Getting the right voices heard

There has been much talk recently about how we need to support mainstream Muslims in challenging the Islamists and the supporters of terrorism. Quite rightly so. But perhaps our media could make a start by getting a few mainstream Muslims on television?

Tonight I watched two BBC programmes which both sought to discuss Islam and terrorism with people from the ‘Muslim community’.

Newsnight’s introduction promised a ‘leading Muslim’ would be presenting a short film looking at the situation with young Muslims in the UK in the aftermatch of the bombings. The man handed the microphone was Azzam Tamimi now being described as a representative of the Muslim Association of Britain – the UK wing of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood. I recognised Tamimi because he featured on a recent series of BBC debates from Dubai on democracy in the Middle East – as a Palestinian supporter of Hamas.

Indeed a few days ago on this blog David T pointed out Tamimi’s political background. Tamimi was given the chance to present a short film which after making condemnations of the attacks in London went on to the usual list of grievances to the accompanment of dramatic night time video footage of the bombing of Baghdad.

In the discsussion that followed – with a rather inarticulate British Imam and a young member of the Muslim Public Affairs Committee, Newsnight’s Gavin Esler asked Tamimi a very good question. He reminded him that he supported suicide bombers attacking Israeli civilians – a point that Tamimi did not deny and to which he responded that such attacks were “completely different” because Palestinians were being oppressed.

Tamimi was in no position to deny being a supporter of suicide murders against Israeli civilians as on a previous BBC programme he said: “As a Muslim, martyrdom is an integral part of Islamic theology and these young men from the Islamic perspective are not committing suicide.”

He has also had these quotes attributed to him which offer another view on suicide bombing:

As far as the military effort is concerned, it does not require much funding. What do you need, really? What sort of weapons does Hamas use? It’s the human being. The courage of one man. It is the most valuable of resources. As for some of the operations, the suicidal operations, they require volunteers but the cost in money is near zero. The bomb-making technique is available to everybody. It’s on the Internet and the material is available in any corner shop that sells fertilizers. Therefore there’s no big deal, really. If you want to do something, you do it. Israel has no defense against Hamas…”

As if having a Palestinian Hamas supporter of suicide bombers as a ‘leading Muslim’ wasn’t enough I then tuned in to ‘The Week’ with Andrew Neil, Ken Clarke and Robin Cook. We were treated to another little film from a guest presenter – this time the person chosen to represent the life and views of British Muslims was former Daily Mail journalist Yvonne Ridley.

Her qualification to be a voice of British Islam is apparently gained from the fact that after being kidnapped by the Taliban she converted to Islam and then was a candidate for George Galloway’s Respect Party in the last election.

A year ago Ridley said this about British Muslims who had fought on the side of the Taliban in Afghanistan: One thing that struck me about these brothers was how principled they were … going on jihad for ideals almost forgotten in a selfish world corrupted by greed and power. The driving force that led them into battle in the mountains and caves of Tora Bora was no different to that which propelled 2800 men AND women from the United States to fight in the Spanish Civil War in 1936.

Ridley made some vague comments about needing ‘freedom of speech in Mosques’ as well as reminding us of the usual grievances and that only a tiny minority of extremists have turned to violence. But she was far too shy, after all she knows a thing or two about that minority. Last year she wrote a gushing interview with ‘Shaheen from the Midlands of England’ who claims to have been part of a unit in Afghanistan that fought alongside Bin Laden himself.

Ridley wrote: Their heroics, bravery and the martyrdom of their comrades can never be discussed openly. Yet they all fought for the same sort of ideals and principles as those in the International Brigades. Instead, their derring do and actions can only be whispered about in select circles.

Not that these young men want to boast about their actions. It took some time to get Shaheen from the Midlands of England to talk about his time as a jihadi. He went to Afghanistan in the spring of 2001 with the intention of living and working in a pure Islamic state, so sick was he of Western excesses.

After an exciting discussion where ‘Shaheen’ claims to have witnessed Bin Laden escape from the Americans, Ridley concludes:

I wonder how history will treat Shaheen? Once this War on Terror is discredited, maybe he will be recognised officially as a Mountain Warrior and treated with the same respect as those thousands of young Westerners who went off to fight in the Spanish Civil War.

I truly hope so.

Now, anyone who has paid any attention knows about Ridley’s enthusiasm for British men who went to Afghanistan and it should be no surprise that a friend of Hamas supports suicide bombings. The point is why does the BBC choose these people, at this tense moment, to be the voices of British Muslims? Why give them airspace to make mini-video films?

I’ll hazard a guess – they were easy people to get in touch with and both are media-friendly.

But we desperately need to be hearing other Muslim voices – those who do notgo weak at the knees on hearing stories about fighting with the Taliban and those who do not justify the slaughter of innocent civilians by suicide bombers. Perhaps some Pakistanis who make up the majority of Britain’s Muslim community? The BBC and the media in general could do British Muslims, and all of us, a big assistance by going beyond the easy phone calls and finding some serious voices who are prepared to take a stand against violent Jihadism.