With a GB News presenter describing England fans who boo taking to the knee as “not racist”, and the MailOnline labelling towns in Britain with Muslim communities as “no-go areas for white people,” British media is becoming more weighted to the right, setting a dangerous precedent for Islamophobia and racism to thrive, writes Free Press guest contributor Gabrielle Pickard-Whitehead.
“As a Muslim, when I read headlines that mention terrorists, I know what the story will be about. There is no exception in Islam that tolerates terrorism. The foundation of Islam is based on the principles of peace,” said Adeel Shah, one of the youngest Imams in Britain.
Adeel is a member of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, the third most popular branch of Islam, which is committed to the teachings of peace, love, justice and sanctity of life. The young Imam is based in and around London and also in the Baitul Futuh mosque, the largest mosque in Britain and one of the biggest in Western Europe.
“The doors of our mosque are open to everyone, regardless of class, colour, creed, gender, ethnicity, tax-bracket and faith,” Adeel told me on a recent visit to the mosque.
As a white, atheist woman from the Northwest of England, the warm, hospitable welcome I received at the mosque authenticated the sincerity of Adeel’s remarks that everyone is welcome at Baitul Futuh.
Much of the right-wing, populist press in Britain would, however, have you believe otherwise, with the likes of the Daily Mail and the Telegraph being something of cheerleaders when it comes to reporting the so-called Islamic threat. Even the more measured and ‘liberal’ media outlets present Islam as monolithic and offer no-real attempt to counter the pernicious right-wing narrative.
One shocking example of this dangerous precedent the media is setting was the MailOnline’s recent attack on Muslim communities in Britain. In a smear on the Islamic faith, the article named a series of towns in Britain as “no-go areas for white people.”
The article is based on a book by British writer and political advisor Ed Husain, called ‘Among the Mosques: A Journey Across Muslim Britain.’ Its title, ‘no-go areas for white people’ was based, apparently, on a conversation Husain had with two white men in Blackburn.
Given its incendiary nature, in which Husain described his encounters with Muslims who are ‘physically in Britain but mentally living elsewhere’ and implementing rules that echo those ‘by the Taliban in Afghanistan and ISIS in Syria,’ the article garnered a profusion of negative attention.
“These are complete and utter lies designed to do nothing but divide. The damage this does to all of us is devastating. It’s shameful, disgusting and a national embarrassment. Many are trying to bring us together, yet those with the largest platforms spread vile, dangerous hate,” one commentator posted on Twitter.
Another branded the piece as “outright racism” and highlighted that calling Bradford a “no-go zone for white people must come as a tremendous shock for the hundreds of thousands of white people who live and work in the city.”
A study by the Muslim Council of Britain shows that the predominantly negative coverage of Muslims in British media is contributing to Islamophobia. The study unveiled that 78% of the Mail on Sunday’s stories featuring Muslims have negative themes, thrashing an already high industry average of 59%.
The recent byelection in Batley and Spen saw the right-wing press jump on the chance to stir up community tensions in an area in which Muslims make up 41% of the population.
The town of Batley in West Yorkshire became the centre of a media circus when Labour MP Jo Cox was brutally murdered there by a far-right extremist in 2016 just before the EU referendum. Five years on, the historic mill town remains a far-right battleground.
A recent report in the Mail on Sunday by columnist Dan Hodges sensationalised the division impacting the people of Batley, where five far-right candidates stood in the election.
Intent on masking the Conservatives’ humiliating thrashing in the Chesham and Amersham byelection on June 17, Hodges opened his report saying, “now it’s Keir Starmer’s turn.” He was referring to Labour being on course for “another Red Wall byelection disaster,” in the Batley and Spen byelection.
According to Hodges, the reason Labour was “heading for defeat” in Batley and Spen is because of its waning support among its traditional base, which has led to Labour “frantically grasping for the Muslim vote.”
Hodges’ report created a backlash by those recognising it as a sully on Muslims for political gain.
As one Twitter user tweeted: “You wrote an article smearing pretty much all Muslims in Batley for being anti-Semitic, and quoted an anonymous senior Labour source as evidence. You appear to be the stirrer here.”
Sadly, such defamatory pieces take readers a long way from what is happening within communities of which Islam is a fundamental part, thereby acting as a dangerous breeding ground for Islamophobia.
The tireless and unselfish charitable work like that carried out by the Ahmadiyya Community is rarely cited in the press.
Litter picking, tree planting, visiting the sick and elderly in hospitals and care homes, are among the charitable duties of Ahmadiyya Muslims. Throughout the pandemic, their humanitarian work has proven more vital than ever, helping thousands with shopping and medical requirements, and providing NHS frontline staff with PPE and food packages.
GREATER MEDIA RESPONSIBILITY NEEDED
Muslim groups like the Ahmadiyya Community are very much aware of the destructive narratives peddled by much of the media.
In 2016, during a keynote address at the 13th National Peace Symposium hosted by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community UK at the Baitul Futuh mosque in London, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, the World Head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, called for media responsibility in the fight against extremism.
He called on the media to use its influence “as a force for good and a force for peace” by publicising the positive activities of the majority of Muslims across the world, as opposed to the “tiny minority” who were perpetrating mass cruelties falsely in the name of Islam.
Sadly, as we have seen in recent defamatory attacks on the Islamic faith in the press, and the arrival of GB News – which created a backlash on Twitter when one presenter said England fans who boo taking the knee are not racist but protesting gesture politics – Britain’s media is becoming even more weighted to the right and is a long way from using its influence as a force for good and peace.