Entrenched prejudice in the press means helping the homeless is ignored while terrorism gets top billing, writes RABBIL SIKDAR
THE trend is that crimes by people who happen to be Muslims are given headline coverage, with particular focus on their faith, while any noble deeds Muslims do which are impelled by their religious beliefs are given little to no coverage.
Social media has helped distill that. The perception that Muslims are not at all interested in Britain and are more focused on the Middle East will never be truly laid to rest, but this Christmas something special happened.
People kept finding pictures of Muslim individuals feeding the homeless and a large welling of community activism by local mosques and Muslim charities in delivering food to the homeless. This was the confirmation of something most Muslims knew but few in Britain acknowledge: polls have regularly shown Muslims to be one of the most charitable groups in the country.
When the floods rolled through the north of England, Muslims travelled to and from different cities in their numbers to help. Local mosques intervened and provided aid, shelter and food.
Imagine the reaction if for once the likes of the Daily Mail or the Sun reported this. Imagine if for one day, the British public could be treated to a warming article describing the positive actions that largely go unnoticed by journalists.
But that is not happening. Muslim organisations fighting Islamophobia and anti-Prevent activists are fully aware of the mammoth task they face. It’s not easy to defeat Islamophobia when the media has institutionalised it and made it normal for Muslims to be singled out.
But simply bemoaning this is pointless. It is what it is. We cannot wish away the racist media until we fully tackle and dismantle the myths that they have helped create with their years of fear-mongering.
The term “counter-narrative” is often loathed within the Muslim community. It’s viewed with suspicion as a move to apologise and insulate oneself from attacks rather than taking a firm stand and refusing to be dragged into condemnations.
The problem with this vacuum is that it’s been filled by the Quilliam Foundation and Maajid Nawaz, and suddenly the counter-narrative to terrorism has been imposed on the British Muslim community. British Muslims have been on the back foot ever since.
Nawaz does talks in different countries and draws support. Increasingly, some Muslim activists meanwhile are so utterly obsessed with pinning everything on foreign policy that accusations of denial and terror sympathy developed. Dislike of Nawaz and his allies such as Nick Cohen, Sam Harris and Ayaan Hirsi Ali have grown but these are clever individuals who have used the public psychology and media mood to drive forward their agenda.
It means now that Muslim organisations have to work with mosques and local councils to find an alternative message and approach. This approach shouldn’t be to condemn terrorism to avoid being seen as terrorists — but at the same time it should take a firm stand against terrorism. It means working with local mosques to help the local youth. It might even mean passing all faith schools under the regulatory oversight of their local councils.
But it means recognising that Muslims cannot beat the media at the moment. The right-wing newspapers are capable of taking a minor issue and blowing it up to damage the Muslim community. Only a powerful grassroots coalition where Muslims and non-Muslims see each other as allies in the fight against terrorism can work. At the moment both sides see each other as enemies.
Mosques working with schools to help the Muslim youth deal with alienation and other factors would be crucial. At the moment, young Muslims are caught in the crossfire of the terribly draconian Prevent strategy.
Grassroots actions led by Muslim Engagement and Development (Mend) are what convinced the Tories to get police recording anti-Muslim hate crime. It’s proof of the possible success that lies in ordinary Muslims organising from below to change the narratives and change the image.