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GOWHAR GEELANI | 15 APRIL, 2015

British Media Versus British Muslims

Muslims of different nationalities campaign against Islamic State, pictures not seen in the media


LONDON: It is Sunday. And the time for ‘Asr’ (pre-evening) prayer. The East London Mosque in Whitechappel is almost filled with Muslim men, young and old.

As soon as the mandatory Asr prayers are said the local Imam gives a 30-minute talk on the theme ‘How to Raise (Muslim) Children in Our Country (the United Kingdom)?’

There is growing awareness in the Muslim community in the UK that younger generation needs to be raised in a particular way in modern British society.

After the talk by the Imam a young British Muslim, Azad Ali, briefly articulates how the ‘British media creates stereotypes’ about Islam and the Muslims living in Britain.

Ali, head of Community Development & Engagement at MEND (Muslim Engagement & Development) in the UK, gives his perspective as to why there is a need to “ensure that Islamophobia is regarded as just as socially unacceptable as racism, anti-Semitism and xenophobia”.

“There is a very sophisticated narrative taking place in the British press about Muslims and Islam. Yes, there are some Muslims who are extremists but that does not mean that you paint entire community as extremists,” Ali tells the attentive audience assembled inside the mosque.

A recent survey by the YouGov-Cambridge Programme shows, an overwhelming 55 per cent of British voters currently think “there is a fundamental clash between Islam and the values of British society”, compared with only 22 per cent who believe Islam and British values are “generally compatible”.

Ali questions such research studies, arguing that the manner in which the questions are framed is fundamentally erroneous and objectionable.

“What is British culture?,” he asks.

“Anyone recognizable as a Muslim, especially our sisters wearing ‘hijab’, is being abused on a daily basis in our country.”

Why does it happen? Because the media plays a negative role in spreading misplaced fear about Islam.”

Are British Muslims the usual ‘punching bags’ for the British media?

Ali believes there is an “organized and dedicated practice of marginalizing Islam”.

False headlines about Muslims are published on Page one and apologies on page 16. Thirteen per cent population in the UK prisons is of Muslims,” he adds.

Nevertheless, he offers hope in his concluding remarks: “all is not lost, because 48 per cent Muslim population in Britain comprises of young people who are 24 or under. They need proper education and training about media and politics.”

Population of Muslims in Britain is 5 per cent or thereabouts of the entire population. According to 2011 Census, the numbers of Muslims are 2,786, 635. In four year time since the numbers, in all likelihood, may have crossed the 3-million mark.

A recent opinion poll, conducted by Survation for Sky News, revealed that community relations between Muslims and non-Muslims in Britain are falling apart due to growing levels of suspicion and hostility. The survey results also found out that nearly two-thirds non-Muslim British natives feel that “Islam and British culture and values are incompatible”.

Interestingly, the survey of 1,000 British Muslims suggested that nearly two-thirds believe the opposite; that is, they feel “Islam and British culture are compatible”.

There is no dearth of negative stories about Muslims and Islam in British media, some without a proper context.

Is ‘lazy’ journalism creating stereotypes about Islam and Muslims? And has a Muslim become the convenient ‘whipping boy’ for the UK media?

Some experts like Peter Oborne believe that there is a problem with the kind of language that is being used to describe Muslims and Islam in the country’s media?

Britain’s leading political commentator and author, Osborne, sees a problem in the kind of language that is being used by politicians and media to describe Muslims in Britain. He fears that such language has the potential to create fear and choke democratic spaces.

But do the headline-hungry media often miss the larger context while dealing with specific cases of extremism? Do journalists lack proper knowledge and understanding of reporting on religions and communities?

On the other hand, there is also a growing worry about the reports that some educated British-born Muslims from immigrant communities are embracing ‘radicalism’ or joining the Islamic State of Iran and Syria (ISIS).

Helen Ball, the senior national co-ordinator for counter-terrorism in the UK recently said on the Andrew Marr Show that “at least 22 young women and girls as young as 15 have travelled to join ISIS in Syria in the last year (2014) alone.”

“This is a growing problem and it’s one of real concern,” she said.

In a country of roughly 65 million (England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland) the perceived rise of religious radicalism, especially among young British Muslims, is perhaps fast becoming one of the most debated issues in print and electronic media.

Muslim men sporting beard and Muslim women in ‘hijab’ or ‘burqa’ are being viewed with suspicion in Britain. While a handful of Muslim youth joining ISIS in Syria is a genuine concern but seeing a small group as sample for entire community of nearly 3 million is not only erroneous but a practice fraught with unimaginable danger of sowing seeds of hostility and suspicion between communities.

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