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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