THE BLOG

British Media Still See Muslims As Easy Targets

31/01/2013 11:44 GMT | Updated 31/03/2013 10:12 BST

Sections of the British media have always been guilty of anti-Muslim bias and scaremongering, but the recent coverage of one particular story and its subsequent fall-out suggests that even the more broadminded newspapers and broadcasters are quick to jump on an 'easy' Muslim story.

Some weeks back, The Sun and The Daily Mail reported that a group of young Muslim men were carrying out an 'Islamisation' campaign in some parts of London, where, as self-appointed 'vigilantes', they patrolled the streets in the evenings, accosting provocatively-dressed women and anyone drinking alcohol.

Brought to the world's attention after being filmed on a mobile phone which was then loaded onto YouTube, they were seen shouting at white Britons, forcing a man to drop his can of lager and hurling homophobic abuse.

Their disgraceful behaviour was immediately condemned by Muslim religious leaders, but despite the fact that these were, by and large, isolated incidents carried out by a very small group of men, the two newspapers mentioned above decided to make a meal of it.

This in itself comes as no surprise, but what was somewhat more disappointing was that Sky News then decided it was worthy of a good chunk of airtime. And while the reporter outside Scotland Yard made it clear that the events were not widespread and that these vigilantes were not part of any organised group, the underlying message was that it was nonetheless newsworthy.

It is true that a few of the men had been arrested, but in many respects their behaviour was no worse than that of many young men around Britain who harass people on a daily basis and who go unreported. Clearly this particular incident made the news because the men were Muslim.

Even more disappointing was when The Independent and other papers then jumped on the bandwagon, but perhaps the most shocking article of them all was the one published by Jane Kelly in Tuesday's Daily Telegraph.

It is apparent that Ms Kelly had used these recent events as a platform to vent her shockingly bigoted views, but what struck me initially was litany of incorrect information she used to justify her argument.

She refers to the area in which she lives -- Acton Vale -- as an example of the Islamification of parts of the UK, but I have lived in Acton Vale for a number of years and her description of it is not one that I recognise.

She claims the majority of the shops on Acton Vale are Muslim-run. This is absolutely not the case. The Vale is a tiny strip of about 20 or so shops and consists of a café run by Europeans, two Chinese takeaways -- run by Chinese --, a hardware shop and a car parts shop run by English guys, a post office run by Tamils, a dry cleaners run by secular Iranians, a hairdresser run by a Polish woman and a store run by a Hindu family. At the most, about six of them are Muslim-owned. Multicultural? Absolutely. Muslim-dominated? Hardly.

Also, contrary to her claims, most of the shops do sell alcohol, and I have never once seen any sign in any of the shops forbidding the consumption of alcohol near its vicinity, although I do invite her to point them out to me.

Ms Kelly also says that the woman in the local pharmacy persuaded her it is better to dress modestly. Well, I know that woman very well and although I don't wear a headscarf she has never once made any comment about how I dress.

She goes on to lament that the Muslim men in the local curtain shop refused to put up her curtains, claiming they 'don't do that kind of work". Well, funnily enough, when I made a similar request they told me the same thing, probably because...they don't do that kind of work. No other reason.

Her other issue is with the young Muslim men who apparently mutter into their mobiles as they are serving her, instead of striking up conversation. But does she not know that much of London is rude and aloof? Yet Ms Kelly has turned this general unfriendliness into a Muslim issue, implying that we are judgemental and hostile simply by virtue of our religious background.

But it's her phrase: "It's changed from being Acton Vale to Acton Veil" that is the most contemptible. By coining it, she clearly thinks she is being witty and clever, whereas in fact all she is doing is having a laugh at the expense of a minority group. It is cheap and nasty. And still she smiles at Muslim women in the street. How magnanimous! And they don't even smile back! Could it be, I wonder, they instinctively sense her true opinions about them?

That this piece was printed in The Daily Telegraph is not too surprising, but the truth is, if an article of this nature had been written about any other ethnic group, such as Jews or black people, it would cause an absolute uproar. It is a fact that Muslims are easy targets and demeaning them has become positively acceptable. It is shameful that so much of the media still engage in Muslim-bashing with worrying regularity.

But often anti-Muslim journalism is lazy and opportunistic - as Ms Kelly's piece demonstrates - and is a quick way for someone with limited imagination or originality to get a by-line.

Ms Kelly says she is now moving out of Acton Vale. She decries the fact that few people speak English in these parts and she cannot find parsnips in her local grocers shop. She is originally from Staffordshire, and I suggest that perhaps that is where she should return, where no doubt the parsnips are in abundance and she will find someone who can put up her curtains.

I, meanwhile, intend to remain in Acton Vale and rejoice in its wonderful multicultural vibes, happy in the knowledge that at least one xenophobe has been flushed out of my area.