Pointing the Finger: Islam and Muslims in the British Media

Edited by Julian Petley and Robin Richardson. Published by Oneworld Publications 2011. See here

This book is a rehash of research done between May 2006 and April 2007 for the GLA and the then Mayor of London (Ken Livingstone) and in early 2008 by the Cardiff School of Journalism. Note 1

There is no new information even though the marketing blurb calls it “ …. a critical analysis of recent media coverage …”. [Reviews of the original research can be found here and here]

I was angry at first realising I had spent £20 on a book the contents of which I knew already (and had indirectly paid for as a London tax payer) and which were freely available.

However the book is useful. It illustrates the warped and irrelevant thinking of western apologists for Islam and shows how little they have to contribute to the discussions on Islamophobia and Muslim integration.

The largest chapter of the book (emulating the original GLA report!) Note 2 is an attack on a BBC Panorama programme “A Question of Leadership” which heavily criticised the Muslim Council of Britain and its then General Secretary, Sir Iqbal Sacranie. The programme was broadcast in 2005 shortly after the July bombings.

Yes, that’s right, a single TV programme shown nearly seven years ago, and here we are in 2011, given it again as an example of how unfair we are to the MCB. It is not worth going over the Panorama programme even just one more time but a highlight was the accusation that Sacranie was playing politics with religion (following the bombings) and the impression he gave that he believed the Iraq war was a war on Islam.

What struck me reading it now was what a shame it was that he had not been pressed to explain how the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were a war on Islam.

In the chapters of (apparently) more recent origin the authors explain their belief that all criticism of Islam (well 99.9%) is out of place. It stigmatises all Muslims even those who aren’t religious. It is an attack on their identity.

“…. Muslim identity is not necessarily or universally to do with holding distinctive beliefs or engaging in specific practices – it can be primarily to do with a sense of belonging, or of being perceived to belong, to a broad cultural tradition.” (p9)

You might wonder how a Christian can divorce himself from criticism of his culture, of the Catholic Church, for example; celibate priests, papal infallibility, anti birth-control, the Inquisition etc etc.

They produce a definition of Islamophobia which has nothing to do with Islam.

“A shorthand term referring to a multifaceted mix of discourse, behaviour and structures which express and perpetuate feelings of anxiety, fear, hostility and rejection towards Muslims, particularly but not only in countries where people of Muslim heritage live as minorities.” (p12)

The authors amplify this definition by describing other practices to which Islamophobia is similar but not identical. They identify seven such Islamophobic like practices devoting more words to some than to others. Here they are listed in the order presented in the book and showing the percentage of words devoted to each which it is reasonable to assume reflects the relative importance the authors attach to them.

• racism, xenophobia and xenoracism (sic) …. (27%)

• prejudices against Arab and other Muslim cultures (which developed in the Iberian peninsula and south-east Europe) from the eight century …. (29%)

• demonising of military and economic rivals particularly since the first Gulf war …. and in relation to political and military support for the state of Israel. (13%)

• fears, insecurities, scapegoating and moral panics relating to national identity which arises from globalisation and multiculturalism … (11%)

• pursuit, prosecution and punishment of terrorist organisations …. (9%)

• critiques of Islamic theology jurisprudence and political philosophy. (3%)

• critiques of the human rights records of certain countries where Islam is a feature of the dominant culture. (7%)

The mind boggles. It is undesirable to mention tyranny, suppression of other religions, persecution of minorities, inhuman punishments, etc, in countries “where Islam is a feature of the dominant culture”.

But there you have it. Islam itself, its beliefs, its practices, its interpretations, are worth only a measly 3% of their attention. What planet are they living on?

In the authors’ worldview the causes of Islamophobia are next to nothing to do with Islam and everything to do with the West’s own history and failings. Islamophobia is brought about by globalisation and the unsettling of nation-states. People are anxious. They quote Tariq Ramadan who believes Europe is going through an identity crisis.

“…. while European countries and citizens are going through a real and deep identity crisis, the new visibility of Muslims is problematic – and it is scary.” (p19)

A remarkable chapter on the veil blames the present European debate about face covering and burquas on colonialism and imperialism.

“It is the contention of this chapter that the debate about the veil cannot be understood outside the broader context of colonialism and imperialism.” (p174)

And in the same vein in regard to Lord Tebbit’s famous ‘cricket test’ they say:

“But the intention of the test was not really about accepting ‘our culture’ but reviving colonial supremacy.” (p200)

Dave Spart couldn’t do better.

The people who criticise Islam are a sorry lot. They suffer especially from closed-mindedness. For example they are prone to any or all of the following:

• won’t change their views in the light of new facts and evidence;

• deliberately distort, or recklessly over-simplify, incontestable facts;

• caricature the views of people with whom they disagree;

• over-generalise;

• are abusive claiming their opponents are evil or insane or sub-human;

• use double standards;

• fail to see difference and disagreement as a resource for understanding more about oneself, not as a threat;

• fail to understand other people’s views and standpoints in their own terms, and where they are coming from and the narratives and stories with which they interpret events;

• claim greater certainty than is warranted;

The British Media (the main object of the book) are as bad as the Islamophobes and encourage and peddle all the uncalled for criticism of Muslims. The press not only grossly exaggerates but makes up anti-Muslim stories. Another chapter from the GLA report is repeated detailing the truth behind four such stories published in 2005 (after the July bombings) and 2006.

When you look at the analysis of these stories, you find one had a grain of truth, one was clearly fabricated and aimed at Muslims, one wasn’t explicitly aimed at Muslims or Islam and might have had something to do with journalistic ignorance, and the last simply illustrated the difficulties and pitfalls of newspaper reporting, it is far-fetched to give it an anti-Muslim classification. Note 3

Yet another chapter lifted word-for-word from the GLA report gives the results of in-depth interviews with six Muslim journalists. Interestingly, even the authors of this book as much as they seize on any criticism to illustrate the failings of the press, can’t hide the glimmers of light revealed by some of the journalists’ verbatim comments.

“If a story’s there and it’s the biggest story in town they have to cover it. If it’s what your readership asks for, you will respond. …. If you are a news editor getting letters saying you need to be stronger on this stuff, you will … Some of the reporting after the London bombs was very good. It was reported very well and very sensitively.” (p241)

“I think the press has been pretty fair to Muslims. They don’t really need to stitch people up, they do a good enough job of that themselves. My view is Muslims have got to address issues themselves, things like anti-semitism and homophobia that seem to be unchangeable within Muslim communities. As far as I’m concerned newspapers just report them as they are.” (p242)

“I take issue with many things done by British Muslims. If the media was doing its job it would help Britain’s two million Muslims to be able to develop a kind of reasoned, questioning attitude within itself. And you are beginning to see that a bit.” (p243)

These Muslim journalists don’t see any great failing in the media in regard to Islam or Muslims. In the main their concerns are those of any journalist or career minded person. Perhaps because they actually work on the front line and deal with real cases and real people they also know that the occasional press stupidity is the price of a free press.

The book’s concluding chapter repeats word-for-word the 10 findings of the five year old Ken Livingstone GLA report. Here are the first three. Enough is enough. You get the idea.

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.

Underlying causes of Islamophobia are again paraded: globalisation, Britain’s decline as a world power, Britain in Europe, the end of empire, the rapid advance of social pluralism etc. The authors say we need “religious literacy”. For example, it is “religiously illiterate to suppose that imams in Islam have the same range of roles and responsibilities as clerics in Christianity. Equally, it is illiterate to equate an attack on a bishop of the established church with an attack on a cleric in a marginalised community subject to racist violence.” (p263)

You wonder if it ever occurs to the authors of this book that those (not all) who criticise Islam can change their mind in light of new evidence, they can understand things from different perspectives, they are well-informed knowing a great deal about Islam in its various forms.

That they are even young enough, less than 65 years, to be untainted by British Imperialism, that they welcome the benefits of globalisation, and they are quite clear who they are.

That there are issues that have nothing whatsoever to do with racism and everything to do with Islam. Let us look at a few examples.


The toleration of halal slaughter in the UK makes a mockery of democratic processes. A lot of people might not be too bothered, some may have strong feelings, but a regulation, a law, exists for a reason. What is the point of having it if a large part of the population can simply ignore it?

I’m not too keen on the double yellow lines around where I live. If I park on them it doesn’t seem to cause any problems. So, I’m going to park on them whenever I feel like it. And I think farmers and country people should have dispensation from the ban on fox hunting.

Sharia “Courts”

Sharia “courts” are divisive encouraging further segregation. Muslim women are pressured to use a sharia system totally biased in favour of men in divorce, distribution of assets, financial support, and the custody of children. They are ignorant and kept ignorant of the fairer treatment that British mediation and court services would give them.

There is growing evidence that these “courts” are involved in cases of domestic violence, a criminal matter, and are creating a system whereby Muslim men are treated with greater leniency than other males, and Muslim women are forced to live within violent husbands. According to the BBC a spokesperson for the Muslim Arbitration Tribunals headquarters claimed his organisation had held discussions with the CPS exploring “an alternative form of resolution” for domestic violence for Muslims in Britain. Disturbing discussions and news can be found here and here

The men, and they are all men, who oversee these sharia courts are often uneducated foreign imams who have little understanding of Britain and wish to retain their power over Muslim communities by making them even more isolated. The head of the UK Islamic Sharia Council caused a public outcry recently saying rape cannot be committed within marriage. See here


Many Muslims believe Islam provides a complete political system. This is the killer app so to speak and the reason why Muslims are viewed with suspicion. A conscientious Christian might say that Christianity is the basis of his politics but when a Muslim says the equivalent an alarm bell goes off.

Many, most even, in the West may be able mix their religion and their politics as Christians do. They want to bring a certain morality to politics, they don’t want to take it over. But we have examples all the time of Muslim figureheads and scholars extolling Islam as a comprehensive political solution. Note 4

And we have the slippery words of people like Sacranie and the over-the-top protests of the MCB when the BBC Panorama programme (p121) accurately quoted Sayyid Mawdudi an Islamist ideologue that many in the MCB admire saying ”in ideal Islamic state, private and public life would be inseparable. In this respect it would bear a kind of resemblance to the fascist and communist states”. Note 5

As a political system Islam has always failed even allowing for periods in the past where it seemed to work for Muslims themselves for a while. Today the developments in Iran show clearly the tyrannical nature of an Islamic political system. This is just one example. There are many more.

It really is very simple. The key to progress and democracy is that people can peacefully get rid of governments that fail or they don’t like. Can you imagine any government or ruling class that believes it is doing God’s work, it is the party of God, peacefully passing the reins of power to someone else?


(1) Rehash of earlier research

Identical or similar chapters from GLA report “The search for common ground: Muslims, non-Muslims and the UK media” A report commissioned by the Mayor of London. Published November 2007.

Political Correctness Gone Mad (34 pages)
‘A Question of Leadership’: Who Speaks for British Muslims? (52 pages)
Keeping Your Integrity – and Your job: Voices from the Newsroom (29 pages)
Responsible Journalism (25 pages)

Identical or similar chapters “Images of Islam in the UK: The Representation of British Muslims in the National Print News Media 2000-2008”. By the Cardiff School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies. Published 7th July 2008.

Images of Islam in the UK: The Representation of British Muslims in the National Press (26 pages)
‘This Idiotic Man’: Sharia Law and the Archbishop’ of Canterbury (20 pages)

The above account for 186 pages. There are four chapters that are apparently new accounting for 82 pages.

(2) One fifth of the Book

The chapter concerning the MCB, ‘A Question of Leadership’: Who Speaks for British Muslims?, in this book accounts for 20% of the content. One fifth!

The original chapter “Full and Fair Debate” – Who speaks for British Muslims” in the five year old Ken Livingstone GLA report accouts for almost one fifth of that report.

(3) Anti-Muslim Stories

“Council chiefs ban Christmas”

This story had a front-page splash with a huge headline ‘Christmas is banned: it offends Muslims’ and appeared in the Daily Express on 2 November 2005.

These was a grain of truth in this story.

A Council official later said “ …. it was never council policy to rename the Christmas Lights switch-on events, or to change the name to winter lights. The naming decisions were made at a local level and this inconsistency in naming should have been picked up before council literature went to print, but it wasn’t spotted until it was too late.”

“Piggy banks to be sacrificed”

This was a front-page splash in the Daily Express on 24 October 2005. The explanatory title was ‘Now the PC brigade bans piggy banks in case they upset Muslims.’

This story was a complete fabrication.

Piggy banks had featured on posters in a bank’s branches as part of a nationwide savings campaign. When the campaign finished the posters were taken down. End of story.

“Now Christ is banned”

Another front-page splash in the Daily Express on 4 November 2005 although neither headline nor the text referred explicitly to Muslims. It said “In the latest ludicrous attempt to tear down traditions, curators have banned the phrase BC – Before Christ and insist on using BP – Before Present – to avoid offending other faiths.”

This story indicates malicious intent and/or gross ignorance on the part of the journalists. The pre-history Museum in question had simply been following academic convention since 1950. This was the benchmark year in which calibration curves for carbon-14 dating were established.

“Political correctness gone mad”

This story broke in the national press on the 7 April 2006. It appeared in the Daily Telegraph under the headline “CPS ‘Is Crazy’ to Take Playtime Insults to Court”. There was no mention of Islam or Muslims.

A judge had lambasted the police and Crown Prosecution Service for taking a 10-year-old boy to court over a playground spat. He said the decision to prosecute the youngster accused of calling a fellow pupil a ‘Paki’ and a ‘nigger’ – was ‘political correctness gone mad’.

This story simply illustrates the practical and human problems of every day reporting. No one made things up. When all the evidence came out it could be seen the police and CPS had good reason to take the case to court, and the judge apologized to the police.

(4) Islam is a complete political system

Many Muslims believe that Islam provides a complete political system. It is the basis of all law and is a model for how society and politics should be organised. This is not the belief of some insigificant minority and it is constantly propagated by leading Muslim figures and scholars. Here is a small selection of links that show this and how completely at odds Islam is with the secular world.

Why is secularism incompatible with Islam? By Yusuf Al-Qaradawi
…. For this reason, the call for secularism among Muslims is atheism and a rejection of Islam. Its acceptance as a basis for rule in place of Shari’ah is downright apostasy.
Read more

Separation Of Church And State By Dr. Ja`far Sheikh Idris
…. Secularism cannot be a solution for countries with a Muslim majority or even a sizeable minority, for it requires people to replace their God-given beliefs with an entirely different set of man-made beliefs. Separation of religion and state is not an option for Muslims because is requires us to abandon Allah’s decree for that of a man. Read more

Cleric issues 48-page fatwa against democracy
The spiritual leader of Algeria’s influential Salafist movement has issued a 48-page fatwa, or religious decree, urging Muslims to ignore calls for change because he says that democracy goes against Islam.
Read more

Muslim preachers laude revolution, slam democracy
…. The statement, however, criticized the revolution’s call for the installation of full democracies. Democracy, Muslim clerics argued, allows the people have the final say in their countries’ affairs, which leads to the prevalence of several un-Islamic practices. Read more

(5) MCB Objections

The MCB objected to the accurate Sayyid Mawdudi quotation ”…. in ideal Islamic state, private and public life would be inseparable. In this respect it would bear a kind of resemblance to the fascist and communist states” on the grounds that it was unfairly selected and ignored other statements.

Mawdudi also said “… a Muslim state being ‘something vastly and basically different from the totalitarian and authoritarian states. Individual liberty is not suppressed under it nor is there any trace of dictatorship in it”.

Most people of rational mind or with a modicum of historical knowledge will see a contradiction between “private and public life would be inseparable” and “Individual liberty is not suppressed” and they know which would prevail.