. Britain's media rears its Islamophobic head again | Ceasefire Magazine

Britain’s media rears its Islamophobic head again Comment

Last week's Mail Online article about Muslim "no-go-areas" is the latest episode in the UK media's chronic demonisation and misrepresentation of British Muslim communities, a trend which shows no signs of abating, writes Hamza Ali Shah.

New in Ceasefire, Politics - Posted on Tuesday, June 8, 2021 11:01 - 0 Comments


The Daily Mail’s Didsbury, “Posh and leafy” with “plenty of pubs” … also a Muslim “no-go area”. (Credit: Mark Waugh/Alamy)

As Britain begins to prepare for life after lockdown, the prospect of a return to a sense of normality is being enthusiastically welcomed. Some traditions, however, have remained unaffected by the virus. The UK media’s unbridled Islamophobia is unfortunately one of them.

The latest episode involves repeat offender the Daily Mail, which ran a story claiming there are British towns that are ‘no-go areas for White people’, because of supposed Muslim intrusion and ergo dominance.

The article was based on a recent book by author Ed Husain that alleges communities in Britain have become divided, with a specific focus on Muslims. Reviewers have described the book as a “frankly sinister” piece of work replete with “sweeping conclusions”.

One is indeed entitled to wonder whether Husain is the most suitable candidate to discuss Muslim affairs in Britain. His doctoral studies on Western philosophy and Islam were under the direction of the late English philosopher Sir Roger Scruton, who was sacked by the government in 2019 for incendiary statements such as his claim that Islamophobia had been “invented by the Muslim Brotherhood in order to stop discussion of a major issue”.

Not to mention the recently defunct Quilliam Foundation, co-founded by Ed Husain, which over several years produced ‘research’, particularly on Muslim grooming gangs, that was so damaging and sensationalist that even Priti Patel’s Home Office felt compelled to dispel the myth, promoted by Quilliam, that offenders were predominantly of Muslim heritage. Husain’s input on Islam and Muslims is thus perhaps not the most balanced and non-partisan of views.

It would not have taken much for the Daily Mail to consider these facts before regurgitating his claims. A quick dive into its own archives might have been equally beneficial. A few weeks ago the Mail ran a piece on the “top 10 areas in the UK for home buyers” which included Didsbury, an area described as “posh and leafy” with “plenty of pubs,” and which had apparently turned into a Muslim “no go-zone”. As it happens, the 2011 Census shows Didsbury West was 84.1% white and Didsbury East was 77.9% white.

But why engage in basic research and fact-checking when you can disseminate hyperbolised and imprecise statements? Basic journalistic principles – fairness, objectivity, truthfulness – are seemingly not relevant when it comes to Muslims, especially if it means amplifying misconceptions.

This is not without consequences. The media’s relentless mudslinging means that eventually something always sticks. Research shows a third of British people believe the myth of “no-go zones in Britain.” Nearly six in ten Conservative party members think “there are no-go areas in Britain where sharia law dominates and non-Muslims cannot enter.”

Alarmingly, the Mail’s article and its misrepresentations reflect the norm, rather than the exception, within Britain’s media apparatus.

An independent investigation into the Batley Grammer School in West Yorkshire, where a teacher showed Year 9 pupils a cartoon depicting the Prophet Muhammad during a class on religious studies, recently published its findings. The executive summary of the investigation, conducted by Batley Multi Academy Trust, confirmed that “using the image did cause deep offence to a number of students, parents and members of our school community”, adding that “The Trust deeply regrets the distress this has caused.”

This was a vindication of the concerns of Muslim parents who protested the use of the cartoon. Yet throughout the saga in late March, they were widely demonised by the media as it went into another all-too-frequent moral panic. Media outlets across the political spectrum, usually only in agreement about never agreeing on anything, were unanimous in their opprobrium of the parents, who denounced the “epic cowardice” that was allowing “dangerous fanaticism to flourish” according to the Express. A column in The Times decried the “chilling effect on open debate” represented by the protest. Meanwhile over at LBC, there were suggestions that “young people should be taught about blasphemy using examples” and that the suspension of the teacher was “ridiculous”.

The media’s unanimous condemnations were followed by a total silence when the results of the investigation were released. Those who did report it could not help but throw in jibes. The Spectator’s described the findings as a victory for a ‘mob’ abetted by institutions who “caved in to intolerance.” The reaction had the findings gone in the opposite direction is not hard to imagine.

The British media displayed profound intolerance in its coverage of the Batley Grammar School story, providing yet more compelling evidence of the deep-seated ‘othering’ of Muslims within its ranks.

A problem does not appear to be subsiding either. Paul Dacre, formerly editor of the Daily Mail for 20 years and now editor-in-chief at its parent company, the Daily Mail Group, is being considered for the position of head of Ofcom, the UK’s statutory regulator of broadcasting. For a sense of Dacre’s editorial philosophy, research by the Muslim Council of Britain’s Centre for Media Monitoring that examined articles from October to December 2018, showed the Mail on Sunday ranked very highly when it came to publishing pernicious stories against Muslims, with 78% of its articles portraying Muslims or Islam negatively. To have someone with Dacre’s record at the top of Britain’s media regulator is the equivalent of throwing the Muslim community to the wolves.

Reports suggest that despite a campaign from figures in Whitehall to stop Dacre’s candidacy, he remains the government’s favoured choice, which speaks volumes about how legitimised Islamophobia has become recent years.

Invariably, it is ordinary Muslims across Britain who will pay the price for this. Just last month, Muslims attending a mosque in East London were pelted with eggs and stones. Asked about the incident, Ahmed Nahwaz, director and secretary of the centre, simply replied “we’re used to it.” It is a distressing state of affairs when worshippers have to acclimatise to verbal and physical abuse amidst a growing culture of hatred.

Until Britain’s media accept responsibility for their inflammatory and irresponsible framing and discourse around Muslims and Islam, Muslim communities across Britain will continue to be on the receiving end of prejudice, resentment and worse.

Hamza Ali Shah is a political researcher and writer based in London. He has previously written for Tribune, Byline Times and others. He's on Twitter at @Hamza_a96.

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