Monday, 4 May 2009
Quilliam's unfair attack on the Islam Channel
www.guardian.co.uk, Friday 1 May 2009 17.30 BST
By Mehdi Hasan
The Islam Channel is far from perfect, but it doesn't deserve to be singled out in the latest Quilliam Foundation 'alert' (see: http://www.quilliamfoundation.org/)
Is channel 813 on Sky really a hotbed of extremism, terrorism and antisemitism?
This, for the non-Muslims and non-channel-surfers among you, is the Islam Channel, one of this country's most prominent and popular free-to-air, English language Muslim satellite channels.
This week the channel found itself accused of allowing its various presenters and guests to promote "intolerant and bigoted interpretations of Islam" and even condone "terrorist attacks on British troops" in an "alert" issued by the Quilliam Foundation – the so-called counter-extremism thinktank set up, ironically, by a bunch of former extremists.
Let's be clear. The Islam Channel, like every other media institution, Muslim or otherwise, is far from perfect. In recent years, it has been fined £30,000 by the regulator OFCOM for repeated breaches of its broadcast code and had to pay out £25,000 to its former presenter Yvonne Ridley after losing a case of unfair dismissal and sexual discrimination.
Nonetheless, I am one of those who has welcomed the arrival of specialised, niche channels for religious and ethnic minorities in recent years. The Islam Channel (813), like Peace TV (820), Noor TV (819) and a plethora of similar stations in the nether regions of Sky's electronic programme guide, are part of what I would perhaps call the Abraham Lincoln school of satellite broadcasting: of the Muslims, by the Muslims, for the Muslims.
As a viewer who also happens to be a British Muslim, I do therefore tune into the Islam Channel myself, on occasion, and – to be quite honest – have yet to see a single example of incitement to violence or terror. To suggest or imply otherwise, as the Quilliam Foundation does, is rather asinine. At worst, there may be the odd rather somnolent phone-in show, featuring a rotating bevy of Muslim scholars from the subcontinent, some with a tenuous grasp of the English language – but none of this comes even close to promoting or condoning Islamist extremism, violent or otherwise.
The Islam Channel also takes great pains to ensure critics of Islamism, and even Islam, appear on its discussion shows – when I agreed to go on one such programme last summer to talk about a Channel 4 Dispatches film that I had commissioned on Islamophobia, I found myself debating the self proclaimed "neoconservative", Douglas Murray, director of the rightwing Centre for Social Cohesion and a critic of the channel and its presenters, as well as the very concept of Islamophobia.
Such discussions and debates, in which a multiplicity of diverse views are expressed on the channel, including those that challenge both Islamism and Islam itself, are curiously not mentioned at all in this week's Quilliam alert – despite the fact that the Quilliam Foundation staff currently includes former Centre for Social Cohesion researcher, James Brandon.
Does that mean that the Islam Channel is entirely innocent of the charges levelled by Ed Husain and co?
Scanning the names of the various presenters and guests highlighted in the Quilliam alert, one name in particular set off alarm bells in my mind: Yasir Qadhi.
"Shaykh" Qadhi is a Texas-born Sunni Muslim preacher of Indo-Pak origin and a graduate of the Wahhabi-dominated Islamic University of Madinah in Saudi Arabia.
He is also – how should I put this? – not a fan of the one in five Muslims across the world who call themselves Shias. His anti-Shia diatribes are around on the web for all to hear.
Here are some highlights:
"With regard to the Shias, really they are the most lying sect of Islam. In other words, it is a part of their religion."
"The Shias are allowed to lie. It is their religion to lie."
"Shism is filth ... They allow prostitution … they allow lying."
"Beware of them [the Shias] and avoid them."
"Any Muslim that knows of their [Shia] beliefs, he should have pure anger and hatred …"
"Anyone who believes in those [Shia] beliefs is a kafir."
Now, if these aren't clear examples of hate speech , then I am not sure what is.
I do find it odd, in an era of such depressingly unprecedented Sunni-Shia bloodletting and internecine strife, that such a bigoted, intolerant and sectarian individual turns out to be a regular and prominent speaker on Britain's Islam Channel.
Unless, perhaps, they are planning to rename themselves only as the "Sunni Channel".