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Manifesto pledges on Islamophobia and the media

Manifesto pledges on Islamophobia and the media

Categories: Latest News

Thursday March 09 2017

There has been some quite animated fist-thumping at the interview by the Muslim News with the Labour leader, Ed Miliband, in which the opposition leader spoke of the party’s manifesto pledge to get serious about Islamophobia (and anti-Semitism). The Labour manifesto, and BAME manifesto, refers to the proper recording of anti-Muslim hate crime and a cross departmental race equality strategy among other measures to tackle prejudice and discrimination that holds back people from ethnic minorities from enjoying equality of opportunity.

The interview appears to have ruffled some feathers among those journalists whose regular indulgence of anti-Muslim commentary, often vociferously defended as ‘fair comment’ and ‘free speech’, has them worried about facing the consequences of feeding anti-Muslim hysteria.

Leo McKinstry in the Daily Express on Tuesday laments the passing of western democracy’s most valued ideal: free speech. “Anyone who believes in liberty will be truly alarmed. Miliband’s proposal goes against the entire tradition of western democracy, which holds that people should be punished only for their deeds, not their opinions,” he writes.

“In Miliband’s Britain, it will become impossible to criticise any aspect of Islamic culture, whether it be the spread of the burka or the establishment of sharia courts or the construction of colossal new mosques. We already live in a society where Mohammed is now the most popular boy’s name and where a child born in Birmingham is more likely to be a Muslim than a Christian. If he wins, Miliband will ensure that the accelerating Islamification of our country will go unchallenged,” he adds.

Allison Pearson in the Daily Telegraph yesterday chimed in with a sentiment akin to that expressed by Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee. Pearson writes, “If Miliband’s definition of Islamophobia includes shouting until one’s last breath against the disgusting chauvinists who prey on young girls and treat women as second-class citizens, then please do count me in. I’d gladly go to jail for that.”And Melanie Phillips in Monday’s edition of the Times wrote, “Charges of racism or Islamophobia are routinely used to intimidate those who criticise Muslims or Islam. They have been used to enable the systematic sexual enslavement of thousands of young teenage girls.”

One would be forgiven for thinking the coterie had been briefed about the possible passing of a law which would restrict their ability to demonise Muslims in the same way the incitement to racial hatred law limits what can be said or written about British Jews. It is noteworthy that for all the sermonising about the threat to free speech there is no mention of the law on incitement to racial hatred already limiting the parameters in which ‘free’ speech is exercised. Are Muslims to be treated differently to another minority group which has seen an increase in hate crime and hate speech?

The disparity in treatment by the media of Muslims and other minority groups was the subject of a pamphlet (Muslims under Siege) and documentary (It Shouldn’t Happen to a Muslim) by former Daily Telegraph political commentator, Peter Oborne.

In the foreword to the pamphlet Professor Stuart Weir observes that there is “a disturbing willingness among writers in the broadsheet press and elsewhere to indulge themselves in blatantly anti-Islamic rhetoric and argument that would, as they argue, not be tolerated if it were directed against Jews, say, or gay people.”

Indeed only last week researchers at Manchester University noted the level of anti-Muslim prejudice in the British society at a time when racial prejudice in general is on the decline. No surprise that the role of the media in this state of affairs is highlighted.

In his report into the Culture, Practice and Ethics of the Press, Lord Justice Leveson had this to say about the media’s representation of Islam and Muslims: “The evidence demonstrates that sections of the press betray a tendency, which is far from being universal or even preponderant, to portray Muslims in a negative light. […] While newspapers are entitled to express strong views on minority issues, immigration and asylum, it is important that stories on those issues are accurate, and are not calculated to exacerbate community divisions or increase resentment. Although the majority of the press appear to discharge this responsibility with care, there are enough examples of careless or reckless reporting to conclude that discriminatory, sensational or unbalanced reporting in relation to ethnic minorities, immigrants and/or asylum seekers is a feature of journalistic practice in parts of the press, rather than an aberration.”

The sheltering behind ‘fair comment’ has also been picked up by researchers at Lancaster University who argue that the press regulator’s stock response to anti-Muslim commentary being “a named columnist’s personal view and would be seen as no more than his robust opinions”, has been exploited by newspapers to perpetuate publishing derogatory opinion pieces about Muslims. Among recommendations advanced by researchers into the Representation of Islam in the British Nationals is this, “Avoid publishing letters or opinion pieces which are deliberately aimed to be offensive or misleading”.

It is not all too surprising that the columnists who have reacted this week to the Labour leader’s interview with the Muslim News, published last week, have been those who have enthusiastically written pieces about Muslims (see here, here and here for just a few examples) which one can safely say they would not dare entertain if the minority in question were Jews, blacks or gays.

The Labour Party is to be congratulated for standing up to those who attempt to shield their anti-Muslim prejudice behind the cloak of western liberalism and ‘free speech’. Muslims too are British citizens and equally deserving of the same security and freedoms that characterise an open society with its right to freedom from prejudice and discrimination. Why is that so difficult to accept?


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