A Muslim who has a job, mortgage, mixes with neighbours, puts his kids through school, obeys the law and has no problem being proud of being British.
I realise that for those making compelling TV programmes, nothing could be duller than the description above of millions of people living in this country. Even though research by the Policy Exchange found recently that 93% of British Muslims have a strong attachment to this country, the extremist Islamist who hates Britain always makes a better story.
The BBC has decided to air something called Muslims Like Us. It uses a familiar format of putting several people in a house and seeing what happens – in this case, Muslims. But not the kind of Muslim who is reconciled to their life here and leading a peaceful existence. No – the BBC has dug up Anthony Small, who I first met in 2007 and who later became an associate of Anjem Choudary.
Choudary, if you recall, was imprisoned over his support for Daesh and ran the banned organisation Al Muhajiroun. Small, who renamed himself Abdul Haq, has done all the things you’d expect from an acolyte of Choudary: expressed empathy for Daesh and displayed indifference to the fate of westerners murdered by the terrorists. Now, he’s deemed to be suitable material for a light entertainment programme aired at prime time.
For those of us who spend our waking hours working for inter-faith harmony and fostering a reconciled British Muslim identity, this is beyond infuriating. It’s as if the national broadcaster had nothing better to do than aim a well-deserved kick in the teeth to those of us safeguarding young people and building community cohesion. We’re presumably too boring for BBC programme makers when they can stick a clownish but toxic extremist on air instead.
Muslims Like Us boasts that it is putting a cross section of the British Muslim community before us on TV to encourage honest discussion. Well, let me tell the programme makers what the real outcome of their programme will be. Muslims Like Us is an early Christmas present for both the Far Right and Islamist extremists. For the Far Right, it puts up the bogeyman of the mad Islamist who they can characterise as representing all British Muslims. And for Islamists, it gives one of their kind a platform to spout on the airwaves.
At a time of the year when the terrorist threat alert often ticks upwards, how appalling that the BBC would poison the season of goodwill with this irresponsible programme. Haq may profess not to support Daesh but neither has he made an unqualified condemnation of their butchery. This at a time when Daesh publications are teaching people in the west how to conduct attacks on passers-by to advance their cause.
2016 has seen a string of horrific mass murders inspired by Daesh from Baghdad to Orlando and Dhaka to Nice. The holy month of Ramadan was turned into a killing field this year with no mercy shown by Daesh. The terrorists are now goading individuals into so-called ‘lone actor’ attacks and at any time, a radicalised person could bring death to our streets. Muslims like me and Muslims like most in this country despise the terrorists and their propaganda. Yet the BBC thinks that Haq is part of the rich tapestry of Muslim life today in this country today.
As Mosques and Imams up and down the country, are throwing out the likes of Haq out of our Mosques, the BBC is providing them with the oxygen of publicity, on our television screens. The BBC must not underestimate the impact the media has on gullible individuals and how this tragically impacts our most vulnerable. Muslims don’t want preferential treatment, but equality. Why would we single out British Muslims, would we do this with other communities?
The BBC calls this a “unique and bold social experiment”. This is the usual half-baked sociology being employed to legitimise a tawdry exercise in titillating viewers. If the result is that one young Muslim already harbouring a grievance is activated in some way the ill-tempered exchanges into taking the road to violence, will they review the efficacy and morality of their “bold social experiment”?
Mustafa Field MBE
Director of Faiths Forum for London
First published on the Huffington Post