Monday, October 01, 2007

Islam is Peace

Whoever kills an innocent soul.. it is as if he killed the whole of mankind, And whoever saves one, it is as if he saved the whole of mankind [The Holy Quran, 5:32]

Today sees the official launch of the Islam is Peace advertising campaign supported by the Muslim Council of Britain, coinciding with the law banning incitement to religious hatred coming into force. News of the campaign features on BBC Online:
Organisers say research shows many Britons associate Islam with terrorism. The group insists that the religion demands that its followers live in peace with their neighbours within non-Muslim societies .

The use of the verb "insist" is interesting - it would seem to imply the BBC itself is not entirely convinced, and what with its seemingly endless Panoramo programmes on Muslim extremism - one is broadcast on BBC 2 at 8:30pm this evening - no one should be too suprised at that. The adjunct "within non-Muslim societies" is odd - are we to assume that within Muslim socieities, Muslims and non-Muslims squabble?

Fair to the BBC, there is evidently goodwill towards Muslims in some quarters, not least on the Religions and Ethics section of its website. In addition, following tonight's Panorama on HT, there is a real treat - an hour long programme about the Shariah produced by a Muslim film maker. Hence, it's about the 'real' Shariah, not the Islamophobic fantasy of endless beheadings and amputations that somehow ignores the lethal injectionings and electrocutions of black people in the USA.

Back to Islam in Peace. The Press release(pdf) includes the following statement:
The Campaign aims to correct misconceptions about British Muslims and their faith and help create a more tolerant and inclusive society. In July this year, full-page advertisements were placed under the banner 'Muslims United' in leading tabloid and broadsheet papers clearly stating the Muslim community's unequivocal condemnation of all acts of terrorism. The advertising campaign on the tube, trains, stations and airports will emphasise the diversity and positive contribution of British Muslims and the integral role they play in everyday life.

Ifhat Shaheen-Smith , one of the campaign organisers said, "in the current atmosphere of suspicion and fear about Islam and British Muslims, truth is often confused with fabrications and stereotypes. Prejudice has become entrenched and sensationalistic media reporting is creating a climate of paranoia. There is a desperate need for openness, mutual understanding and a mature debate."

Through images of Muslims in various fields and professions, from medicine to the police service and from art to football, the adverts seek to emphasise that British Muslims are proud of their identity whilst playing their full role in making Britain a more united and prosperous society.

This advertising campaign will need to be a sustained one if it is counter the inevitable reactionary nonsense from the usual suspects. As the official launch is taking place in London today, there is not much in the news as yet. The website itself is worth a look, although the "who are we?" slick video with its close up faces, weepy background music and cute little kids is a little too sick-bags-at-the-ready for my taste.

I certainly welcome the campaign and the planned nationwide tour. However, we need much more than a single, loud, alternative message - we need loud, alternative messages - i.e. more grass roots online responses. In the UK, there would seem to be a particular paucity of individual bloggers committed to tackling Islamophobia in the media, to the extent I can count them on one hand- Indigo Jo Blogs, Rolled-up Trousers, Yahya Birt and of course the wonderful Islamophobia Watch. Okay, and me.

Part of the problem, I suspect, is the attitude reflected in some of the negative comments I've heard expressed by Muslim clevers about grassroot groups being "arrogant and ignorant" etc - however, you rarely hear of such people volunteering to advice such groups. If campaigns like this are going to work, they need to empower ordinary people to generate their own responses. Let's stop relying so much on leaders and wheelers and dealers and do something ourselves. Beginning today.

Ps. If you're blogging on Muslims in the UK media and are not mentioned here, then drop me a comment or email me via my website.

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