Although I recently wrote in praise of the BBC, having read this Times article (thanks to Roxsana in the comments for pointing it out), I have to agree with the criticism they’ve received for inviting Abu Izzadeen onto the Today programme on Friday. Izzadeen, you may remember, is the delightful character who interrupted Home Secretary John Reid’s speech in the East End this week, and who’s previously threatened George Galloway for daring to stand for Parliament, thereby defying Allah’s law. According to the Times:
The chief Muslim organisation in Britain has condemned the BBC for giving a well-known Islamic extremist who hijacked a speech by the Home Secretary a prime-time platform to air his views today. “We have received phone call after phone call from moderate Muslims who are appalled that the Today programme gave such an utterly marginal figure this prime-time spot to spout his bile almost interrupted”, said Inayat Bunglawala, spokesman for the MCB. “The interview gave an entirely misleading impression and was left unchallenged. You would at least expect there to be some balance by having an alternative voice, and if we were approached someone would have definitely gone on the programme”.
As one listener who complained to the BBC pointed out, “the space given to the interview you conducted this morning with this cocky young bigot must have exceeded that given to any elected representative of the Muslim community, ever. We heard nothing but a mouthy rant that must have increased his standing with his mates, horrified 99 per cent of British Muslims, and confirmed the prejudices of many uninformed Brits about what Islam stands for”. Another (Muslim) listener wrote: “I am incensed with the Today programme giving publicity to Abu Izzadeen. How dare he presume a position of speaking on behalf of Muslims! I am a Muslim, and like thousands of my co-religionists find him and his views utterly repugnant”.
On the Guardian’s Comment is Free site, Today was also criticised by New Humanist editor Padraig Reidy and Pickled Politics’s Sunny Hundal, who said “The corporation does not even realise it is being used by these provocateurs for their publicity”.
The BBC is, of course, entitled to invite whomever it wants onto its programmes, and has previously justified allowing extremists onto its news programmes by saying “The issue is whether the BBC should specifically exclude anyone known to favour…terrorist acts either here or elsewhere. We do not operate such a policy of exclusion”. I agree with this; they shouldn’t operate a policy of exclusion. But the problem is when the policy appears to be one of inclusion. The likes of Abu Izzadeen, and Anjem Choudhary seem to receive a level of publicity that’s vastly out of proportion to the level of support they have among British Muslims, which is negligible. While I don’t agree with George Galloway’s suggestion that Izzadeen was allowed to interrupt John Reid’s speech, in order to “portray the Muslims of Britain in the most aggressive, violent and extreme way possible”, I find it difficult to see the benefit of inviting the most aggressive, violent and extreme of British Muslims onto radio and television programmes, at the exclusion of more representative, and less aggressive, violent and extreme voices. I suppose the BNP are glad of the opportunity to claim that people like this are the authentic voice of British Muslims, and I’m sure that groups like Al-Ghurabaa are also grateful for the publicity, but for the great majority of British people, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, Abu Izzadeen and his ilk struggle to achieve the status of an irrelevance. They don’t warrant regular exposure on TV and radio, and they barely warrant writing about on a blog.
The reason I’m doing so is because their steadfast efforts in claiming they’re the true voice of Islam have gained sufficient currency that comments threads here at Harry’s Place have begun to attract such perfectly demented notions as “the problem isn’t just with a fringe radical element, but Islamic civilization as a whole”, or that “All muslims in non-muslim lands should be sent back to the nearest Muslim country”. Again, I’d imagine that the BNP and Abu Izzadeen would be happy with this – determined as they are to foster an atmosphere of hostility between Muslims and non-Muslims. They’re probably less enamoured with the recent ICM poll for the Sunday Telegraph, in which to the question “How loyal do you personally feel towards Britain?”, the number of British Muslims that answered either “very loyal” or “quite loyal” was 91%.
Can we have someone from that 91% on the Today programme next please, instead of the current policy, which appears to be, in the words of Iranian comedian Omid Djalili, “and now, for a balanced view of the Middle East, we go to Muslim nutcase with a hook”.
(hat tip: Roxsana in the comments)
PS I can’t finish a post about the BBC without wishing Richard Hammond a full recovery and hoping that he gets back to doing what he does best, which is squabbling on a train with James May somewhere in Northern Europe as they try unsuccessfully to beat Jeremy Clarkson in a race that’s probably fixed in order to make the car look best.