I woke up late this morning, but now I’m up it seems like one of those Stupid News days. There was one of those debates about Islamic extremism and the moderates on the Radio 4’s Today programme on my way into work. Yahya Birt made a useful contribution, but the same could not be said of the author of a book on Immigration and Multiculturalism. He went off on the predictable “what do we mean by moderates” tangent – 40% of British Muslims believe in Shariah Law, he said, so when we’re talking about extremism it is a much bigger problem than we think.
He didn’t want to discuss the question of how we tackle those who think it’s a good idea to blow up innocents on the public transport system; he wanted to broaden out the discussion to cover anyone who thinks drinking alcohol is foolish and consuming interest is abhorrent. Well how is that going to help you prevent people from engaging in acts of mass murder? How does insisting that I am an extremist help you? I abhor wanton violence (I won’t even watch Hollywood shoot-em-ups), I pay my taxes, I don’t drop litter, I work in the public services, I try to be nice to those around me and helpful too, and yet you insist on labelling me an extremist. Sorry, I just don’t see how this helps you deal with the issue at hand.
It wasn’t the only Stupid News item. Once again the BBC is making much of Zacarias Moussaoui’s attendance of Brixton Mosque. I call it a Stupid News item because anyone who knew anything about Muslims would realise that – as people required to pray five times a day – we will attend the mosque wherever we find ourselves. So I have prayed in Brixton Mosque (once) and in the famous Finsbury Park mosque too (twice). I have also attended the Muslim Welfare House mosque in Finsbury Park many times, and Central mosque, and East London mosque, and a tiny Bengali mosque behind Euston Station. I have prayed in the Muslim Heritage mosque in Westbourne Park, the Shia mosque in Maida Vale, the Sufi mosque in Cricklewood and the prayer room in the back of the Salafi bookshop there.
I have attended the main mosque in West Ealing and the Pakistani mosque five minutes away. I have prayed in a Bengali mosque near Kings Cross that used to be a pub, and I have been to the Murabitun mosque in Norwich. I have attended an assortment of mosques in Peterborough, and the former Methodist chapel mosque in Hull. I have been to Hounslow mosque, and two in Southall, and I once tried to find Acton mosque. I have attended York mosque and Stirling mosque, and the Goodge Street mosque, and Aylesbury mosque, and Chesham mosque, and one in Leicester, oh and the Turkish mosque in Leicester too. Then there’s the Turkish mosque in Shoreditch and the other one up near Dalston. I have also walked past the main mosque in Dodoma, Tanzania, while I have attended many different mosques in Istanbul and the Artvin province of Turkey, not to mention my flying visits to Izmir, Izmit, Rize and Ankara. I have even utilised the Prayer Room at London Heathrow Airport and Wycombe General Hospital. Is that news? There’s a whole selection for you, depending which label you want to assign to me today.
The other piece of Stupid News focuses on how terror suspect Khalid al Fawwaz led prayers in Woodhill Prison in Buckinghamshire for a short period in 2003. Again, what is so incredible about this? In the absence of an imam, any of us can lead a group of Muslims in prayer. When friends visit my house, I lead the prayer. If I visit someone else’s house, my host will lead the prayer. In university prayer rooms up and down the land, students are leading others in prayer. What are the journalists thinking? Funny frock? Dog collar? Evening song and mattins? No, dear journalist, it really is not extraordinary at all.
Now I admit that I don’t really have any idea what goes on inside a Synagogue or a Sikh temple, but then it’s not my job to know. But these are journalists – it is their job to find out what is going on in the stories they are reporting. If journalists feel they have earned the right to lambaste bloggers as fountains of irrelevant opinion, they should at least try to prove it. These Stupid News items only seem to confirm that many of them are as stupid as me.