Me on BBC London: transcript

Here is a transcript of the conversation I had with Anne Diamond, on the subject of the Daily Express complaining about Tower Hamlets council workers (in east London) will be asked not to eat at council meetings in front of fasting colleagues.

By the way, the same folks who made the Dispatches programme Undercover Mosque have made a follow-up, which is expected to air tomorrow, at 8pm. (I wonder if it’s coincidence that it goes out when a lot of people will be breaking their fast, rather than a week earlier.)

AD: Matthew’s on the line in Shepherd’s Bush. Good morning, Matthew.

Me: G’Morning. I’m calling to talk about this business with the Muslim council workers …

AD: The Tower Hamlets council …

Me: Yeah.

AD: Who, out of respect for Ramadan, have decided that councillors won’t have tea and biscuits.

Me: Yes, according to a story in which paper?

AD: Ah, yes, now this is interesting that you’re asking this. It’s the Daily Express …

Me: Yes, typical of the Daily Spew as I call it …

AD: And do you know …

Me: That paper has quite a history of what I consider malicious and probably exaggerated stories about what I consider inconsequential matters.

AD: And do you know, there’s a little box underneath the photograph that says, “are you fed up with minorities dictating to us?”

Me: Exactly. I’m fed up with minorities like people who work for the Daily Express shouting abuse at entire communities, which is usually Muslims in the case of that particular newspaper. Tower Hamlets is a place where there is a large proportion of British Muslims, not like west London where there are a lot of wealthy foreign Muslims; they are not, you know … I think it’s only reasonable to expect workers to show a bit of consideration to their colleagues, especially at a time, you know … Religion is a fact of life, and people need to show a bit of respect, and, um, um … particularly when there is a large religious minority. There are Muslims who are exempted from fasting, particularly if they’re travelling, although that won’t affect councils so much, because they’re all going to be locals, but they are told “don’t stuff your faces in front of people who are fasting”, and expecting work colleagues to show a bit of respect when they’re at work, it’s not too much to ask, in my opinion.

The other thing is, these newspapers, the Daily Express stories have been held up on certain extremist organisations’, well, the BNP, but they reproduce and link stories from the Daily Spew without comment. But also, I have heard of people being attacked in the street in London, I have heard, for example, a Muslim lady has told me personally that she has had dogs set on her, and I think that the influence of rags like this wretched Daily Spew rag is a big influence on it.

AD: Irresponsible headlines, you mean, can really cause …

Me: Yeah, irresponsible, trying to make headlines by stoking bigotry; it ought to be clamped down on, because this newspaper is basically a propaganda sheet which, um …

AD: Let me play Devil’s Advocate just for a second though, and say to you, OK, this is interesting, you’ve got here, because we heard from our councillor earlier today, our lady councillor Jean, who said that we live in a Christian country (my sigh is audible at this point), she said why are we calling it a Muslim-dominated council anyway, why are we even bringing religion into it?

Me: We live in a nominally Christian but predominantly not very religious country, but Tower Hamlets is not like the rest of the country; it’s not even like the rest of London, it’s a heavily Muslim-populated area …

AD: But why are we even mentioning the religious side of it?

Me: Because it’s about people being asked to show a bit of consideration for their religious neighbours, when … (a lot of you knows and uh’s) …

AD: Courtesy?

Me: You know, Muslims are expected to do a lot of accommodating the other way round, even in a … Easter Sunday, for example, is a Christian holiday, and even in a predominantly Muslim part of town like Tower Hamlets, Sunday opening for their business is banned on Easter Sunday, even though practising Christians are a minority now in this country. People still show consideration, and in Islam people are supposed to show consideration for their neighbours, and I don’t see why expecting others to show a bit of consideration by not stuffing their faces during council meetings …

AD: Yeah, when I heard it, my reaction wasn’t one of “religion” at all, it was about common courtesy …

Me: Yeah, I mean, by the way, I’m a driver for a living, and I’m going to have to go shortly for that reason, but I’m not allowed to eat and drink on, you know, swig a bottle of coke into my mouth while I’m driving, I could get done for not driving with due care and attention (AD agrees), and I don’t think it’s a “big ask” to ask Tower Hamlets council workers not to eat, you know, not to stuff their faces in front of their Muslim colleagues during the fast.

AD: Excellently put, Matthew; maybe it does …

Me: Thank you very much.

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  • Ali Abdullah

    Seems she didn’t know you were a Muslim. If she had - do you think you would have got on air?

  • As-Salaamu ‘alaikum,

    I spoke to the researcher when I actually called the station, and told her I was a Muslim; it was she who told me that they’d call me back, i.e. I was going to be on air.

  • Counter

    I agree with you about the gutter press stoking up tension. It turns out to have been a badly worded memo, where the intention was to prevent council members taking food reserved for those about to break their fast.

    However, I completely disagree with you that you should expect some consideration from non-Muslims by not eating in front of you while you’re fasting. I’m afraid it’s your religious obligation, not theirs. You can ask people not to do it, but you have no right to insist.

  • Deobandi Chishti

    It’s difficult answering the spew of the right -wing press. I used to do it. But then you get fed up after a bit. Perhaps, I became thick-skinned. Allah knows best. I think many others have also. I admire your concern to do what you did.

  • George Carty

    Islamophobia in the Daily Express? Well, what else do you expect from a newspaper with a Crusader in its masthead?

  • Old Pickler

    I’m afraid it’s your religious obligation, not theirs. You can ask people not to do it, but you have no right to insist.

    Quite. Stop whingeing, and we should stop pandering.

  • I think that a Council memorandum such as this was bound to find its way into the right-wing media, but that’s no reason for not issuing it. I agree with the courtesy thing, but this was a request to employees, not an instruction, right? So what is the big deal? A stout defence, bro, alhamdulillah, and I’m glad to see someone challenging the ludicrous notion that Britain is a “Christian country” - it’s as daft as pointing at Snowdon and saying Britain is mountainous!

  • Jeffrey

    Perhaps you will not find any Irish channel asking some Orange Order ideologues to go undercover looking in to the credentials of a Catholic church.

    But things are different for viewers in England, where Hardcash Productions engages some disgruntled elements to settle scores with their ideological opponents and competitors on primetime over Channel 4.

    Undercove Mosque: The Return refers several times to Colin Cook, a teacher only after being sacked for misconduct from the King Fahd school in Acton claimed that the books the children are taught from are racist, and that the school itself is promoting Wahhabism. This was claimed in the papers filed with an employment tribunal by Mr. Cook who earned £35,000 a year at the Academy.

    It is of course worth wondering why Mr Cook didn’t feel the need to raise this issue before he was sacked. Mr. Cook, 57, who taught English at the school for 19 years until he was dismissed in December 2006, claimed £100,000 compensation for unfair dismissal.

    Similarly, viewers would have been better served if they were told which political spectrum Mr. Ghayasuddin Siddiqi and Mr. Musa Admani come from to make clear if these two have reasons to tread on Salafis’ corns. This would have proved helpful to establish why these two have cultivated long-term difference with other ‘brands’ competing for support and following within the contested constituency of Muslims in Britain.

  • snips

    which came first the muslim or the conspiracy theory… i think its a shame about the few bad apples spoiling islams otherwise spottless reputation,ive just watched kingdom of heaven apparently saladin invented the fridge freezer,why because hes great

  • Part-Time Thinker

    Hey, this may be old, but it’s also still a crock of logical fallacy…

    1) Quoting that Muslims ‘show consideration’ by following the ban on Easter Sunday trading is a lie. They follow the law, since one is a law and the other is a cultural consideration issue. Following the law reluctantly (since it’s not their festival, right?) thus if it weren’t a LAW, only THEN would it be measurable whether such people VOLUNTARILY chose to ‘respect’ the host country’s religious festival and not trade on Easter Sunday. Since that’s never been the case, where are you getting your statistics from above? Ah that’s right, from absolutely NOWHERE. What if the majority wouldn’t ‘show consideration’ unless, as is currently the case, forced to by law?

    Thus you are quoting something as fact, when it is anything but. Pathetic argument and you should have noticed the logical flaw yourself before sharing your flawed logic with others, obviously. Otherwise, what’s the difference between your argument and those deployed by the Daily Express et al?

    2) It is NOT, I agree, too much to ask to expect ANY colleague of ANY creed, race, or culture to ‘show consideration’ for fasting Muslim colleagues, but it is NOT any kind of DUTY nor law, to follow that consideration if one doesn’t want to. There is NO need to respect Islam, just because those who adhere to Islam choose to respect it. That very expectation is a form of pushing ones beliefs onto others and that’s sad to defend, and what people, beyond the uneducated BNP supporters tend to get put off by when it comes to Islamic integration issues in the UK. That is NOT in any way THEIR fault, it is the fault of demanding what you don’t reciprocate. Even if the reason one doesn’t reciprocate it being that Britain is a largely secular country.

    3) Since it is NOT a law to make the effort to eat somewhere else other than in front of fasting Muslims, who if they are that bothered should go outside of a room dedicated to, er, eating and drinking - what level of seriousness does one attribute to this ‘respect’ (or lack of it)? I say, if I choose to ‘stuff my face’ in front of a fasting Muslim, it is THEIR problem to deal with, since it is THEIR choice to fast. I should not be FORCED to worry even 1/10 on the scale of importance IF I SO CHOOSE. If I want to be considerate (as I usually make some effort to do), it should be appreciated as a positive - NOT decried as a negative if I fail to do so. Man up - like countless other experiences people go through, it’s just tough! Not even that tough, it’s hardly forced torture is it? Get a grip.

    4) Religion and state should be separate, the furthering of this ethic and legal system is the very mechanism that allows people of different faiths to practise in the UK openly and without (much) persecution. Abusing that by a heavy expectation of others to conform IN ANY WAY to ones private religious beliefs, is more unethical and objectively wrong (fascist, due to the forcing - or expectation of conformity - aspect) than is the lack of consideration to the private religious matters of any size minority or even majority. What about that logic didn’t you understand in your argument above? It’s sounder logic than yours - and works both ways, not just to serve the majority…

    5) Would you EVER see (the closest example) a Catholic Christian expecting, one way or the other, that people respect THEIR fasting during the period of Lent (which is less strict, typically, but longer than Ramadan)? No. Why not? Humility is part of the religion - AS IN ISLAM (right??) Such people simply wouldn’t be so bold and arrogant to expect it, majority or minority. Again it’s their religion, and unless they are trying to push it (or respect for it) unnaturally onto others, which if you look around, they DON’T, you won’t see the same expectation. One has to wonder about how petty and chauvinist the culture that DOES demand so, actually is.

    6) Note: not a single bit of (known!) prejudice was used in the construction of this argument and logic… An ‘anti-illogical’ stance is NOT an anti-Islam one (unless Islam is inherently illogical in which case perhaps it’s why respect is demanded rather than commanded at times?).

    7) Personally, I think a period of fasting is rather healthy for the body - and mimics natural food-wealth cycles furthermore. Thus Ramadan fasting is something that if done in a spiritual manner, rather than ‘just because’, makes a lot of sense to me. Yet that is not the point, at all.

    8) If you are NOT ‘forced’ to give something, you should NOT force (physically, OR politically) someone else to give the same thing to you. If the give-and-take is not 100% like-for-like, the argument for one deserving the other becomes not perfectly valid, and sometimes even very invalid (see above for comparisons). Expecting people to have ‘consideration’ for a MONTH - whilst comparing that to Easter Weekend with one enforced day off maximum - doesn’t directly-equate, so it was a poor example. You know the reason why you can’t find a better example? Ah yes, we’re not that hypocritical in the UK, so we don’t produce situations that would feed your argument. In other words, stop moaning so much over such a small issue, coming as it does in the context of a very tolerant country (unlike, as we all know, the host country Saudi Arabia, that every Muslim worships when they turn towards Mecca).

    9) No matter what ‘type’ or culture of human being one is, I think one universal belief amongst us, is that everyone hates a hypocrite. Hypocrisy thus needs to be identified and questioned wherever and whenever it rears its ugly head.