I’m beginning to wonder two things about today’s Dispatches which was yet another programme about Muslims – have they been taken over by the Daily Mail, and did someone forget to tell them that we’re no longer in the mid-eighties or nineties but in the mid-noughties?
The programme on tonight was called “Undercover Mosque” which was based around some undercover reporting in two mosques (out of about 1600 that currently exist in the UK, which is less than one tenth of one per cent of all mosques) that shockingly revealed extremist views amongst a select band of preachers who all had in common a connection with Saudi Arabia. The programme’s raison d’etre was “how a message of hatred and segregation is being spread throughout the UK and examines how it is influenced by the religious establishment of Saudi Arabia”.
This is not news. The Saudis have been exporting this brand of Islam for decades, under the ever watchful eye of its ‘allies’. The Wahabbi flavour of Islam is well known to Saudi Arabia’s politcal allies and has actually been used as a form of social control in less pliant Muslim countries. It has been bubbling angrily throughout the Muslim community in the UK for years and years. I have grown up with it. And I have grown up with the Muslim community’s efforts to counter it and bring shades of compassion and humanity to its stark and uncompromising message.
This is not new and therefore this is not news. I say it again. And the programme’s tabloid-esque approach to flashing up statements from a few individuals, and then placing them in the context of mainstream organisations, and then self-righteously stating the responses from the organisations to make it look like they were defensively denying something that was true is gutter journalism at its worst. You don’t need an undercover reporter to tell you what was ‘uncovered’. It’s all apparent and public domain information.
It was hard to feel angry at the specific point the programme was making – about the harsh message of the Saudi funded message. The Muslim community in the UK, and round the world, has grown up with it in the latter years of the last century. It’s true, Wahabbi Islam is puritanical and tough. We already knew this. But what did make me very cross were the subtle and not so subtle messages that somehow the whole muslim community is tainted by it, that extremism is widespread, that Islam and Muslims are evil and full of hate and duplicitous. Why does Channel 4 choose to stir up these messages to create hatred? Is it OK to cast a whole community in this light?
Dispatches has an awful lot to answer for, and I’m frustrated and disappointed that a programme that being broadcast on a mainstream and once respected TV channel has resorted to such a simplistic portrayal of a complex and sensitive issue that is of such high impact and profile.
Navigating our way through the current political and social issues that involve Islam and Muslims requires intelligence and understanding on all parts. This comic book approach only serves to perpetuate and entrench ignorance amongst those who are not Muslims, and to frustrate, anger and dishearten those Muslims who truly are dedicated to a balanced, tolerant and fruitful social dialogue.
I wonder why Dispatches didn’t do an ‘undercover’ investigation of Channel 4’s Shariah TV programme. You’ll find that one of the guests on the panel was none other than a scholar from the very same Green Lane Mosque in Birmingham, and General Secretary of the conservative Muslim organisation Markazi Jamiat Ahl-e-Hadith (based at the mosque) which was the mosque which formed the heart of the programme.
One sided hate-stirring sensationalism perhaps?