Ken Livingstone on Muslims, Islam and the media
Mayor Livingstone gives pride of place to the finding that in a typical week 91 percent of the news articles in the UK press mentioning Muslims or Islam were negative. He means that we now have firm proof that the UK Press is biased against Islam and Muslims. And yet what were these articles about?
A very large proportion of the stories are about terrorism in Britain, Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan. Given that the events taking place in these countries, it is difficult to see how the reporting could possibly be positive, or why Mr Livingstone is insisting that a positive spin should be put on them.
This pattern of perpetual negativity is replicated across all newspapers. Even The Guardian and the Independent convey the same sentiments. One might perhaps expect The Guardian, which was also the only newspaper with journalists on the study team, to be more positively disposed to Islam and Muslims, but it rarely is.
What does this prove?
Should Newspapers carry a Government Health Warning: ‘Whatever you think of this story or this biased newspaper, your Muslim neighbour is really a nice guy’? Have the good stories been missed or purposely omitted, even by The Guardian? Perhaps the UK Press has failed to report the ‘good news’ stories like the following that never made it to their pages:
● Saudi authorities welcome plans to build large church in Riyadh.
● Muhammad Bari, the secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), says arranged marriages are not a good idea and not practical in a developed country like the UK. He expects both his daughters to go to university in another part of the country. They will make social circles of their own, but he and his wife look forward to being introduced to the first serious boyfriends.
● Girls now surpass boys in numbers in school and exam results in Afghanistan.
● Birmingham will not become a majority Muslim city. The birth rate amongst Muslim women is now at a level comparable with the rest of the population. The rate was double the national rate but has come down as Muslim women have gained equal status with men and stopped believing large families are a cultural-economic necessity.
● East London mosque will do all in its power to terminate the lease of a shop on mosque premises selling literature extolling hatred and jihad against non-Muslims.
● Sir Iqbal Sacranie, former secretary general of the MCB, says there are limits to multiculturalism.
● Pakistan repeals law that requires a female rape victim to have four male witnesses. Iran stops stoning and public executions.
● Dr Al-Qaradawi says Muslim women in the UK should not wear a veil. You only cover your face in the West if you are unwell, cold, or in mourning. Otherwise covering your face means you want to hide your true feelings and it is very rude.
Or there is another grim possibility: the authors of this report believe the persecution, murder and mayhem throughout much of the Islamic world, and events like the London and Glasgow bombings, are nothing to do with Islam(-ism).
The report claims that a theme has developed in the British media the British way of life is under threat, and this is blamed on the pernicious influence of ‘political correctness’. It examines four newspaper stories expressing such views in relation to relatively trivial incidents.
• the alleged banning of piggy banks by a building society in a Lancashire town
• the alleged banning of Christmas by a local council in London
• the use of BP (Before Present) instead of BC (Before Christ) at a museum in the West country
• the Crown Prosecution Service taking a 10-year-old boy to court for playground insults in Salford.
The report makes an effective rebuttal of all these stories. They were either completely false or based on embellishment and twisting of innocent facts. But it goes on to make the most remarkable assertion:
‘…. even though real fears exist. These arise not from so-called political correctness, nor from the presence of Muslims in modern Britain, but from social and economic change, globalisation, and new international relationships.’
The report may have conveyed a degree of objectivity if it had mentioned the many true stories - ranging from the ridiculous to the sinister - that the British people have good cause to perceive as threatening to British customs and tradition> How about:
● Marks & Spencer shop assistant refuses to sell book of Bible stories.
● Imam’s daughter threatened with death because she converted to Christianity.
● British government formally recognises polygamy (but only for Muslims).
● Muslim staff in supermarket refuse to serve alcohol.
● PC forced to resign because he gave Muslim colleague bottle of wine and pack of bacon for a Christmas present.
● Female Muslim students refuse to shake hands with university Chancellor at degree awards ceremony.
● Muslim medical students refuse to treat illness caused by alcohol.
● Three pigs story ruled offensive to Muslims
Cranmer has covered a few of thee stories, and all are true and sourced. He shall remind communicants and readers of a few:
Imam’s daughter threatened: A British imam’s daughter who converted to Christianity has been forced to live under police protection because her family threatened to kill her. Her brother told her that he could not be responsible for his actions if she did not return to Islam. (The Times, 10 December 2007)
Britain recognises polygamy: The Department for Work and Pensions recognises polygamous marriages that are conducted overseas. The department states that claimants in polygamous unions are entitled to ‘additional allowances for each additional partner’. This is an exception solely for Muslims. (The Daily Telegraph, 4 Bruary 2008)
PC forced to resign: The constable gave the gift as part of a ‘Secret Santa’ game at Luton police station during a Christmas day party. The Muslim policeman recipient of the present did not complain, he thought the joke was just a bad joke, not funny, though imam was found said what a crime this was, insulting Islam. (The Daily Telegraph, 15 January 2008)
Three pigs: The remake of the children’s classic, the Three Little Pigs, was criticised by BECTA, the education technology agency, because ‘the use of pigs raises cultural issues’. (The Times and Daily Telegraph, 24 January 2008)
Although this report is commissioned and paid for by the Mayor of London (i.e., London taxpayers) it gives considerable attention to the views of the Muslim Council of Britain, some of which are warped. It is absurd to state that the ‘real causes of anxiety over Islam’ are to do with globalisation, the long-term decline in Britain’s position as a world power, Britain in Europe, devolution, the end of empire, or the rapid advance of social pluralism
The decline of British influence and the end of Empire have little relevance to anyone in Britain under pensionable age. And how devolution, Britain in Europe, or social pluralism could have a bearing on, say, the revulsion Britons feel about the murder of teachers in Afghanistan, hate preaching in British mosques, blowing up tube trains, or death for insults, is a complete mystery.
The truth is much simpler. Certain Islamic beliefs and practices are at variance with political liberalism. Of course, not all Muslims in the UK seek to aggressively assert these beliefs or practices, but very few challenge those who do.
Causes of concern include the undeniable belief that:
● death is a just punishment for apostasy or insulting Islam or the prophet.
● women are viewed as subordinate to men even if they do have rights.
● Islam should be pre-eminent above all other religions.
● Muslims have a duty to impose Islam, by force or deception if necessary.
● Muslims have a duty to usher in Shari’a law.
● Islam is a political movement and should dominate in the public sphere.
Some of the basic tenets of Shari’a law are incompatible with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. There is no equality before the law between men and women and between Muslims and non-Muslims, and there is no freedom to choose and change religion.
‘Common ground’ is important but it is not the answer. It is possible that both you and your Muslim neighbour are both unhappy with binge drinking, underage sex, immodesty, break up of families, or Israeli settlements in the West Bank, but there comes a point where all the common ground in the world will not compensate for the irreconcilable differences. This is what the report fails to address.
The concluding part of the study presents a summary of how the authors believe the West views the problems concerning Muslims in Europe. It identifies:
1 Failure to integrate
2 Unreasonable demands
3 Mixed loyalties
4 Support for extremism
6 Incompatibility of values and interests
7 Lack of Muslim leadership
8 Corroborating evidence from overseas
And some of these are reasoned:
1 Barriers to integration
The vast majority of Muslims in Western Europe would like to be fully integrated – though not culturally assimilated – in the economic and political affairs of west European societies but are prevented from doing so by the factors summarised in points 2 to 5 below.
2 Material disadvantage
Most Muslims in Western Europe are people who came, or are the children or grandchildren of people who came, to meet labour shortages. The jobs they were recruited to fill were poorly-paid, often dirty and in labour intensive heavy industries. Material disadvantage continues, as do discrimination and racist violence.
3 Negativity in the media and the general climate of opinion
Media coverage of Muslims, particularly but not only in the press, is almost entirely negative and hostile – when, that is, there is any coverage at all.
4 Foreign policy
Much of European foreign policy works to the disadvantage of Muslims overseas.
Since September 11th, and even more so since terrorist attacks within Europe, many Muslims have had experiences, either directly themselves or indirectly through their friends, families and acquaintances, of heavy-handed and insensitive policing, often in the full glare of the media.
Muslims accept that some of the criticisms made of them by others are legitimate – the criticisms are not necessarily instances of ‘Islamophobia’. Muslims are ready to debate these, both with others and internally amongst themselves. Appropriate self-criticism is difficult or impossible, however, within the wider context of hostility and suspicion listed in points 2 to 5 above.
It is incredible that points 2-5 are given as reasons why Muslims in Europe are not integrating. If they can be considered barriers to integration they can even better be considered as reasons for integration. To assert such reasons can only be seen as another attempt to shift the debate about Islam on to more comfortable ground. It is saying that we are not going to discuss ‘your’ issues: we don’t recognise them; they are ill-founded.
In the final paragraph, the authors have realised that to slam the door shut looks a little bad, so as an afterthought they say: ‘…some of the criticisms made of them [Muslims] by others are legitimate’, but this is evidently qualified by points 2-5 above.
Yet in an unguarded moment, the report gets to the heart of the matter which no amount of ‘common ground’ is going to solve. It identifies the true nature of the Islamist position as perceived and interpreted by the authors of this report, which is that Muslims want political and economic integration but not cultural integration, and that this should be actively pursued.
This is nonsense.
Culture is at both the foundation and the heart of society, and finds expression both in and from its politics and economics. It is not possible to opt out of one dimension of this intricate fusion, for culture includes such things as attitudes to crime and punishment, law and order, how business is done, freedom of individuals, the status of men and women, acceptable humour, freedom of religion and freedom from religion. It permeates every level of social life.
Yet the authors of this report suggest that Muslims want all the benefits of an advanced economy and liberal society, they want a better life, they want political power and influence, but they should be free to reject and indeed aggressively oppose the very religio-political foundations in which these had their genesis.
This is separatism. There is no separatist committee, no separatist master plan, no separatist party, though there are groupings of the like-minded - like the MCB - who are incrementally taking the UK along that path. ‘Multiculturalism’ is the codeword. The whole basis of this study is that Multiculturalism is essentially a good thing.
Culture is not, of course, in any sense static, and over time both internal and external influences bring about changes which cohere with what preceded. But now we have a new phenomenon: such influences are aggressively challenging what preceded and demanding conformity to the new context. It is no longer an expectation that aliens should adapt to the culture of the host nation, but that the host nation should adapt to the cultural demands of the alien. This is giving rise to the foundation of permanent communities based on a different culture. The operation of Shari’a law in certain areas of the UK is one of the forces creating separate Islamic communities - the ‘no-go areas’ to which the Bishop of Rochester alludes - which will lead inexorably to the balkanisation of Britain, and is sowing the seeds of future conflict and bloodshed which will be borne by future generations. All enthusiastically supported by Mayor Ken Livingstone.
God help us.