Those who think that England is a politically correct tyranny where bigots face interrogation by the cops for daring to speak their minds should look at what happened to Channel 4 when it tried to expose the bigotries of well-funded, Saudi-backed clerics working in Britain.
Its undercover journalists infiltrated radical mosques. They recorded assorted preachers calling for the subjugation of women, the murder of homosexuals and Jews, the replacement of the ‘man-made’ laws of a democracy with the religious edicts of a theocratic state and the eternal damnation of Muslims who did not follow Wahhabi doctrine and infidels who did not accept the true faith.
The station took every care to ensure the accuracy of the programme. I speak from experience when I say that being edited by Channel 4’s commissioning editors is like having a team of revenue inspectors going through your accounts. Its lawyers swarmed over the script of Undercover Mosque to make sure it complied with the law and Ofcom’s regulatory guidelines. Two weeks before transmission, they sent letters to every cleric criticised in the film explaining what Channel 4 had accused them of and offering them a chance to reply.
The documentary’s condemnations of extremism did not come from white liberals – white liberals tend to keep silent about such awkward subjects – but from Muslims worried about the malign influence of a foreign power on British Islam. Haras Rafiq of the Sufi Muslim Council, said: ‘Wahhabis and their offshoots are teaching Muslim youngsters that America and Britain are against them and therefore they need to get up and fight with them. The radicalising power of this ideology is extremely dangerous.’ Abdal-Hakim Murad of Cambridge University described Saudi influence as ‘potentially lethal for the future of the community’.
Channel 4 showed its balanced and impeccably sourced documentary last year and the forces of law and order cracked down: not on demagogic preachers, but on the broadcasters who exposed them. Assistant Chief Constable Anil Patani from the West Midlands police and Bethan David of the Crown Prosecution Service accused Channel 4 ‘of the splicing together of extracts from longer speeches’. The docu-fakers appeared ‘to have completely distorted what the speakers were saying’. They referred journalists to Ofcom, an extraordinary measure for police and prosecutors to take, given that their job is to charge criminals, not moonlight as television critics.
The many who were foolish enough to believe the police’s accusations must have accepted that, for instance, Ijaz Mian, who preaches in Derby, was a good democrat. Only trick camerawork and sly editing had turned him into the man who appeared in the film raving: ‘King, Queen, House of Commons. If you accept it then you are a part of it. You don’t accept it but you have to dismantle it. So you being a Muslim you have to fix a target, there will be no House of Commons.’
Similarly, when Abu Usamah of the Green Lane mosque in Birmingham bellowed on air: ‘Take that homosexual man and throw him off the mountain’, his apparently murderous homophobia was not a genuine expression of his prejudice, but a Truman Show illusion.
Ofcom found there was no evidence that Channel 4 had misled the audience. The station offered the police and CPS the chance to apologise. They refused. So Channel 4 sued for libel and after wasting hundreds of thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money, the authorities last week finally retracted and grovelled.
Normally they say why they are going after journalists. In the case of Channel 4, however, the CPS and West Midlands police have never condescended to explain their behaviour to the public. The National Secular Society wants an inquiry to force them into the open. Until we get one, the best explanation lies in Patani’s title: assistant chief constable (security and cohesion).
Since 9/11, not only police officers, but New Labour ministers, the Home Office, Foreign Office and pseudo-left journalists and councils have sought to promote ‘cohesion’ by appeasing Islamist groups which aren’t quite as extreme as al-Qaeda. They have turned them into the sole authentic representatives of British Islam, although as Haras Rafiq and Abdal-Hakim Murad show, they are nothing of the sort, and branded serious investigation into obscurantist politics as religious prejudice.
Elements within the government thought that if they could co-opt the Muslim Brotherhood and Jamaat-i-Islami and ignore their foul beliefs, they would isolate the terrorists to their right. Even Labour now admits that the policy has been a practical failure and moral shambles. Elsewhere, however, a mushy multicultural feeling persists that it is somehow ‘insensitive’ to apply universal values.
Far more vulnerable people than journalists are suffering from the double standard. Earlier this year, the Centre for Social Cohesion issued a report on honour killings and beatings. South Asian and Middle Eastern women’s groups reported an increasingly widespread trend. Officials who should treat all women equally were deciding that where their community’s religious and cultural practices conflicted with the law, the law had to give way.
Zalikha Ahmed, director of the Apna Haq refuge, told the report’s researchers: ‘We don’t visit the station when certain Asian officers are on because some of them are perpetrators and one of them said that he would not arrest someone who used force on his wife.’ A worker in a women’s group in the north, who requested anonymity for fear of reprisals, added she had been ‘appalled’ by an Asian ‘chief inspector who had offered to help a family track a girl down’.
The report’s authors noticed that women’s groups appeared to have problems with one force in particular. It was the West Midlands police.