Sunday 26 July 2015

"A Special Edition Broadcast Live from East London Mosque"

As I’ve noted, the BBC has this year broadcast a couple of programmes that were essentially propaganda for the hardline East London Mosque. The programmes faithfully followed the mosque’s PR script that it is a beacon of liberalism and tolerance; only mosque officials and supporters were interviewed. The substantial evidence of the East London Mosque’s links with extremist and hate preachers was entirely ignored, and the mosque’s many critics, Muslim and non-Muslim, were nowhere to be heard. 
What provoked that comment was a report on the previous day's Radio 4’s Sunday programme "marking the mosque’s centenary and, in the words of the presenter, “sharing in the celebrations of the worshippers”". Andrew Gilligan gave that 2010 Sunday report a severe filleting before ending by saying,
It should not be the BBC’s role to “share in the celebrations” of anything, let alone the East London Mosque.
Move on from 2010 to 2015, and Radio 4's Sunday was at it again this morning with its live "special edition" from the East London Mosque in Tower Hamlets, which began with a call to prayer.

We heard a lot about the mosque's long history and Edward Stourton was at pains to point out that it has "a rich history", that it is "absolutely soaked" in history. 

What we didn't hear at any point was any mention of the controversial parts of the ELM's recent history. Not a word was spoken about that.

As in 2010, only mosque officials and supporters were interviewed about the mosque itself. Ed was given a guided tour by one and discussed its history with another. Controversial former chairman Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari was one of his main guests. 

It was all wonderful PR for the East London Mosque, presenting it as a wholly benign force in British society.

(Incidentally, if you ever fancy reading a Wikipedia entry that has very clearly been written by someone close to its subject, then please give Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari's entry a read. It's pure PR from start to finish. Quite shameless.)

David Cameron's speech earlier this week was the programme's starting point and finishing point, but its main leitmotif was interfaith relations. 

Dr Abdul Bari's companion was Sunday regular Dr Ed Kessler of the interfaith Woolf Institute. Dr Kessler said that interfaith dialogue is changing into action, spurred on by the effects of austerity. Mrs Cohen, Mrs Khan and Mrs Green are all meeting each other in soup kitchens. At a local level trust between communities remains quite strong, he added. Dr Abdul Bari said "overwhelmingly" there isn't a problem with Muslims who don't identify with Britain (in contradiction to what the PM said). Such people are "a very tiny fragment". (Ed Stourton didn't disagree).

There was also a report from Trevor Barnes on interfaith dialogue. He went to an event at a "community garden". He said such events don't make the headlines unlike prime ministerial statements, but they are just as important. Everyone Trevor spoke to expressed warm feelings about other communities. 

Then came a feature profiling Sister Christine Frost, a Catholic nun who has been promoting interfaith work in Tower Hamlets for many years. She was the one who had the black Islamic flag removed, but not perhaps for the reasons you might think. She thought it would reflect badly on her estate and get everyone branded with the same mark of shame. Various Muslim voices voiced their love and admiration for her, and her work. 

Apparently, this item is the first of a series of pieces on Sunday profiling figures who are working towards interfaith harmony. 

Then came the closing discussion, featuring a large group of young Muslims and Neil Jamieson of Citizens UK. 

It was trailed as being about hearing the reactions of young Muslims to Mr Cameron's speech, leading me to think it would feature a range of young Muslims from the East London Mosque and the surrounding borough. 

I was quite taken aback then when Ed Stourton let slip that all of the young Muslims involved in the discussion are part of Mr Jamieson's Citizens UK - i.e. a highly selective group of young Muslims (who, therefore, may not be representative). 

You can imagine the result: everyone pretty much saying exactly the same thing and no one saying anything too controversial....

Someone said he feels just as British as anyone else. Someone else said that ignorance and the media narrative creates barriers, and the government has a habit of talking to Muslims not with them. A third person said British values and Islamic values go hand in hand. A fourth person said he's a British muslim and has a plurality of identities, all of which fit in with British values. A fifth young Muslim echoed the complaint that the government keeps telling Muslims how to do things. A sixth voice said the Prevent strategy feels to many young Muslims like "a way of keeping an eye on us" and worried about universities monitoring extremism because of the danger of "ostracisation". He also complained about the media. The seventh person said that "99.999%" of Muslims accept the aims of Prevent but not its "methodology". The eighth young Muslim said Prevent shouldn't just focus on the Muslim community but ought to be more "multicultural", more "multifaith". She also blamed the media narrative. The ninth person said Prevent is "making us feel like a lab experiment", making Muslims feel "isolated". He blamed the media again. The tenth young Muslim said that David Cameron is "conflating" a lot of "very complicated" issues together. Mr Cameron is "very confused." The eleventh person said that is could result in the "further isolating" of Muslims and and "the media has a lot to do with it". Neil Jamieson of Citizens UK then pronounced himself "encouraged" by all of this.

The whole programme reeked of earnest propaganda. Listening to it was like being spoonfed a large, overly-healthy meal. Everything about it was nice and well-meaning, everything tending towards the same set of messages. No 'noises off' were heard.

You won't be surprised to learn, no doubt, that plenty of just-as-nice-and-well-meaning members of the Twitterati are urging people who missed it to catch up with this "brilliant" programme on the iPlayer. 

I don't doubt that the makers of Sunday will feel very pleased about what their one-sided programme achieved today. I have to say though that listening to it only confirmed the truth for me of Damian Thompson's description of Sunday: "Radio 4's Sunday programme offers perhaps the most undiluted liberal bias to be found anywhere on the BBC".


  1. Wasn’t it a surprise when the continuity announcer said “And now a special edition of Sunday with Edward Stourton, ” then, instead of the expected “Hello, this is Edward Stourton speaking to you today from the ELM,” there was a wail of excruciating pain.

    It was, of course the Mosque’s amplified call to prayer, which the imam later awarded 7/10 when asked to compare it with the genuine (Saudi) article.

  2. So nothing from the thoroughly British, modern Muslim youth speaking out against extremism, just speaking out against suspicions of extremism? If I ever meet the BBC producer who used to debate at B-BBC under the name of "John Reith", it will be very difficult not to punch him in the face for telling us so many times that the BBC really was trying to fix things and we should shut up because we were the ones making it worse.

    I still have a very large xml file of all the old comments before the site rebuild, and will be going through them for my research.

  3. It's interesting you mention this Citizens UK outfit. I have often wondered where the BBC TV gets its selections of young Muslims for news progs from (often seem to be girls without Hijabs who are very articulate, very proficient in English and who express generally liberal opinions but are fierce in defence of Islam). Maybe they have Citizens UK on speed dial?


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