Marcel Berlins: Muslims let down by spokesmen’s poor English

The Guardian’s legal writer Marcel Berlins has a column in today’s paper about how certain causes - in particular, Palestine and Muslims - are continually let down by the poor English displayed by the “spokesmen” brought out to speak for them in the media:

Over the past decade, I remember particularly radio and television contributors to the Israel-Palestine debate. Whoever was explaining or defending the Israeli side of whatever dispute was in the news invariably spoke good English. Most were government ministers. When Dr Hanan Ashrawi was spokeswoman for the Palestinian cause, she presented the argument with at least equal vigour and clarity. But when someone else took on the spokesmanship, the balance often slewed. For reasons of not quite fluent English, or a slightly difficult accent, the Palestinian case too often came over with weaker impact. The same has been true, in the past few years, of some of the spokesmen invited to provide an Islamic perspective on the issue of the day. Many opportunities to create a greater public understanding of Muslim culture and attitudes were lost through inadequate articulacy. There has, I think, been a considerable improvement recently.

I have said here on more than one occasion that some of these speakers should simply not be brought onto the programmes at all, since they represent tiny minority viewpoints and their exposure causes us embarrassment. In terms of the situation he cites, I particularly remember a painful interview with a Muslim Brotherhood rep who hardly spoke English at all. He suggests that more lowly officials of certain organisations be asked (or nominated) to speak for them in order to get the message across more effectively, even though he normally wants “answers from the top people, the ones directly involved in whatever it is, not their minions”.

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