Muslim is the new Black

On Thursday the Home Secretary John Reid visits Leytonstone (in east London) to deliver a speech at a Muslim outreach program. He gets heckled by an “angry and maladroit” Muslim man who then gets bustled out. For the rest of the day all I see on the major news networks (BBC, ITN, SKY etc) is the Reid speech and the angry heckler. But this is clearly no ordinary heckler. The press, it seems, know all about him and he in turn knows how to address a microphone. The angry Muslim turns out to be one Abu Izadeen, a Jamaican convert and former spokesman for al-Ghurabaa, the splinter group of a splinter group of Hizbut Tahrir that calls itself the Saviour Sect.

We could end the story there. Reid would walk away vindicated, feeling that his message was efficacious and timely. Middle England’s stereotype of Muslims as hostile and belligerent thugs would be reinforced (nothing new there). We just have to accept that public events between the government and the Muslim community are going to get hijacked by nutters and extremists. What can you do, this the nature of democracy. But the story of the angry heckler doesn’t end there. Its one thing to have extremists hijack public events but why would you subsequently invite Abu Izadeen to a radio interview and have him strut his offensive views and auto-suggest they’re also held by all British Muslims?

Barry Humphrys could answer that question. On Friday morning he interviews the heckler on Radio 4’s Today programme. The next 20 minutes the BBC gives a man with an extremist and offensive interpetation of Islam the opportunity to say he acts as a spokesman for all Muslims. You can listen to the interview for yourself.

In the subsequent uproar, the BBC has managed to heap on itself much criticism for the Today show, and deservedly so, I think. I’m a great believer that the Corporation is generally a force for good. And I have to confess that if there is one British institution that engenders feelings of passionate territorial patriotism in me, it would be “Beeb Aunty”. But the Friday’s Today programme exposes the BBC’s complete lack of understanding of the difference between Islamist politics and Muslims in Britain.

The interview was a sad joke and showed up Humphrys as being depressingly clueless about the politics of groupuscules such as the al Ghurabaa, Hizbut Tahrir, al Muhajiroun etc. But I suspect that BBC regards these groups as overtly religious but conflicted individuals rather than an offensive and criminal subculture analogous to the nutters in the BNP. By the time Humphrys, exasperated and out-manouvered, all but shouted “why not go and live in Saudi Arabia then” at his interviewee, I knew he had lost the plot and the argument. Someone should have briefed Humphrys that this line of questioning, apart from being racist, is trivial stuff for the extremist British-born Muslim.

I’m not suggesting the BBC should not have nutters and cranks on their programmes. Where the Today programme fails is its failure to identify where these nutters are on the map of Islamist politics and then to take take them on as politicised groups rather than as a single “outraged Muslim” person. They should have had a “moderate” voice on there to contextualise the rants by the angr