A very poor show

In general I enjoy listening to programmes on BBC Radio 4. I don’t own a TV and only buy a newspaper about twice a month (usually The Independent, for my sins), so the radio is my main source when keeping abreast of current affairs. A pretty good job it does too: not least Start the Week for literature and the arts, but also the nature, politics, ethics and technology programmes.

Every so often, however, you hear a programme that makes you wonder what has happened to British “quality” journalism. I heard one such programme on Saturday night (15/10/05) entitled A War Against Prejudice, repeating an edition broadcast earlier in the week. The focus of this programme was a Jewish organisation known as the Community Security Trust and its alleged role in exaggerating claims of anti-Semitism in British society. I must confess that I know very little about either subject, but it seemed quite clear to me as an outsider – an English Muslim of Anglican stock — that the programme had been made with preconceived ideas. Listening to this documentary it was impossible to ignore that feeling inside, that the programme maker had begun with a conclusion and had proceeded to build his case around it.

When Gerry Northam interviewed members of the Jewish community – and Inayat Bunglawala of the Muslim Council of Britain – who would lend support to his thesis, he used blatantly leading questions. By contrast, when he interviewed Melanie Philips – whose frequent anti-Muslim views turned me away from listening to The Moral Maze – he probed her fear of anti-Semitism without the impartiality one would expect of a journalist. When Philips recounted her experience of a woman telling her that she “hated the Jews, because of the way they treated the Palestinians”, the journalist embarrassingly offered his own explanations for this. Why?

This is not to argue that the premise of the programme was incorrect; two rabbis and a Jewish sociologist lent some support to his case, if not entirely voluntarily (although the programme did make the Community Security Trust sound like a secretive organisation akin to the BNP, but with links to the Metropolitan Police a better likeness would probably be the Muslim Council of Britain, albeit a more advanced version). Instead, my complaint centres entirely on what looked liked a most imbalanced form of journalism.

What concerns me is that we are likely to turn a blind eye to this sort of journalism – for 1) it does not affect our community and 2) it does affect someone we don’t like very much. Yet as a community that is commanded to speak the truth even if it is against our self, is this the right attitude? I wonder if we would find more success in our campaigns against distorted media presentation of Muslim issues if our own vision were not so closed. If our mission is to fulfil the role of being a mercy for mankind, is it not time that we put aside the dreadful claim to be the chosen people that has crept into our communities and instead stand up as witnesses to the truth?

It was back to business as usual on BBC Radio 4 yesterday afternoon, with Libby Purves chairing an excellent discussion in the last fifteen minutes of The Learning Curve on the effect the proposed Anti-Terror Legislation may have on Universities. Well worth a listen.
Quite separately, does “PM”, the title of their rush-hour news-hour, stand for “Permanent Moan”?
Posted by:
The Neurocentric October 19, 2005 07:23 AM

Just found your excellent site. Whilst being an unbeliever I have immense respect for sincerely devout believers of all religions. You are reflecting the side of Islam that is sorely missed in our media. Most of my Moslem freinds and colleagues share the “moderate” (for want of a better word) interpretations of Islam you are promoting – more power to your elbow! However on the specific issue of Anti-Semitism in Moslem communities, I am often disturbed by the willingness of some Moslem friends to use offensice language about Jews. I have also noticed also a tendency to believe in “conspiracy theories” about “Jewish Control of America”. The evils committed against Palastinians are obviously at the root of this as is the American incabability to criticise israel. But this does not justify some of the Anti-semitism that I hear (generally from Pashto speaking Moslems- so maybe this is a cultural thing), who confuse Jewishness with Right Wing Zionism. We need to see a wideranging and open debate on this.
Posted by:
chris October 19, 2005 09:52 AM

“I don’t own a TV and only buy a newspaper about twice a month (usually The Independent, for my sins), so the radio is my main source when keeping abreast of current affairs.” You what? How the hell can you be a blogger and be so cut off from all that information?!? I assume you must read some online news right?
Posted by:
leon October 19, 2005 01:44 PM

Leon, you’re right of course. Do I have to do the backtrack thing (someone will have to explain it to me if I do)? Yes, I browse BBC online when I get to work at 8am every day and (I forgot about this) I watch a wide range of news programmes on Broadband via the wwiTV portal (http://mediahopper.com/portal.htm). A slight oversight, but you have to make allowances – it’s Ramadan, we’re fasting, low blood sugar. In any case, you get the drift – I listen to Radio 4 an awful lot. Why is it the afternoon play is always really good when I’m late coming back from my lunch break? I could sit in the car park all day.
Posted by:
The Neurocentric October 19, 2005 05:22 PM

Hi Chris, thanks for your feedback, tho I certainly wouldn’t categorise myself as a devout believer. Personally I dislike the term “Anti-Semitism” as “Racism” would do, although (note the contradiction) I always thought Muslims (as followers of a Semitic religion) would have been better cottoning onto this phrase than coining “Islamophobia” — but there we are. In any case, I wouldn’t deny that the tendency you mention exists in the Muslim community. I asked a Spanish Muslim about this when I was a new Muslim about seven years ago; his view was that it is a recent phenomenon which has its roots in colonialism and the Israel-Palestine problem, and is not historical.
But there is another thing to consider. The Islamic narrative insists that the Children of Israel were Muslims, thus much is said about them in the Qur’an which recounts tales of those who went before us in order that we might reflect and not repeat past errors (alas we fail to understand). It is often said that such passages are “Anti-Semitic” — I think contemporary Muslims often miss the point when they lament “Islamophobia” — we now fulfil the role that the Children of Israel fulfilled before us. We wouldn’t call the Qur’an “Islamophobic” of course – sadly, we just ignore it instead.
Posted by:
The Neurocentric October 19, 2005 06:03 PM

I regret that it is not true that Anti-Semitism is caused mostly by the Palestinian-Israeli situation. When working in the Gulf some years ago someone asked a Syrian colleague (a friend of ours) why he did not trust the Israelis. He gave an answer which I did not expect-“because the Jews of Medina did not keep their covenant with the Prophet.” I have heard this many times since. There is something more deep-seated than the easy Palestine explanation here. The publication of “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” in the Arab World-the making and broadcasting widely of “Horseman Without A Horse” based on this forgery, plus all the conspiracy theories about how the Jews run everything show quite clealy that there is a deep seated problem about accepting an Israeli Jewish state in the middle of the Muslim World. Posted by: Frank October 19, 2005 09:46 PM

On a related topic does anyone else feel uneasy about the nature of the “anti-semitism discourse”? It seems to be presented more as a genetic defect than a prejudice. For example calling it “the oldest hatred” seems to imply something primordial about it. Most significantly of course is the fact that it’s given a seperate title whereas hated towards all other races is just classed as racism. Another worrying aspect is that the target of the “anti-semitism discourse” in the west is mainly muslims and people on the Left in countries like France, Britain and Germany. In Russia and Ukraine you’ve got members of the governments there making openly anti-jewish remarks yet places like that come far down on the list of the most anti-semitic places.
Posted by: Shamilaskov
October 19, 2005 10:17 PM

My grandmother – who is Anglican – when reconciling herself to the fact that I am Muslim recalled that she had been told as a child not trust Jews and Roman Catholics; but, she said, when she finally met both a Jew and a Roman Catholic they were the nicest people she had ever met. She told me, despite all the things people say about Muslims my Muslim friends were absolutely lovely. Prejudice comes in all forms and sometimes it’s because people isolate themselves that it persists.
Posted by:
The Neurocentric October 20, 2005 05:16 PM

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