THE BLOG

I Could Not Be Prouder of Birmingham's Witty, Intelligent Response to Fox News

14/01/2015 11:31 GMT | Updated 16/03/2015 09:59 GMT

As I arrived for work at the Council House this morning I was full of awe and admiration for the many commuters who braved the 'no-go area' that is now Birmingham city centre.

Apparently Britain's second city is totally Muslim and people of other faiths or indeed no faith at all, simply stay away.

Now, after more than 40 years living and working here, this came as something of a surprise to me. But American commentator Steve Emerson is a 'terrorism expert' so he should know and last weekend he told the Fox News Channel: "In Britain, it's not just no-go zones, there are actual cities like Birmingham that are totally Muslim where non-Muslims just simply don't go in."

Not to worry, you might think. No major media organisation worth its salt would let such palpable nonsense pass unchallenged. Surely Fox would ask Emerson to back up such spectacular claims... wouldn't they?

But, no, host Jeanine Pirro responded to the claim that the British government doesn't 'exercise any sovereignty in Birmingham by saying: "You know what it sounds like to me, Steve? It sounds like a caliphate within a particular country."

Fortunately Fox, the good people of Birmingham did your job for you.

The initial response to the stupid, untrue and damaging comments were anger and incredulity that anyone so misinformed might be given an international platform on which to air their ridiculous views.

But then a quick glance at Twitter showed that in 2015 there really is no place to hide for anyone who conveniently leaves facts and common sense at the door when entering a TV studio.

The people of Birmingham and our many friends elsewhere responded with humour, wit and intelligence to Emerson's claims and if you missed it, the #FoxNewsFacts hashtag is well worth reading.

I could not be prouder of the response from this city as people hit back with tweets like:

Now, to his credit, Emerson was quick to apologise but I suspect that was as much to do with damage limitation after being so spectacularly held up to ridicule.

To me, the #FoxNewsFacts backlash gives a very clear message to anyone who thinks that the politics of smear and misinformation can work in this country - a timely reminder perhaps with a General Election on the horizon.

As for Birmingham, if you're going to use our city as a political football in an attempt to make your point, you'd better make sure you get your facts right.

So here are a few of those pesky facts for Mr Emerson.

At the last count (2011 Census) this was the religious make-up of Birmingham:

Christianity (46.1%)

Islam (21.8%)

Sikhism (3.0%)

Hinduism (2.1%)

Buddhism (0.4%)

Non-religious (19.3%)

Undeclared (7.3%)

As one of my council colleagues, Waseem Zaffar, tweeted: Birmingham is a diverse city with people from 187 countries making it home since 2007.

Even the Prime Minister was prompted to leap to our defence - and that's not something I write every day - as he reflected: "This guy is clearly a complete idiot. What he should do is look at Birmingham and see what a fantastic example it is of bringing people together of different faiths, different backgrounds."

I couldn't agree more. I'm proud of Birmingham and I'm proud of the fact that people from all faiths and backgrounds live and work together peacefully side by side.

We do face challenges as a city but we face them together and, trust me, this nonsense from Mr Emerson and Fox News was not a challenge, it was a humorous diversion.