Ed Beavan, ChurchNewspaper.com, September 8, 2006
The British media needs to be more balanced in its coverage of Islam, according to members of Christian-Muslim dialogue groups. On the fifth anniversary of the atrocities of 9/11 in New York, suspicion of Islam in the UK is higher than ever, as shown in a recent YouGov poll in which 53 per cent of respondents felt they thought Islam was a threat to Western liberal democracy.
Meanwhile 65 per cent of those surveyed said security services should focus anti-terrorism intelligence on Muslims. Ibrahim Mogra, chair of the interfaith relations committee of the Muslim Council of Britain, said the media in the UK too often presented a distorted view of the religion. He said: “Not all of the media is bad but some sections present Islam in a very negative way which is not practised by the majority of Muslims in this country. “The media should be going out and talking to mainstream and ordinary Muslims and presenting that to the nation, rather than a perverted view. “How many Imams have we see on the front pages talking about compassion and love, there are hundreds of them.” Mr Mogra added that he felt that 9/11 had led to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and that the media needed to ask more questions about British foreign policy, which he feels motivated the 7/7 bombers. Meanwhile, Julian Bond, Director of Management and Communications at the Christian Muslim Forum, said the media had to take more responsibility for its coverage. He said: “I think the negative perceptions are there among many people in this country from all kinds of backgrounds. “You can pick up a paper everyday and read something about Islam, sometimes positive but sometimes negative, such as the searching of the Islamic school at the moment. “I think the media needs to think about the impact that their coverage has and try to be more even-handed.”
Mr Bond agreed that perceptions of Islam had got worse in the last five years since 9/11. He said: “It has got more difficult because there’s a real fear, which was heightened by 7/7 and what happened on the underground with the perpetrators all being Muslim. “But that is a minority as the majority of Muslims are peacefully practising their religion and living normal lives.” Mr Bond called for Christians to get to know Muslims so they could better understand them, by spending time together, sharing meals and even reading scripture together, despite their doctrinal differences.
He said it could be helpful for Christians to read the Koran to raise their awareness of Islam, and added: “It’s not rocket science. If we show an interest in Islamic people it’s more likely they will show an interest in Christianity and we can build bridges.”
The first Muslim to be crowned Miss England has warned that stereotyping members of her community is leading some towards extremism.
Hammasa Kohistani made history last year when she was chosen to represent England in the Miss World pageant.
But one year on, the 19-year-old student from Hounslow feels that winning the coveted beauty title last September was a “sugar coating” for Muslims who have become more alienated in the past 12 months.
She said: “The attitude towards Muslims has got worse over the year. Also the Muslims’ attitude to British people has got worse.
“Even moderate Muslims are turning to terrorism to prove themselves. They think they might as well support it because they are stereotyped anyway. It will take a long time for communities to start mixing in more.
“People may feel I am just a sugar coating on the situation. I am a symbol to show it’s not really that bad.
But at the same time, she said, “there is this hostility” which comes “mainly from the Government”.
The Prime Minister told MPs last month that moderate Muslims were not doing enough to tackle extremists in their own community.
Miss Kohistani said: “Tony Blair addressed Muslims in particular, telling them that they need to sort out the problem within. That was a huge stereotype of the Islamic community. Even the more moderate Muslims have been stereotyped negatively and feel they have to take actions to prove themselves.
Born in Uzbekistan and raised in Afghanistan, Miss Kohistani divided Muslim opinion when she entered and won the Miss England pageant in Liverpool.
Several community leaders openly declared her to be betraying the laws of Islam while radical Muslims sent the teenager and her family death threats.
But after a busy year travelling around the world as an ambassador for England, Miss Kohistani said she feels Muslims are unfairly being branded as terrorists.
She added: “For a Muslim to represent England is asking for controversy at the moment. I feel after everything that’s happened Muslims are being stereotyped negatively. The whole community has been labelled and, whether they are guilty of crime or not, they are getting penalised for it.
“I like being in the limelight because people can look at me and see I am a Muslim but good. Most of the people being pinpointed are judged by their outer appearances and people assume because they are Muslim and have a beard they have done something wrong.”
She continued: “The bridge I have made is slowly being broken by more and more wars. Now the Iran situation is brought up and another Islamic country is under scrutiny – and the recent Heathrow scare. I guess I am needed even more now than last year to an extent because of what has happened.
“It is not for me to answer how to get people to turn away from terrorism. The politicians don’t know what to do and I am just a 19-year-old.”