THE BLOG

An Open Letter to The Sun Over Ramadan

04/07/2013 10:23 BST | Updated 02/09/2013 10:12 BST
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Dear David Dinsmore,

Congratulations on your recent appointment as editor of The Sun. I wish you success in leading a newspaper which has such an important voice in our national public debates.

I am writing to you about a factual error in The Sun's front-page story "Ramadan a Ding-Dong". The Sunreport expressed concern that the Channel four "stunt" could "damage community relations".

However, The Sun report itself includes the absurd, inaccurate claim that Britain could become a majority Muslim country by 2015.

The census shows that 59% of people are Christian; 25% of people say they have no religion; and that 5% of people are Muslim.

There is no sensible basis for the claim that Britain is on course to become a Muslim country, from any credible source. Clearly, the claim that this could happen within the next two years is total nonsense.

However, with no context or facts given, Sun readers might not necessarily realise that this is wrong and completely made-up. Giving them the correct information could assist The Sun in its welcome concern to help foster good community relations in Britain.

Would you be able to run a factual correction of this point? I thought it better to write to you directly in the first place, before seeing if the PCC would look at this point, under inaccuracy.

I note that the source for this false and mistaken claim is the Islamist extremist Anjem Choudary, whose main purpose in life is indeed to damage community relations. Choudary has zero credibility on any topic beyond self-publicity, and absolutely none as a projector of social and demographic trends. He would appear to be a rather puzzling choice to offer such demographic analysis, unless the aim was to find the Muslim voice most likely to offer a stupid and potentially inflammatory statement. (Choudary can usually be relied on to come up trumps on that).

Unfortunately, Choudary's absurd and clearly false factual claim was neither contextualised nor challenged in the report, by either The Sun's reporters or any other external voice. Instead, it was supplemented by a further quote from Islamic Emergency Defence. The Sun report quotes them as saying: "we want to see Sharia in the UK and only God knows if this could be a step towards it".

Islamic Emergency Defence is a group which has existed for not even a fortnight. It has no track record at all.

However, The Sun itself did report on June 25th that this new group was linked to Anjem Choudary, showing that he is an advisor and the main public champion of the group. The June 25th Sun report quoted Julie Siddiqi of the Islamic Society of Britain, and MPs Sadiq Khan and Rushanara Alli, who view the IED as "inflammatory", provocative and having no point other than to "increase offence and tensions".

Given that The Sun had done us all the genuine public service of having quickly established that this otherwise unknown IED group appears to be simply the latest Anjem Choudary extremist front group to pop up, I would question the sense in then going on to report its views uncritically within a week. This report reflects an unfortunate editorial choice in giving this tiniest of extreme fringe factions not one but both of the only two external Muslim voices in this report, both seizing the chance to make absurd and deliberately provocative statements.

The IED's initial statements suggest it will support and condone vigilante violence and reprisals. Of course, that is exactly the worst response to the worrying rise of anti-Muslim hate crime and abuse in recent weeks. All attempts to promote a spiral of violence, from either the far-right fringe or the extreme Islamist fringe, are the last thing that anybody in Britain needs.

So it is good that The Sun has taken a consistently clear editorial line against the racism and thuggery of extreme far-right groups like the EDL and the BNP.

Choudary's provocative public statements, such as poppy-burning, mean that he can now be regarded as a much more effective recruiting sergeant for these extreme groups than their own flailing leaders like Nick Griffin and Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, aka Tommy Robinson.

This is quite deliberate on his part, since Choudary's fringe group depends on persuading both young British Muslims and wider British society that we cannot live together in the strong, shared and inclusive society that most us want.

There is robust evidence that the vast majority of Britons, non-Muslim and Muslim alike, reject this politics of division and hatred, but the sensible majority can find it hard to get heard over the loudest hot-heads, whose sole talent is for grabbing media headlines with their offensive shock tactics.

There is an understanding that extremism needs to be reported on and scrutinised, but there is a deep frustration when the most outrageously clownish voices like Choudary are so often given a media profile out of all kilter to their risible levels of support, given the damage that this might do to the good community relations that most people in Britain want to work for.

Yours sincerely,

Sunder Katwala

Director, British Future