Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Extreme Focus

Should the police arrest and charge those taking part in the extreme protests in London on Friday? Having though about this for a while, and read a fair few opinions, I'm inclined to agree with Sunny. "Slay those who insult Islam" is not an issue of free speech; it's an illegal incitement to violence. To ignore that is just going to provide extra fuel for the tabloid frenzy.

As Tim noted, however, these banners were obviously not made spontaneously by the demonstrators. They were almost certainly prepared in advance by one person or a small group of people. That person, or those people, should be the ones the police pay most attention to. As I said the other day, this was a very deliberate strategy designed to polarise the issue.

And as Sunny points out, the British media are, for the most part, quite happy to play along. They can't get enough of those Mad Mullahs. The Today Programme interviewed Omar Bakri Muhammed yesterday (although I didn't hear it) and so did Channel 4 News (I did this one). Most British Muslims, I'm sure, think the man is an extremist loon and yet Channel 4 gave him plenty of prominent air time.
Jon Snow (who I normally greatly admire): "Sheikh Omar Bakri, you want to chop off these cartoonist's heads, don't you?"
Teh Sheikh: "Waffle, drone, loon, loon, wibble."
Jon: ""Yes, but you do want to cut off their heads?"
Teh Sheikh "Waffle, etc etc..."
Jon: "That's all very well Sheikh, but if you could just say that you do want to chop off these people's heads, it'd make a great line for the summary at the end of the broadcast. So do you?"
Not great. (To be fair, Ch 4 News do give plenty of airtime to more moderate voices too.) This over-emphasis on the extreme element of Muslim society paints a false picuture of the entire Muslim community in the UK. As Sunny notes, white supremacist extremists are almost never given such prominent coverage.

Some people turn this situation back on Muslims. "You have a responsibility to make your voices heard" they say. The unfortunate truth is that most newpapers certainly, and to a lesser extent the TV news media too, will always be inclined to give coverage to the extreme Muslim voices. These are the people who provide the sensational headlines which emotionally engage the reader. These are the people who'll provide the quotations which fit neatly into the current narrative of the "war" on terror. Try approaching the Scum as a moderate Muslim who was offended by the cartoons but thinks the protests on Friday were outrageous and un-Islamic. Do you know how interested they'll be in providing front page coverage? Tell them you want the cartoonists beheaded, however, and it's front page, here we come.

There is no doubt that there are Islamic extremists in the UK today but their views are disproportionately represented in the media. For the media to then blame moderate Muslims for not speaking out against these extremists is highly duplicitous.

Btw, here's an article in the Times (via a comment on Sunny's post) about Muslim opinions which might merit further investigation. It is interesting that the opinion poll they use was commissioned by a coalition of Jewish community groups. Not conspiracy interesting, but I think it's fair to say that there is a conflict in the relationship between Muslims and Jews. Opinions polls, as is well known, often reflect the views of those who commissioned them as much as those surveyed. Crap. That still sounds like tin foil hattery but that's really not what I mean. What I'm saying is, the questions may have been unintentionally framed in such a way as to lead respondents towards a particular view. As I said, this may be worth investigating further.

* The Times is, of course, the sister paper to the Scum. They do a much better job of pretending to be a proper newpaper. Sometimes Murdoch's political agenda is impossible to spot. Not sure whether that's better or worse to be honest.

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