Dispatches: condemned, but not yet cancelled

I guess I’ve taken my time in jumping on the bandwagon of Muslim bloggers commenting on the condemnation, last week, of the Channel 4 Dispatches documentary, Undercover Mosque, in which a number of Muslim preachers were shown making inflammatory remarks about “hating the kuffar” while preaching in mosques in the UK. The groups attacked were the Jami’at Ahl-e-Hadeeth at Green Lane mosque in Birmingham, and the UK Islamic Mission. This morning I sat and watched the documentary all the way through, and first thought that Abu Usama and “Shaikh” Feiz were bang to rights, but on another viewing, I think Abu Usama has indeed been misrepresented. You can watch the original, in six parts, at YouTube: [1], [2], [3], [4], [5], [6]. What has happened now is that the West Midlands police, which originally investigated the allegedly criminal, incitatory nature of the preaching, has turned to investigating the way the film was edited, having sat through the hours and hours of footage the film company (Hardcash Productions) produced during their four-month “investigation”. Br. Tariq has two videos of C4 News items about this outcome on his blog.

Why have I changed my opinion on what Abu Usama was saying? Because it is obvious that he is talking (mostly) about powerful non-Muslims who are enemies of Muslims, rather than your average non-Muslim neighbour or man or woman in the street. It’s significant that he talks of Osama bin Laden - who, incidentally, he and “salafis” of his tendency condemn in the strongest terms - being better than a thousand Bushes or Blairs, rather than a thousand of John the Caretaker or Maggie the teacher. I found the “Sheikh” Feiz footage nauseating, though. He really talks with such relish about killing the Jews, as if Muslims - even al-Qa’ida - do this for fun.

Bilal Phillips has posted a nine-minute video reply to the documentary, in which he is also featured, at YouTube here. His reply particularly concentrates on the issue of young marriage, as the documentary featured comments Phillips made defending this practice. I would add that the West really has no right to lecture Muslims about this because laws on protecting youth from itself, particularly in the field of sex, are ludicrously inconsistent. People can be sent to jail or to detention camps, many of them notorious for abuse and violence, much younger than they are presumed able to consent to sex - meaning that their decision to mug or kill someone is considered to be their responsibility, but their decision to have sex is presumed to be the result of coercion. The West routinely traps young people in abusive situations, such as many urban secondary schools. In any case, any defence of these practices by Bilal Phillips from a minbar in London or Birmingham is academic, because these things do not seem to be going on among Muslims here.

While the misrepresentation of people’s words and meanings is bad enough, another objection to this programme is that it allows them to claim victim status within the community and weakens the hand of those who have always opposed them. In the words of Mas’ud Khan on Deenport recently:

This mosque has been responsible for much of the fitna [trouble] and chaos in communities and families with its rigid, hate-filled, intolerant, takfiri brand of Islam over the period stated. This was the main centre for the dissemination of Wahhabism in the UK, a cursory glance at the pamphlets, leaflets and books that have issued forth from this place is enough to establish the fact that it is not the fact that Green Lane Mosque has a 33-year-old tradition of preaching and teaching the moderate version of Islam.

Ask a number of HT chaps (and others) who had been hospitalised by some of the cronies from this place and the amount of young asian girls who have been left divorced by frequenters of this establishment. Or ask the organisers of lectures and talks who have had to put up with disruptions and heckling from people from this place, how tolerant and moderate they are!

Both in the documentary and in the surrounding discussion at the time, the effect of all this on the Muslim community is not mentioned, and worse, some of those put up to represent “moderate Islam” do not in fact represent Islam of any sort. I’m talking, of course, about Taj Hargey, whose MECO website contains endorsement of the anti-hadeeth message, who popped up out of nowhere in John Ware’s Panorama documentary in 2005 and has been a ready rent-a-quote slagger-off of Muslims ever since. In a more recent Dispatches documentary, Britain Under Attack, aired last Monday, the programme-makers turned to Haras Rafiq, another nobody turned “community leader”. The fact that Abdul-Hakim Murad appeared in this programme as well, talking mostly about their effect on the Muslims rather than about their extremism, has led some Muslims to accuse him of siding with enemies of Muslims in their attacks on Muslims.

Among the effects on the community, for example, is the fact that one cannot buy books in the Central Mosque in London other than through the Dar-us-Salaam outlet, and Dar-us-Salaam is a sectarian publisher. This was not the case until about 1999 or 2000; books were sold off stands in the foyer, and had quite a range, but all this disappeared when the Dar-us-Salaam shop appeared. Of course, one can still buy other books in other shops, even though quite a few Islamic shops have closed in the last few years (partly, one suspects, because they cannot compete with the Internet, especially with rents rising in London), but in a mosque that big and that well-known, the bookshop should not be in the hands of a sectarian organisation. It should sell a broad range, which should be useful to all those who attend the mosque (whose imams are all al-Azhar graduates).

This film did not just reflect badly on the preachers and the Wahhabis generally; it attacked ordinary Muslims as well, particularly by showing footage of women in niqab and Muslims praying. It also featured Abdullah Faisal, with a couple of juicy quotes, and failed to mention that Faisal’s enmity towards other “salafis” was bitter; many of them regarded him as a madman. It seems that, having failed to find direct incitement to violence (not a surprise, given that they are known to oppose agitation against the rulers of the Muslim world and organisations like the Muslim Brotherhood), they focussed on anything non-Muslims might find offensive. It’s entirely justified that this programme has been condemned; the appearance of another documentary, also contrasting extremists with a sell-out “moderate”, shows that this type of dishonest documentary still has life left in it.

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