Common Ground or Not

(1) Introduction
(2) The Meaning of a Typical Week
(3) True and False Stories
(4) The Muslim Explanation of Why the British are Anxious About Islam
(5) What Common Ground?

(1) Introduction

The Greater London Authority (while Ken Livingstone was mayor) published a study entitled, The search for common ground: Muslims, non-Muslims and the UK media.

Ken Livingstone set the scene for undertaking this study in his Foreword. See Box 1

Box 1 – Foreword

…. The rise of Islamophobia in Europe and the negative portrayal of Muslims and Islam in the media harm community relations in London. I commissioned this study to examine the role of the media in promoting or harming good community relations with London’s Muslim communities.

One of the most startling findings of this report is that in one typical week over 90 per cent of the media articles that referred to Islam and Muslims were negative. The overall picture presented by the media was that Islam is profoundly different from and a threat to the west.

The study states the specific questions it seeks to investigate as:

Box 2 – The underlying questions for investigation

• Do the media promote informed debate about the building and maintenance of Britain as a multicultural society? Or do they oversimplify, giving insufficient information about the background to the news and pandering to readers’ and viewers’ anxieties and prejudices?

• How community-sensitive is media reporting about multiculturalism and British Muslim identities? Is it likely to foster anxiety, fear or hostility within particular communities – for example, in the views that non-Muslims have of Muslims, or that Muslims have of non-Muslims?

• Does media coverage hinder or promote mutual understanding? Does it increase or decrease a sense of common ground, shared belonging and civic responsibility?

and summarises the findings and conclusions as follows. See Box 3

Box 3 – Findings and conclusions

…. in most though not all of the UK print media, and for most, though not all of the time, the project found that:

1 The dominant view is that there is no common ground between the West and Islam, and that conflict between them is accordingly inevitable.

2 Muslims in Britain are depicted as a threat to traditional British customs, values and ways of life.

3 Alternative world views, understandings and opinions are not mentioned or are not given a fair hearing.

4 Facts are frequently distorted, exaggerated or oversimplified.

5 The tone of language is frequently emotive, immoderate, alarmist or abusive.

6 The coverage is likely to provoke and increase feelings of insecurity, suspicion and anxiety amongst non-Muslims.

7 The coverage is at the same time likely to provoke feelings of insecurity, vulnerability and alienation amongst Muslims, and in this way to weaken the Government’s measures to reduce and prevent extremism.

8 The coverage is unlikely to help diminish levels of hate crime and acts of unlawful discrimination by non-Muslims against Muslims.

9 The coverage is likely to be a major barrier preventing the success of the Government’s community cohesion policies and programmes.

10 The coverage is unlikely to contribute to informed discussion and debate amongst Muslims and non-Muslims about ways of working together to maintain and develop Britain as a multicultural, multifaith democracy.

The reader will note that the study assumes that a muliticultural Britain is a good thing and that is what everyone wants!

These findings and conclusions are based on:

• a review of recent opinion polls • study of recent books and articles • a survey of the news in one week • consideration of stories about political correctness • interviews with Muslim journalists • analysis of a TV documentary.

The project was co-ordinated by the Insted consultancy.

(2) The Meaning of a Typical Week

The study gives pride of place to the finding that in a typical week 91 percent of the news articles in the UK press mentioning Muslims or Islam were negative.

Most people with a modicum of common sense would on hearing this finding, ask themselves, what were these articles about?

And this is when the finding starts to fall apart.

A large proportion of the stories are about terrorism in Britain, Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan. Given the events that are actually happening in those places it is difficult to see how the reporting could put anything in a positive light. The last two days of the week covered also saw the publication of reports on the London bombings. What can you say about the London bombings?

Tables 1: Positive, Neutral or Negative Associations by Paper

Title Association of Articles
% Negative % Neutral % Positive No. of Articles
Financial Times 89 6 5 37
Independent 80 2 8 48
Star 100 11
Mirror 100 16
Express 71 21 8 14
Mail 97 3 31
Telegraph 91 7 2 43
Sun 100 19
Guardian 85 12 3 52
Times 89 7 4 46
Total 91 5 4 352

This pattern of negative stories, the ones about violent events and everyday ones, is the same across all newspapers.

Even the Guardian and the Independent give the same picture. One might expect the Guardian, which was also the only newspaper with journalists on the study team, to report stories that show Islam and Muslims in a good light if possible.

What does it prove?

Should newspapers carry a Government Health Warning, “Whatever you think of this story, your Muslim neighbour is really a nice guy”?

Have the good stories been missed (even by the Guardian)? Perhaps the UK Press has failed to report “news” like the following that never made it to their pages.

• Saudi authorities welcome plans to build large church in Riyadh.

• International conference of respected Muslim scholars says the time has come to interpret Islam in light of the 21st century. Widespread support from Muslims worldwide.

• Girls now surpass boys in numbers in school and exam results in Afghanistan.

• Muhammad Bari, the secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), says arranged marriages are not a good idea in the UK. He expects his daughters to go to University and that may be in another part of the country like their first jobs, and they will make social circles of their own. Though he and his wife look forward to being introduced to the first serious boyfriends.

• The birth rate amongst Muslim women is now at a level comparable with the rest of the population. The rate was double the national rate but has come down as Muslim women have gained equal status with men and stopped believing large families are a cultural-economic necessity. [N.B. The UK is one of the most densely populated countries in the world.]

• Sir Iqbal Sacranie, former secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), says there are limits to multiculturalism. Welcomes Channel 4 programme exposing extremist mosques.

• Pakistan repeals law that requires a female rape victim to have four male witnesses.

• Dr Al-Qaradawi says Muslim women in the UK should not wear a veil. You only cover your face in the West if you are unwell, cold, or in mourning. Otherwise covering your face means you want to hide your true feelings and it is very rude.

(3) True and False Stories

The study claims that a theme has developed in the British media that British society and the British way of life are under threat, and this is often blamed on the pernicious influence of ‘political correctness’. It examines four newspaper stories expressing such views in relation to relatively trivial incidents.

Box 4

• the alleged banning of piggy banks by a building society in a Lancashire town

• the alleged banning of Christmas by a local council in London

• the use of BP (Before Present) instead of BC (Before Christ) at a museum in the West country

• the Crown Prosecution Service taking a 10-year-old boy to court for playground insults in Salford.

The study rebuts all these stories. They were either completely false or based on embellishment and twisting of facts.

There is no excuse for bad journalism or for twisting facts to suit a preconceived idea. Though, at least in a free society there are multiple news channels, and the truth has a good chance of getting out, and those affected are often not without their own means of propaganda and news distribution.

But the study then makes the most remarkable assertion.

…. even though real fears exist. These arise not from so-called political correctness, nor from the presence of Muslims in modern Britain, [emphasis added] but from social and economic change, globalisation, and new international relationships.

So it is nothing to do with the presence of Muslims in the UK!

The report might have obtained sorely lacking balance if it had mentioned the many true stories, ranging from the ridiculous to the sinister, that the British public have good cause to see as threats to the British way of life posed by the behaviour of some Muslims and politically correct thinking.

• Marks & Spencer shop assistant refuses to sell book of Bible stories.

• Imam’s daughter threatened with death because she converted to Christianity. She was forced to live under police protection because her family threatened to kill her. Her brother told her that he could not be responsible for his actions if she did not return to Islam.

• British government recognises polygamy. The Department for Work and Pensions recognises polygamous marriages that are conducted overseas: ‘In a guide to Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit, the department states that claimants in polygamous unions are entitled to “additional allowances for each additional partner”.’ This is an exception solely for Muslims.

• Muslim staff in supermarket refuse to serve alcohol.

• PC forced to resign because he gave Muslim colleague bottle of wine and pack of bacon for a Christmas present. The PC gave the gift as part of a “Secret Santa” game at Luton police station during a Christmas day party. The Muslim policeman recipient of the present didn’t complain, though it was easy to find another imam to say what a crime this was, insulting Islam, and another Muslim commentator wondered what the Muslim policeman was doing at a Christmas party.

• Female Muslim students refuse to shake hands with university Chancellor at degree awards ceremony.

• Girl murdered because she refused arranged marriage.

• Muslim medical students refuse to treat illness caused by alcohol.

• Three pigs story ruled offensive to Muslims. A remake of the children’s classic was criticised by BECTA, the education technology agency, because “the use of pigs raises cultural issues”.

There is not enough space to do justice to all these stories but they are all true. New ones occur almost daily.

(4) The Muslim Explanation of Why the British are Anxious About Islam

Drawing on a report The Future of Multi-Ethnic Britain published in 2000 by a political philosopher, Bhikhu Parekh, the study offers an explanation for British anxiety over Islam. The causes of this anxiety are shown in Box 5

Box 5 – Causes of British Anxiety over Islam


One effect has been to weaken aspects of national sovereignty, the nation-state as an exclusive political focus, national economies, and the idea of nation as the guarantor of citizenship.

The long-term decline in Britain’s position as a world power

Overall, Britain has slipped to a position of a middle-ranking power. This has undermined her longstanding sense of the inevitability of British ‘greatness’.

Britain in Europe

… the idea of an island people with an island destiny has been central to British national identity. Indeed, Britishness has been described negatively, in terms of what it is not – especially not ‘European’.


… as the new parliaments and assemblies flex their muscles, significant divergences on how things are done are developing. These inevitably weaken the centralised idea of a united kingdom. What symbolic glue can hold these increasingly autonomous entities together?

The end of empire

… expunging the traces of an imperial mentality from the national culture, particularly those which involved seeing the white British as a superior race, is a difficult task. This mentality penetrated everyday life, popular culture and consciousness. It remains active in projected fantasies and fears about difference, and in racialised stereotypes of otherness.

The rapid advance of social pluralism

The shift to a post-industrial and service economy has been accompanied by the breakdown in older class hierarchies, diminished respect for traditional sources of authority, shifting gender and sexual norms, erosion of the established cultural canon, more emphasis on individualism, and a greater sense of diverse religious and non-religious world views.

Postwar migration

.. countries have needed influxes of labour from outside. Migration to Britain from the Caribbean, the South Asian subcontinent and more recently Eastern Europe, has raised many questions about British identity and British institutions.

The decline of British power and Empire belong firmly in the past and have zero relevance today. Just talk to anyone in Britain under 65.

The other topics have nothing to do with why many Britons are deeply concerned and worried about Islam today, especially Islam in the UK.

How Devolution, Britain in Europe, social pluralism, could have a bearing on, say, the revulsion Britons feel at the murder of teachers in Afghanistan, hate preaching in British mosques, blowing up tube trains, death for insults, is a mystery.

This is just bonkers.

Proposing that any of these points have any bearing, even vaguely, on British attitudes to Islam and to British Muslims, shows complete ignorance of the real causes of anxiety or a pathological inability to discuss them.

The truth is very simple.

Certain Islamic beliefs and practices are totally at odds with the Liberal and free society that we have in the UK. Not all Muslims, perhaps only a minority, especially in the UK, hold these beliefs but they cast a dark shadow wherever Muslims live.

Causes of concern are the beliefs that:

• Islam trumps all other religions.

• Death is a just punishment for apostasy.

• A woman is considered a male possession even if she does have specific rights. She needs her guardian’s permission to marry. A woman’s evidence is worth only half that of a man.

• Muslims have a duty to impose Islam, by force or deception if necessary.

• Whenever they can Muslims should live under Sharia law or work to that end.

• There is no or little distinction between religion and politics. Islam is as much a political movement as a religion.

The list could be longer but these are some of the worst. For a poll of what British Muslims believe on these issues see here. For the introduction of Sharia in the UK and the issues it is creating see here.

All these sources of potential conflict continually manifest themselves, and what we should or should not do about them, is debated with very little progress.

The Diversity Diversion

Muslims make the point ad nauseum that there is great diversity of views and practices amongst Muslims, not all Muslims think or act alike.

This point is repeated in this study. It is said as if it absolves the authors from addressing what other UK citizens don’t like about Muslim beliefs and practices.

If you object to a particular Muslim belief, then you shouldn’t be worried because there are Muslims who don’t hold that belief. So everything is alright. Your objection is unfounded.

Yes, there are many Muslim views and they cover great extremes. That is pretty obvious. At one end of the scale there are some Muslims integrated in the West who despair at the situation created by extremists.

But the fact is that as long as these beliefs are held by significant numbers, and that is very much the case, thay have to be challenged.

(5) What Common Ground?

The title of the study The search for common ground: Muslims, non-Muslims and the UK media is misleading.

The reference to common ground is spin to show the study in a good light or that it had positive objectives. There are only a handful of sentences that touch on “common ground” in the whole study.

The Mayor in his Foreword explains what it is really about and that is to answer the following (biased) questions:

Do the media promote informed debate about the building and maintenance of Britain as a multicultural society? Or do they oversimplify, giving insufficient information about the background to the news and pandering to readers’ and viewers’ anxieties and prejudices?

Common ground is important but it is not the answer. It is possible that both my Muslim fellow citizen and I are not happy with binge drinking, underage sex, immodesty, break up of families, Israeli settlements in the West Bank, but there comes a point where all the common ground in the world will not compensate for differences. This is what the study fails to address. It is the differences that matter, that need to be resolved.

Britain had common ground with Germany, the origin of our royal family, the Reformation and the Enlightenment in common, close business ties, a common religion, but we did not acquiesce in Nazism. We fought it.

The concluding part of the study presents a summary of how the authors believe the West views the problems concerning Muslims in Europe and as a response to that how the West should view those problems.

Box 6 – As The West sees Muslims in Europe

1 Failure to integrate

Muslims do not wish to integrate into European societies, but prefer to live in separate, self-segregated communities and neighbourhoods.

2 Unreasonable demands

Muslims make unreasonable demands on European societies, expecting the Judeo-Christian traditions of these societies to be modified, changed or jettisoned in order that they can avoid being offended or inconvenienced.

3 Mixed loyalties

Muslims in Europe owe their principal loyalty to the worldwide Ummah, not to the country where they live. They therefore cannot be depended on to support their country’s foreign policies, or even its sports teams. They are an enemy within.

4 Support for extremism

The sense of alienation and lack of loyalty mentioned above combine to make Muslim communities in Europe a breeding ground for extremism.

5 Obscurantism

Islamic theology has never gone through the kinds of critical review and reformation that were the hallmarks of the Enlightenment in Europe.

6 Incompatibility of values and interests

Islam and the West are incompatible in terms of moral values and are locked in a zero-sum struggle for power and control.

7 Lack of Muslim leadership

Religious leaders such as imams, and secular leaders such as officeholders in Muslim organisations, are out of touch with the people they claim to guide and represent, particularly young people.

8 Corroborating evidence from overseas

The perceptions listed above are about Muslims within Europe. They gain additional persuasiveness and plausibility, however, from how Muslims outside Europe behave – their hatred of the West, abuse of human rights, use of barbaric punishments, intolerance of debate and disagreement, glorification of martyrdom, and anti-semitism.

9 Weak national government

The threats posed by Muslims, outlined above, are made even more serious by the failures of successive European governments, and by metropolitan intelligentsias. In the 1950s and 1960s governments did not foresee the dangers of permitting immigration on a large scale; more recently they have failed to police their borders and have irresponsibly promoted multiculturalism and political correctness.

Though it invites some challenges this is a remarkably good summary. Many people would not agree that there is a zero-sum struggle for power and control between Islam and the West. Power and control over what? It seems a very simplistic view and ignores economic realities and China and India, a growing third of mankind who don’t follow revealed religion.

But the counter arguments, if they can be called that, to these western views take the form of changing the subject. How the study gets to the views in the next box is not explained.

Box 7 – As The West should see them

1 Barriers to integration

The vast majority of Muslims in western Europe would like to be fully integrated – though not culturally assimilated – in the economic and political affairs of west European societies but are prevented from doing so by the factors summarised in points 2 to 5 below.

2 Material disadvantage

Most Muslims in western Europe are people who came, or are the children or grandchildren of people who came, to meet labour shortages. The jobs they were recruited to fill were poorly-paid, often dirty and in labour intensive heavy industries. Material disadvantage continues, as do discrimination and racist violence.

3 Negativity in the media and the general climate of opinion

Media coverage of Muslims, particularly but not only in the press, is almost entirely negative and hostile – when, that is, there is any coverage at all.

4 Foreign policy

Much of European foreign policy works to the disadvantage of Muslims overseas.

5 Policing

Since 9/11, and even more so since terrorist attacks within Europe, many Muslims have had experiences, either directly themselves or indirectly through their friends, families and acquaintances, of heavy-handed and insensitive policing, often in the glare of media publicity.

6 Establishing a presence

Despite the substantial barriers to integration mentioned in points 2 to 5 above, Muslims have established a strong presence throughout western Europe – mainly through self-help, but also with support from sympathetic non-Muslims and finance from overseas.

7 Commonalities and interdependence

Western and Islamic cultures are not incompatible. They have much in common and there has been much borrowing and interchange between them over the centuries.

8 Self-criticism

Muslims accept that some of the criticisms made of them by others are legitimate – the criticisms are not necessarily instances of Islamophobia. Muslims are ready to debate these, both with others and internally amongst themselves. Appropriate self-criticism is difficult or impossible, however, within the wider context of hostility and suspicion listed in points 2 to 5 above.

It is incredible that points 2-5 are given as reasons why Muslims in Europe are not integrating. If they can be considered barriers to integration they can even better be considered as reasons for integration.

For the integrated individual there are many ways to improve his lot and make his voice heard, even influence foreign policy! Muslims can join the police, they can take part in government, the media, and they can join political parties. The government, local government, and the political parties continually promote opportunities for minorities.

The study doesn’t say anything about the finance from overseas mentioned in point 6, whom it came from and how it was used, nor does it say anything about the roads, hospitals, schools, universities, social security, etc., that British Muslims enjoy, as do other Britons in similar economic circumstances, and how this compares with what they might have had in the country of their ancestry. In the same point 6 you wonder what is meant by “presence”. It sounds something distinct and different.

To put forward reasons like these, more like excuses, can only be seen as another attempt to shift the debate about Muslims on to ground which is more comfortable. It is saying we are not going to discuss “your” issues. We don’t recognise them. They are ill-founded.

In the last paragraph the authors have realised to slam the door shut looks bad, so as an afterthought, it says “… some of the criticisms made of them [Muslims] by others are legitimate”, but even this is qualified as difficult or impossible because of points 2-5.

It is amazing that the authors admit there are criticisms of Islam and Muslims that are not Islamophobic. It is a shame the study didn’t say what they are.

However, it is point 1 that is most significant.

In an unguarded moment the report gets to the heart of the matter, which no amount of common ground will cure. It reveals the true nature of the Muslim position as seen by the authors of this report.

Muslims want Political and Economic integration but not Cultural integration.

This is nonsense.

Culture is at the heart of society it is the foundation of politics and economics.

You simply can not, not join in. It concerns attitudes on crime and punishment, law and order, how business is done, freedom of individuals, the status of men and women, acceptable humour, freedom of religion and freedom from religion. It permeates pretty much everything.

Muslims, according to the authors of this report, want all the benefits of an advanced economy and Liberal society, they want the better life, they want political power and influence, but they reject what created it and what keeps it working. They don’t want to be assimilated.

This is separatism. There is no separatist committee, no separatist master plan, no separatist party, though there are groupings of the like-minded, like the MCB, who step by step are pushing us in that direction. Multiculturalism is the code word. The whole basis of this study is that Multiculturalism is a good thing.

Culture isn’t static of course and over time internal and external influences bring about changes. We give and take and that is a good thing.

Now we have a new phenomenon. Newcomers have always concentrated in particular areas, but mostly these had the effect of helping newcomers to merge with the host society in easy stages and they eventually moved into the wider community or were influenced by the culture around them.

Now you see the foundation of permanent communities based on a different culture, and fiercely so. The operation of Sharia law is one of the forces creating separate Muslim communities. These are the first steps in the balkanisation of Britain: sowing the seeds of conflict for future generations.