calling on them to be charitable toward their non-Muslim neighbors, not as a pretext for attracting them to Islam, but because that is what God calls on them to do. The message is similar to what might be heard in a Christian or Jewish service, because, as Muslim leaders are quick to point out, the three religions share common origins and beliefs. All three religions are based on belief in one God, yet many non-Muslims still regard Islam as an exotic religion. The theme of this conference is “Sharing Islam with our Neighbors,” and organizers note that this does not necessarily refer to proselytizing. The secretary general of the Islamic Society of North America, Sayyid Muhammad Syeed, says that the eight-to-ten million people of the Islamic faith who live in the United States today are in a unique position to help Americans understand this religion and its worldwide influence. “Muslims of America are an asset to America because they are bridge between America and the rest of the Muslim world and we take that role very seriously,” he said. Mr. Syeed says those Americans who embrace Islam also have a responsibility to bring about a better understanding of this country in the areas of the world where Islam is the dominant religion. “Muslims in the world have to understand that there is a Muslim population here who are practicing Islam in their day-to-day lives. Then, it is our duty to express, interpret and explain Islam to our fellow Americans, and it is our duty to explain America to our fellow Muslims,” he said. Muslims here feel a special bond with other Muslims in the Middle East and are concerned about the turmoil in that region. One of the main speakers at this conference is a State Department official who has come to explain U.S. policy in the Middle East. This conference also includes special sessions on the growth of Islam among American Latinos, including forums conducted in Spanish where people explain why they converted to Islam.