Socialist Worker

Media targets the Muslim mainstream

by Anindya Bhattacharyya
Issue No. 1964

Muslim school students protesting against war in 2003 (Pic: Jess Hurd/

Muslim school students protesting against war in 2003 (Pic: Jess Hurd/

The witch-hunt against Muslims launched by New Labour is now turning on even the most “respectable” and establishment-oriented of Muslim organisations.

The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) is an umbrella body representing some 400 affiliated British Muslim groups. Its secretary-general, Iqbal Sacranie, was knighted by Tony Blair and its leaders were invited into Downing Street for talks in the wake of the 7 July London bombings and the 9/11 attacks in the US.

Yet even these repeated gestures of loyalty to “British values” are not enough for some. They certainly did not prevent the Observer newspaper from splashing a vicious Islamophobic smear story against the MCB on its front page last Sunday.

The pro-war Observer’s “investigation” accused the MCB of having “roots in the extremist politics of Pakistan” and “links to extremist Islamist ideology”. It also claimed there was “growing concern that [the MCB] does not represent moderate Muslims”.

But the paper’s so called “investigation” is riddled with factual errors and comprises little more than a series of vague and lurid assertions.

The centrepiece of the allegations was “an extraordinary letter obtained by the Observer” sent by MCB spokesperson Inayat Bunglawala to Mark Thompson, director-general of the the BBC.

In fact the letter — which set out complaints about a forthcoming BBC Panorama documentary — was published prominently on the MCB’s website on Friday of last week and required no detective work to “obtain”.

The Observer story, bylined to home affairs editor Martin Bright, said the MCB had complained of a “pro-Israel agenda” at the BBC. It added that the letter “repeatedly refers to a ‘pro-Israel lobby’... although it does not specify who it means”.

In fact the letter uses the phrase “pro-Israel lobby” only once, and clearly specifies that the complaints arise from a Panorama interview with Iqbal Sacranie. Yet nowhere does the Observer’s story detail the actual reasons behind the MCB’s complaints.

“The fact is that nearly all the questions the Panorama team asked were directly or indirectly about our views concerning Israel — and this was for a programme supposedly about British Muslims,” Inayat Bunglawala told Socialist Worker.

Inayat adds that it was perfectly reasonable to suggest that BBC reporters had a pro-Israel agenda. “All independent studies show that all the mainstream broadcasters give more coverage to the Israeli official perspective than to Palestinians,” he says.

“There is an ‘Israel test’ that British Muslims are being subjected to. It seems that to qualify as a so called ‘moderate Muslim’ you have to be silent about atrocities in Palestine.”

The MCB has issued a point by point rebuttal of the Observer story on its website. “This is not something we can remain quiet about,” says Inayat. “It’s such a groundless attack — it’s baseless and we had to respond.”

Elsewhere in its story the Observer accuses the MCB of being a “self-appointed organisation” and of having “no women prominently involved in the organisation”. In fact the MCB’s leadership is elected every two years by its affiliates, and one of its assistant secretary-generals, Unaiza Malik, is a woman.

The most blatant smear in the newspaper comes from Nick Cohen, a former left wing journalist who now sings the praises of neo-conservatives and pens poisonous diatribes against Muslims and the left in his weekly Observer column.

Cohen described the MCB’s letter to the BBC as “anti-semitic” and claimed it had denounced the Panorama documentary as a “Jewish conspiracy”.

This is nothing short of fabrication on Cohen’s part. “Nowhere do we say anything about a ‘Jewish conspiracy’ — those are his words, not ours,” says Inayat. “Ever since supporting the war in Iraq, Cohen has been lashing out at everyone. He’s sold all his principles.”

The government and liberal media insist they have no problem with “moderate” Muslims and that they are only targeting “extremists”. The Observer’s attack on the MCB demonstrates what a sham this position is.

In reality all Muslims are considered potential “extremists” — and all of them are being scapegoated by a government that refuses to acknowledge its responsibility for the deaths of thousands in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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Sat 20 Aug 2005, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1964
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