Saturday, 22 January 2011

Muslims in the news

This is a guest post by LibertyPhile

Baroness Warsi thinks that dislike of Islam is down to a minority (no doubt very small) of Muslims who carry out criminal acts. And of course the "sensationalist media" that "drowns out free discussion" and "inflates controversial stories". But she misses the point. People are not just worried by terrorists. They are worried by what very large numbers of law-abiding Muslims in this country and other places do and say.

Two contrasting sources throw light on media coverage of Islam.

(i) “Images of Islam in the UK - “The Representation of British Muslims in the National Print News Media 2000-2008” (pdf)published by the Cardiff School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies (CSJ), July 2008

(ii) My blog, which carries extracts and Web links to over 2500 press news stories, analysis and comment concerning Islam and Muslims gathered over the last two years.

CSJ searched the Lexis Nexis database of British newspapers for all stories about British Muslims from 2000 to the end of May 2008. This yielded around 23,000 stories.

The coverage of British Muslims in the British Press increased dramatically after 11th September, 2001. Another significant increase occurred in 2005, the year of the 7th July attacks, although coverage continued to increase further in 2006, reaching a level 12 times higher than in 2000. See Table 1


Table 1 - Stories about British Muslims over time

YearNumber of Stories
2000352
20012185
20021673
20031917
20042399
20053812
20064196
20073213
20083466


The Lexis Nexis stories were used to construct a sample of just under a thousand articles (974) which were selected from five alternate years from 2000 to 2008. By selecting alternate years CSJ avoided the terrorist attacks in September 2001 and July 2005. CSJ categorised all the stories in this sample by ‘news hook’, the main focus of the story or the element that makes it newsworthy.

Table 2 - Prominence of news hooks in alternate years from 2000 to 2008

News Hook20002002200420062008
Terrorism2851343427
Religious cultural issues208122732
Muslim extremism38141110
Politics & public affairs1088108
Other4125331922
Totals100100100100100


The initial rise is clearly tied to the increase in terrorism and terrorism related stories and they continue to account for nearly a third of all stories in later years of the study period 2006 – 2008.

However, since the initial rise, the proportion of stories on religious and cultural issues has also grown and become more important reaching nearly a third of all stories in the later years. So by 2008, 27% of the stories concerned terrorism, criminal activity, and 42% (32%+10%) concerned religious and cultural issues and extremism.

This is a very one-sided account of just five news reports and the reader is given only the CSJ interpretation. Three of these news reports were:

Nazi UK

Though Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari, then head of the Muslim Council of Britain, when interviewed by the Daily Telegraph never used the word Nazi, he was accused in very strong terms of comparing Britain to Nazi Germany. Headlines included “Fury as Muslim brands Britain 'Nazi”, “Comparisons to Nazi Germany inaccurately reflect Muslim status in Britain”.

What he actually said was: "Every society has to be really careful so the situation doesn't lead us to a time when people's minds can be poisoned as they were in the 1930s.”.

CSJ might have posed the question what did Dr Bari actually have in mind when referring to the 1930s? Was it high unemployment, the abdication crisis, or was it just possibly the Nazi persecution of the Jews?

Sharia Law in Britain

Dr Rowan William, the Archbishop of Canterbury, suggested that aspects of Sharia law could be adopted in the UK. CSJ are highly critical of the storm of protest that this met: his remarks were decontextualised, exaggerated; Sharia was equated with brutal punishments; the Archbishop was delegitimised, he was ridiculed, the Star called him “a prize chump”.

CSJ might have paid some attention to the large volume of well-informed criticism of the Archbishop’s speech and what it might or might not have meant and they could have mentioned that judges in the House of Lords described Sharia rules on child custody as ‘arbitrary and discriminatory’ or considered the letter that one Muslim woman wrote to the papers:

"Sir, I shudder to think of the repercussions for Muslim women if British law recognises decisions made by Sharia councils .... For Sharia judges to question a woman’s motives for divorce and pressure her socially and financially to remain in an unfulfilling and possibly dangerous marriage is antiquated at best and deadly at worst. Decisions made by Sharia councils have no room in British law."


And they could have mentioned how Muslim women in Canada fought successfully against Sharia family tribunals.


‘No-Go’ Areas - Self Segregation and Colonisation from Within

The then Bishop of Rochester, Dr Nazir Ali, wrote a comment article that criticised the ‘novel philosophy of “multiculturalism”’ and warned of the emergence of ‘nogo’ areas for non-Muslims in certain areas of the UK.

CSJ complain the ‘”No go” areas’ story … invokes a proactively ‘self-segregating’ Muslim community within Britain: an alien culture colonising Britain from within and dismissive of extant British norms and practices”. As would be journalists you might think the CSJ authors of this study would have gone to a so-called no go area to examine the truth of Dr Ali’s comments. If they did it isn’t mentioned.

They might have interviewed non-Muslims like the vicar’s wife who calls her account of her stay in a part of Birmingham “A stranger in my own land” and how local police described the neighbourhood to her as a “no-go” area.

The Liberty Phile carries Web links to over 2500 press news stories, analysis and comment.
You can read news stories and judge their significance and credibility for yourself.

It is my contention that Muslims inspired by their faith do and say a great number of things from the trivial to the very important that annoy, puzzle or repulse non-Muslims. The problem has little to do with the media and a lot to do with Muslims, ordinary law-abiding Muslims.