Monthly Archives: August 2012

There’s still more in the press today about the new BBC sitcom Citizen Khan which aired on Monday night.

The Daily Mail prints comments made by the show’s creator and star, Adil Ray, addressing viewer reactions to certain scenes, Ray tells the paper:

“‘Citizen Khan is not a Muslim comedy, it is a British family sitcom. It is family comedy with universal themes of hypocrisy, deceit, and relationships that we can all connect to.’

“‘We [Muslims] are not all the same. This is something I want to get away from. British Muslims are all very different people.

“‘It is a great opportunity for Muslims to be seen as like everybody else. To say, “Look we have the same human flaws as everyone else but we just have a different religion”.’

“He said it was ‘only natural’ for some viewers to feel ‘sensitive’ as there have been few ‘fictional depictions’ of Muslim life on British TV.”

Cristina Odone in the Daily Telegraph meanwhile writes that Citizen Khan could prove to be the Tebbit test for British Muslims.

She writes, “After the Olympics proved that many Muslims would pass the Norman Tebbit cricket test…here is a new challenge for the two million-strong minority: can you laugh at “Citizen Khan”?”

Reflecting on the ridicule heaped on the Catholic community, Odone states that comedy is the next threshold Muslims must overcome, accepting the comic potential of the ‘small hypocrisies that go on in a religious household’.

She goes on to suggest that Muslims have had something of an easy ride in the comic department on account of their having “developed a thin skin [since 9/11] that has inhibited our dealings with them. It has certainly inhibited the BBC, which for years has tiptoed around Muslim sensibilities (the corporation initially refused to call the murder of Shafilea Ahmed by her parents “an honour killing”, lest it foment ugly racist reactions).”

Given that Odone has previously written of ‘honour killings’ as a Muslim issue, her pejorative claim of ‘Muslim sensibilities’ being a point of caution in the BBC’s coverage of Shafilea Ahmed’s murder is ignorant, but not out of character. But the idea that Muslims have ‘developed a thin skin’ since 9/11 is positively repulsive.

Muslims have endured such things as the emergence of far right social movements, like the English Defence League, which with their anti-Muslim rhetoric and demonstrations have wreaked havoc in communities across the country with a spate of attacks on Muslim persons and property frequently following in their wake. As well as the revival of far right political parties, like the National Front and British National Party whose election manifestoes single out Islam as an ‘alien religion’ impugning against halal meat, mosques and religious dress. The Danish cartoons of 2002, the Pope’s Regensburg Address of 2006, the bans on religious symbols, and later of face coverings in France, the Swiss minarets ban in 2009, or the regular and frequent portrayal of Islam and Muslims in the British media in derogatory terms – whether it be on the issue of halal meat or veiling by Muslim women – it is a rich claim indeed to suggest that Muslims have developed a ‘thin skin’ in the face of this “repressive legislative and rhetorical onslaught,” as Gary Younge puts it, in recent years.

Odone goes on to recall the Rushdie affair and the Muslim reaction to assaults on matters deemed sacred stating that, “A community that issues a fatwah over a caricature of its spiritual leader is not a community to trifle with. That was an own goal for British Muslims. They had drawn a line between “us” and “them”.”

And yet, the “us” and “them” divide is ever present in the media. The Cardiff university study of 2008, Images of Islam in the UK: The Representation of British Muslims in the National Print News Media 2000-2008, argued that there is an “increasing importance of stories focusing on religious and cultural differences between Islam and British culture or the West in general.”

Odone concludes:

“Citizen Khan gives Muslims a chance to fight this image of self-righteous fundamentalists who are forever on the margins. It doesn’t bode well that already, the BBC has received hundreds of complaints from outraged viewers (presumably Muslims, as no one else could be offended by this mild-mannered comedy). Muslims need a couple of imams to speak up in support of this comedy. But don’t hold your breath.”

And here, she betrays her Catholic affiliation. In seeking for “imams to speak up in support of this comedy,” she draws a correlation with the Catholic Church’s hierarchy. It might come as some surprise to Ms Odone, but whether an imam welcomes or endorses the BBC’s new sitcom, the individual British Muslim license-fee payer is free to form his or her own judgment on the quality and merit of Citizen Khan.

Local paper, the Skegness Standard, reports on the National Front’s latest target in its slew of anti-Muslim activities, the proposal for a halal abattoir in Skegness.

The far right, racist organisation is planning a demonstration in Skegness on Saturday September 15th and distributing flyers urging locals to reject the proposals.

From the local paper:

“A nationalist political organisation opposing multiculturalism and immigration has planned a demonstration against proposals for a halal abattoir in Skegness.

“The National Front has invited its members to walk through the town distributing flyers and displaying banners opposing the Muslim practice of slaughter on Saturday, September 15.

“Deputy chairman Kevin Bryan said: “We are against halal and kosher slaughterhouses full stop – it’s alien to this country and we don’t want to see it here. Islam is an alien religion to our shores and we don’t think we should have them in this country.”

“The group insists it is not racist, claiming to oppose immigrants of all races, ‘to return this county to its genetic make-up of the 1940s.’

“However the founder of a locally based opposition group fears her message of animal welfare could be tarnished by association with the National Front’s controversial stance.

“Tess Turner, formed the ‘Say no to halal slaughterhouse in Skegness’ group on facebook after learning that a halal meat company had plans to reopen the town’s Heath Road abattoir.

“She would like to demonstrate against what she sees as a cruel practice, but will not participate in this event.

“She said: “I don’t want to be part of something as extreme as the National Front.”

“The Mayor of Skegness Councillor Mark Anderson is also concerned about the group’s visit, which he fears could be used to spread ‘racist propaganda’.

“He said: “I am against all forms of racism and believe in a multicultural British society. Britain is great because we have come together from a rich melting pot of different races, whether it’s Celts, Anglo-Saxons, Romans, Normans Eastern Europeans or Caribbean.

“It is totally wrong to single someone out for their race or dialect and I appeal to the people of Skegness to turn their backs on racism and move forward to make this town a community for everyone.””

It is interesting, but not surprising, that the NF deputy chairman should claim to be “against halal and kosher slaughterhouses” but single out Islam as “an alien religion to our shores”.

We can’t help but wonder, with the explicit anti-Muslim nature of the NF campaign, and their claim on the right of British Muslims to practice their religion as constituting something “alien to these shores”, when it is that we might hear a senior political figure address the steady, disturbing rise in anti-Muslim public discourse? Baroness Sayeeda Warsi was pilloried in some quarters for asserting that Islamophobia in the UK had “passed the dinner table test” last January. And with the scaremongering campaign on halal meat by the Daily Mail, as the New Statesman cover story on Anders Breivik’s court case suggested, it is absolutely time to put mainstream Islamophobia on trial.

There is considerable coverage in the press today of reactions to the BBC’s new comedy show, Citizen Khan.

The Guardian reports that the BBC may be investigated by Ofcom after 20 complaints were received by the broadcast regulator protesting of the show’s breach of the regulatory code covering ‘harm and offence’.

Arifa Akbar of the Independent blogs that the the show “patronises its audience by flogging dead jokes and dumb stereotypes” and that complaints have had less to do with religion and more to do with the show’s “lazy cultural stereotyping.”

“Some have argued that this veers on borderline racism,” she writes.

The Daily Express, surprisingly, prints a terse article on viewer reactions to the show.

The Daily Mail publishes a column by Saira Khan who argues that “there’s so much else that rings true here about the daily life of British Muslims — from Khan’s obsession with saving money to the point that he buys toilet roll in bulk (it’s this sort of trait that makes British Muslims such good businessmen) to Mrs Khan’s preoccupation with what her friends and neighbours will think.

“This is British Muslim family life through and through.”

“…if we British Muslims can’t laugh at ourselves, with all our cultural tics and traits, and also allow the rest of Britain to laugh at us, too, there’s a real danger that our community will end up ostracised and isolated.”

The Huffington Post meanwhile is asking readers whether they found the show offensive. You can vote your view here.

There is widespread coverage (Guardian, BBC, Sky, ITV and the Gloucestershire Echo) in the media on the sentencing of Simon Parkes to four months for committing an act of racially or religiously aggravated criminal damage.

Parkes tied a severed pig’s head to the gates of the Masjidul Falah mosque in Cheltenham and sprayed racist graffiti on its walls.

From Sky News:

“Simon Parkes was accused of causing racially or religiously aggravated criminal damage, and of a public order offence, in July.

“The 45-year-old, of Crown Close, Bishop’s Cleeve, pleaded guilty to the charges at Cheltenham Magistrates’ Court earlier this month.

“A spokesman from Cheltenham Mosque said: “This was a very shocking incident for the whole community – Muslim and non-Muslim alike.

“We would like to reiterate our thanks to the police, the council and the local neighbours for their tremendous support.

“The damage was dealt with very quickly in order for normality to be achieved and we have left the rest to the authorities and the justice system to deal with.”

“Cheltenham South Policing Inspector Tim Waterhouse said: “I hope this sentence sends out a clear message that this sort of appalling criminal behaviour will not be tolerated.

“Although this disturbing incident happened nearly two years ago a painstaking and difficult inquiry has led to today’s sentencing.

“The message is clear that we will not stop in our determination to target criminals and keep people and our communities safe from harm.””

Islamophobia Watch adds that Parkes “had written the word Allah on the pig’s head”.

The Huddersfield Examiner relays that a family moving into their new home in Kirklees were faced with racist graffiti daubed on their front and rear doors and walls.

Nazi swastikas and the letters EDL were spray painted on. The family home was earlier vandalised with eggs thrown at the windows and through the letterbox.

From the local paper:

“A family has had racist graffiti sprayed on to the home it moves into today.

“Andre Bell and his wife Elly were shocked to discover their new home in Scholes, Holmfirth, was pelted with eggs, and had a Nazi swastika and the acronym for a far-right party spray painted on to the doors and walls.

“Mr Bell said: “We were waiting for new carpets and blinds before we moved in.

“On Wednesday the windows were egged and one put through the letter box, I don’t know if it was kids who did it or not.

“My wife went to clean it up but was going to go back the next day to clean inside when the graffiti was done.”

“In black paint, the Nazi swastika symbol was sprayed onto the house walls and a further swastika on the rear door.

“The letters EDL, which stands for the English Defence League – a party which says it is “fed up with Islam” – was daubed on the property’s front door.

“There was also an obscene drawing and the words ‘white power’ and other offensive words, which the Examiner cannot print.

“I went to speak to neighbours to ask if they’d seen anything and they were shocked by it,” Mr Bell added.

“One man said he’d never seen anything like it in the 24 years he’d been there.

“I haven’t been approached by anyone in a confrontational manner, so it came as shock.

“It’s a nice area, especially for our children.

“I don’t want to make any assumptions about who it is, children or otherwise.”

The Daily Mail, Daily Express and Daily Telegraph all report on a case of discrimination and unfair dismissal brought by an British – Arab immigration officer against the Home Office after he was sacked from his post at Gatwick Airport over alleged claims of ‘links to Islamic terrorism’.

In a Kafkaesque tribunal hearing held under ‘closed material procedures’ the man has not been made aware of the evidence held against him and has not been able to represent himself in court. Instead he is represented by a special advocate appointed by the Attorney-General but who is not permitted to discuss the evidence held against the defendant with him.

From the Daily Mail:

“An Arab immigration officer whose colleagues claimed he looked at the Al Jazeera website too much at work was sacked over alleged links to Islamic terrorism, a tribunal heard.

“The 44-year-old interpreter, who helped Special Branch interview terror suspects at Gatwick airport, had his security clearance removed in 2005, a month after returning from a year-long sabbatical in his native Yemen.

“The tribunal heard how colleagues noticed that he accessed the Al Jazeera news website ‘excessively’ and became suspicious of him.

“He was suspended on full pay for five years then sacked after the Home Office deemed him a risk to national security.

“Now the officer, a naturalised British citizen, has attacked the Home Office for not allowing him to defend himself against the unspecified allegations and is suing his former employers for discrimination and unfair dismissal.

“The father of three claims it was only because of his race and the fact that he is a Muslim that he was suspected of associating with terrorists.

“His employment tribunal was covered by controversial ‘closed material procedures’, which allow cases to be heard almost entirely in private to stop sensitive intelligence being discussed in public.

“Known only as ‘Mr W’, he has not been told of the evidence against him as the Home Office argued it would risk national security.

“Mr W was told his security clearance was withdrawn from his estimated £28,000-a-year post because he had been ‘identified as an associate of a network of suspected Islamist extremists who were assessed to be supporting the insurgency in Iraq’.

“The Home Office added that even an innocent link to such people would put Mr W in a ‘vulnerable position’.

“Large parts of the hearing at the Central London Employment Tribunal have been held behind closed doors without Mr W, his legal team or the press and public allowed in court.

“Instead of his chosen lawyer, he is represented by a special advocate –appointed by the Attorney-General – who has clearance to see the secret material but is forbidden from discussing the evidence with Mr W.

“Due to the sensitivity of the material, the Home Office barristers did not ask Mr W anything under cross-examination and the department’s witnesses said four times during proceedings they could not answer questions put to them in open court.

“Mr W, who was sacked in 2010 after an external appeal found against him, said: ‘I was not told… of the identity or identities of the person with whom I am alleged to have associated. If I was told of such a person, I would have been able to explain such contact and prove my innocence, if indeed there was such contact.

‘Whilst in Yemen I met a number of people but I do not recall anyone who was fanatical or seemed of that type or who I thought was suspicious.

‘None of my family in Yemen or the UK, immediate or extended, is remotely interested in politics or terrorism. I am certain of that.

‘While going about my normal business, for example attending a mosque, I suppose I may be statistically more likely to come into contact, without knowing it, with a supporter of the insurgency in Iraq.

‘I consider myself loyal to the UK and to the Home Office.’

“Mr W told the tribunal last week that police had never interviewed him nor had security services asked him to assist any investigations.

“The Home Office denies discriminating against Mr W’s race and religion and is contesting his claim of unfair dismissal.”

The accusation of the man frequently visiting the Al Jazeera website, if indeed amongst the serious charges leveled, is disturbing indeed given the site’s popularity for news particularly since its widespread and incomparable coverage of events leading up to and during the Arab Spring.

Earlier this year, Andrew Tyrie MP condemned the government’s plans to extend the mandate for closed material procedures as offending the principles of open justice and the ‘tools of dictatorships’.

The Mail on Sunday this week published an article noting that the Premier League has taken the step of widening the variety of celebratory drink offered to footballers voted ‘Man of the Match’.

With the growing number of Muslim footballers playing for Premier League clubs, the League has decided to award Muslim players a non-alcoholic alternative to champagne.

And yet, news of this commendable step is sullied by the Mail’s inability to report it without the mandatory charge of the move being prompted by fears of ‘offending Muslims’.

The print edition of the paper headlines the article ‘Man of the match? Here’s your rosewater and pomegranate,’ while the online version reads: ‘Man of the match? Here’s your rosewater and pomegranate: Premier League offers non-alcoholic alternative to champagne to avoid offending Muslim players’.

BBC News and the Guardian today both cover the US military report into an investigation over the Qur’an burning incident at Bagram airbase last February and the video footage of four US marines urinating on Afghan corpses.

From the BBC:

“Six US soldiers have been disciplined for the incineration in February of up to 100 Korans and other religious texts in Afghanistan, the US military said.

“They will not face criminal prosecution over the incident, which sparked rioting that claimed at least 30 lives and saw two US troops shot dead.

“The investigation said there was no malicious intent to disrespect Islam.

“Three US Marines were also disciplined for a video in which the bodies of dead Taliban fighters were urinated on.

“For the Koran burning, the six soldiers face “administrative punishments” that could include measures like reduction of rank, extra duty or forfeiture of pay. They are four officers and two non-commissioned officers.

“The findings showed that up to 100 Korans and other religious texts – a previously undisclosed figure – had been incinerated at Bagram Air Field, a US air base north of Kabul.

“Some 53 Korans and 162 other religious books were recovered from the incinerator. All of these texts had been damaged by fire, and about one-third of them were “slightly damaged”, according to the report.

“They had been removed from the Parwan Detention Centre amid concerns that detainees were using the books to pass secret messages.

“A translator was partly blamed in the report for apparently having suggested that most of the texts were extremist in nature, without instructing American forces how to properly dispose of the books.

“The report added that warnings from Afghans, including an Afghan soldier, had been ignored – something the investigation attributed in part to distrust between the US troops and Afghans.

“But Brigadier General Bryan Watson, the investigating officer, wrote: “I absolutely reject any suggestion that those involved acted with any malicious intent to disrespect the Koran or defame the faith of Islam.”

“The investigation’s findings came on the same day the US Marine Corps announced its punishment for three servicemen who took part in a video in which the bodies of dead Taliban fighters were urinated on.

“Three servicemen pleaded guilty: one to “urinating on the body of a deceased Taliban soldier”, another to posing for a photo with human casualties, and a third for lying to investigators.

“In the video, someone can be heard saying: “Have a good day, buddy.”

“Their identities have not been revealed and the Marine Corps said it would provide details of disciplinary actions against them at a later date.”

The Daily Mail and Sunday Telegraph report on the appeal launched by two men convicted of terrorism offences after lawyers argued that material used against them in court was gained through torture.

The men, Rangzieb Ahmed and Salahuddin Amin, claim MI5 acted in complicity with the Pakistani intelligence services, the ISI, to extract material which was subsequently used in their trials.

From the Daily Mail:

“Two Al Qaeda terrorists who plotted to kill thousands of innocent people in bomb attacks in Britain are attempting to have their convictions quashed on human rights grounds.

“Extremists Salahuddin Amin and Rangzieb Ahmed, both British citizens, claim their trials were unfair because UK spies knew some of the information used against them was obtained during their torture by Pakistani security services.

“Their argument has previously been rejected by the UK courts.

“Now the pair have been given a green light to put their case to the European Court of Human Rights in a last-ditch bid to be freed.

“If the case is not thrown out it will be the first time British terrorist convictions have been challenged in Strasbourg.

“It has provoked outrage because the European Court would normally have declared the case inadmissible – as it does 400,000 each year – because the claim hinges on a point of fact, rather than one of law or procedure.

“Lawyers have criticised the rising influence of unelected judges over British sovereignty.

“Lord Carlile of Berriew, the Government’s former independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, said: ‘To have the European Court of Human Rights intervening in judgments of fact – as opposed to judgments of law – really would be a new departure and, in my view, a completely unacceptable departure.’

“If the Government fails to satisfy judges that MI5 was not complicit in the torture, a full hearing will be ordered which could force British courts to quash the convictions. The legal bill will also be footed by the British taxpayer.

““Documents claim his right to a fair trial was breached because information against him was ‘obtained through the use of torture and inhuman and degrading treatment’.

“Ahmed, 37, who was born in Rochdale, is the highest member of Al Qaeda to go on trial in Britain. Convicted of ‘directing terrorism’, he had links with the 7/7 and 21/7 bomb plotters.

“Former shadow home secretary David Davis has demanded an inquiry as there is ‘hard evidence’ of torture in the men’s cases.”

The Sunday Telegraph adds that Davis said, “British intelligence officers would have had to have been wilfully blind and deaf not to know what was going on.”

Much like some of the media coverage of the case against Abu Qatada, where the concern was less about the likely violation of his right to a fair trial by the Jordanian authorities and more about the indignation espoused for his living costs being met by the British taxpayer, it would seem in the cases of Amin and Ahmed that the claims of evidence being extracted under duress and torture are of less significance than the idea that the taxpayer will foot the legal bill. And rather than question the methods employed by the security services, which if true violate Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights and add to the number of charges leveled against the UK security forces on complicity in torture, ire is directed at the European Court instead.

As we’ve argued before, when British citizens have had to resort to the European Court of Human Rights to protect their right to privacy from the Government’s invasive stop and search policy; or had to resort to the Court of Appeals to challenge the use of control orders and secret evidence to keep them locked up indefinitely, and when the influence of groups, like the Community Security Trust, on the Home Office in seeking exclusion orders against individuals who pose no threat to our security but who may espouse views discomfiting to the pro-Israel lobby, there are many that will breathe sighs of relief in knowing that the courts remain a robust line of defence against politicians whose cavalier attitudes to our security and liberty have undermined both.

See also the editorial in the Sunday Telegraph this week.

Local Middlesbrough paper, The Evening Gazette, reports on the conviction of six men, all of whom are associated with the English Defence League, for religiously aggravated disorder.

The men were apprehended after shouting inflammatory religious abuse while at Middlesbrough railway station last December.

From the local paper:

“Six men with links to a controversial right-wing pressure group have been convicted of chanting a sickening torrent of religious abuse.

“The men, who are associated with the English Defence League (EDL), shouted a highly inflammatory religious chant at Middlesbrough railway station.

“They were convicted of religiously aggravated disorder yesterday after a two-day trial at Teesside Magistrates’ Court.

“The men – who represented themselves during the trial – shouted the abuse at the station on Saturday, December 10, 2011.

“The group was in Middlesbrough to watch ‘Boro play Brighton, but when they decided it was too cold they visited several pubs in the town instead.

“They then went on to the railway station, the court heard.

“PC Andrew Ward, of British Transport Police, told how he approached the “drunk”, “noisy” group three times telling them to calm down.

“He said the group was singing EDL chants and when the men started singing a highly inflammatory religious chant he decided to eject them from the station.

“He added that as the group left, one of the men, Christopher Caswell, 32, became aggressive and raised his fist.

“The officer responded by spraying him with CS spray and called for police back-up.

“DVD footage was played showing the men jumping up and down, waving and clapping their hands. There was no audio on the tape.

“When asked to describe an Islamic person in police interview, 22-year-old Jak Beasley said: “Scum”.

“They said they were associated to the EDL in some way and said some EDL chants as well as the national anthem had been sung.

“But they all strongly denied singing the highly inflammatory chant in question.”

Previous demonstrations by the EDL in the Middlesbrough area saw the arrest of several members on suspicion of attacking a mosque in Darlington. The local MP, Tom Blenkinsop, tabled an early day motion last year, ahead of the EDL’s proposed march in July 2011, calling on “all the communities in Middlesbrough to join together in showing solidarity and opposition to this march.”