Faisal Bodi: 'Panorama' was a hatchet job on Muslims

Anyone who didn't meet the programme's standard was an extremist

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That's an apt description of the political and media reaction to the July bombings. Instead of directing the heat at politicians whose neo-colonial and Islamophobic motives led Britain into a quagmire in Iraq, the chattering classes have been digging the nation into an ever bigger hole by pointing the finger at its Muslim minority. Notwithstanding fitful spurts of interest in foreign policy, "the problem with Islam" has become the dominant narrative. Whether it's Salman Rushdie arguing for an Islamic reformation or the Metropolitan Police Commissioner Ian Blair asking the community to get on side in the war against terrorism, a determined effort is afoot to keep Muslims and their faith in the blame frame, and our politicians out.

So far, the wave of Islamophobia has taken in Muslim schools, multiculturalism and dodgy mosques. As influential Muslim opinion formers, outspoken imams, dubbed "hate preachers", were among the first culprits to be fingered.

Alleged to be the intellectual stimulus for potential suicide bombers, they have been earmarked for removal. Isolate the leadership and the disciples will follow reads one of Tony Blair's "changing" rules of the game.

The policy appears to have been taken up with a vengeance by the makers of BBC's Panorama programme, the latest instalment of which sought to expose the Muslim Council of Britain as a wolf in sheep's clothing. It accused the umbrella group of speaking with a forked tongue, saying it was opposed to terrorism while its affiliates encouraged it from the pulpits and in their publications.

The evidence for Panorama's disturbing conclusion rested on the shocking discovery that the MCB's affiliates believed in the supremacy of Islam over other faiths, the subordination of politics to religion, and martyrdom.

While we might chuckle at Panorama's revelatory finding that Muslims, like Christians, Jews and Hindus, consider their religion to be superior to its rivals, Muslims will detect a more ulterior motive, namely an attempt to force a cornerstone of secular liberalism - moral relativism - on the community.

The inference most Muslims will have drawn from a programme savaging orthodox Islamic positions is that it is not so much the MCB but Islam itself that is being put on trial (when did we ever see a documentary grilling rabbis on some of the vile beliefs some rabbis have historically held about gentiles?).

Subjecting Islamic beliefs to critical scrutiny is not at issue here. Sunday's programme was a hatchet job cum propaganda piece, based on demolishing decontextualised beliefs, and demonising those who hold them in the court of secular liberalism. The programme makers had decided the standard they wanted Islam to meet and anybody who didn't was an extremist.

The strongest example came when the head of the MCB, Iqbal Sacranie, was challenged about his organisation's "extremist" refusal to attend the national Holocaust remembrance service earlier this year. The MCB's stated reason for declining was the exclusivist nature of the ceremony, focusing as it did on simply Jewish victims - it had argued for the event to mark all genocidal campaigns and victims of occupation, especially those in the Muslim world.

Leaving aside the exploitation of the Holocaust by Israel and its supporters to perpetuate Palestinian suffering, the MCB's more inclusive position is one that is held by Muslims and non-Muslims alike. What then, one wondered, was the object of this interrogation, which also took in Sacranie's decision to attend a memorial service for Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the founder of the Palestinian resistance movement Hamas?

The MCB believes that it is the victim of a concerted political campaign to blackball it for its opposition to Israeli oppression. "It seems that to qualify as so-called 'moderates', Muslims are required to remain silent about Israeli crimes in Palestine, otherwise they are automatically labelled as 'extremists'," it wrote in a recent press release.

They would not be the first to fall foul of a cynical alliance of secular liberals and hard-line Zionists seeking to draw political advantage from 7/7. After 7/7, the question of where Muslims fit into British society is being reduced to two criteria: their willingness to downscale the importance they attach to their religious values, and the extent to which they support the Palestinians in their unequal struggle against the Israeli state.

In as far as Muslims refuse to do either, they will continue to find themselves on the receiving end of a modern-day Inquisition.

Faisal Bodi is the news editor of the Islam Channel

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