THE BLOG

Why I Wrote to the Editor of 'The Sun' Over Their 'One in Five Muslims' Story

30/11/2015 15:46 GMT | Updated 30/11/2016 10:12 GMT

Twitter. To quote Dickens, the best of times, the worst of times. Twitter's reaction to The Sun's front page "story" that "1 in 5 Brit Muslims' have some sympathy for jihadis", based on an exceptionally ropey interpretation of clear research, definitely the best of times.

For British Muslims, Twitter was awash with self-deprecating tweets mocking aspects of our own particular brand of British culture; shared with and enjoyed by those non Muslim Brits whose lives are closely entwined with ours (remember we are not all the same - equal but not identikit British Citizens).

A friend of mine swears blind that the best way to get a parking space on the Coventry Road in Birmingham - an area with a large Muslim population - is simply to walk along the road with her tiny Westie puppy. The way parts; people (and their cars) flee! So my personal favourite bit of twitter banter came from @raztweets:

The sense of humour of the British public ridicules and exposes the fragility of a weak argument more quickly and successfully than almost any other medium. It's like a crowdsourced take down.

What's problematic however is that twitter may make us feel better - and on Monday evening I did feel better knowing that Great British Banter had rowed in behind us - but a twitter mauling does not occupy the same space as a Sun front page. The Sun proudly proclaims on its advertising portal - "Size matters: if The Sun was a TV programme it would be the second biggest in the UK."

And that's kind of the problem isn't it.

I like to imagine that the BBC News at Ten might report the fightback - Huw Edwards' lilting tones telling us that "today on twitter Great British Banter has given some serious smack down to The Sun and Islamophobia with the perfectly pitched #1in5muslims campaign..."

But of course that doesn't happen and a deluge of excellent Twitter banter is not enough to repair the damage done.

That Sun Front page reached maybe 5 or 6 million people. Are #1in5SunReaders on Twitter? Have #1in5Sunreaders seen the #1in5Muslims hashtag and understood that their paper of choice was being misleading, deliberately so? Have #1in5SunReaders rejected that headline, and will they know that they mustn't let it poison their view of their fellow citizens?

I don't know the answer to the first of those questions, but I fear that the answer to the other two is probably not.

And that's why I have sent a letter to the editor of The Sun, co-signed by other colleagues, asking for a meeting; for them to explain to me and other MPs why they decided to take a piece of data (19% of Muslims have some sympathy for those who have gone to Syria to fight) and turn it into something completely different (19% of Muslims have some sympathy for those who have gone to fight with IS). No comparison with non Muslims, no representation of the trends. No recognition that the question didn't refer to IS at all. All kinds of wrong here.

Why did The Sun chose to misreport in this way?

What was so important that they wanted to say 1 in 5 Muslims support IS rather than British Muslims are only marginally more likely than the rest of the population to have sympathy for those who go and fight in Syria?

And I feel deeply uneasy about the likely answer. Because - not withstanding that they haven't agreed to meet me yet to explain -it can probably only be that they wanted to pursue a negative, sensationalist story to sell more newspapers.

That's good for them, but for British Muslims not so much.

This is the third time I have written for the Huffington Post about the media portrayal of Muslims. But it's the first time I can say I am starting to feel the occasional twinge of insecurity. Because it's getting harder to just laugh things off. I may have felt better on Monday night but by Tuesday morning deep uneasiness set in.

People are afraid. I understand that. I am afraid. I am afraid that IS terrorists will come into our country and do what they did in Paris. But I'm also afraid of the anti-Muslim backlash. Hate crime has gone up, according to TellMAMA, by 300% in the week since the Paris attack.

We were all reminded of the fragility of life two weeks ago. That could have been any one of us out for a meal with friends or at a concert. The Sun would do well to remember some words from the Bible: A divided house cannot stand. So don't divide us now. There is too much at stake.

Shabana Mahmood is the Labour MP for Birmingham Ladywood