Roshan Muhammed Salih is 5Pillars editor. You can follow him on Twitter here.
Roshan Muhammed Salih argues that Muslims need to take an urgent stand on media Islamophobia, and they would do well to start by boycotting LBC radio station.
There is a general acceptance in the Muslim community that the mainstream media is institutionally Islamophobic, from its promotion of war against Muslim countries to its demonisation of Islam and Muslims at home.
But we have yet to come up with an effective strategy to combat that Islamophobia.
On the one hand, you have those who say we must engage as much as possible with the mainstream media to get our voices across. There is obvious merit in this approach but any seasoned activist will tell you that the odds are often stacked against them in terms of the way news and debates are presented.
For example, right-wing newspapers will write an overwhelmingly Islamophobic article about, let’s say, counter-terrorism, and then get a “Muslim voice” to comment on it to give it a bit of balance. Or a TV news station or debate show will invite a Muslim guest on and then subject them to “do you condemn this or that” type questions, or treat them completely differently to other guests on the same programme.
So by appearing on these shows or giving quotes to certain newspapers we often end up just reinforcing a certain narrative without intending to.
On the other hand, there are those who say we should disengage from the media and focus on building capacity within our own communities.
I’m more sympathetic to this type of thinking because I think we need to organise ourselves first before we can present a coherent narrative to the rest of society; but I also see the need to engage with mainstream society given that we are British citizens like everyone else.
What’s more, there is no way we could enforce a total boycott of the mainstream media because Muslim groups simply wouldn’t agree to it.
LBC radio station
So how about a third way – a partial boycott of the media instead of a blanket one? A bit like the city of Liverpool has enforced against The Sun.
If we singled out one particular media outlet for a boycott and got all (or at least most) of the major British Muslim organisations to shun that outlet we would be sending out a clear message that Islamophobia is not acceptable and there will be consequences for it.
A joint letter, perhaps, signed by the major Muslim organisations attacking a certain outlet could not be ignored by the mainstream media. Or at least not all of it. And it would begin a real debate about media Islamophobia itself.
This type of boycott would also be “doable” because it would focus on one particular outlet which Muslims agree is blatantly Islamophobic, rather than a range of outlets which they may have differing views on.
So in effect we get the best of all worlds – we take a united and effective stand against media Islamophobia while still engaging with the vast majority of media organisations.
And I propose this outlet should be London’s LBC radio station. I could think of others, such as the Daily Mail or Nicky Campbell’s BBC Big Questions, but let’s just stick to LBC for the time being.
Regular listeners to LBC will know that it is jam-packed full of right-wing presenters and commentators who see Muslims through the lens of counter-terrorism and promote a Zionist view of the world. These presenters include Nick Ferrari and Iain Dale. More outrageously, LBC has two presenters on its books who seem to be there simply to provoke London’s Muslim population – Maajid Nawaz and Katie Hopkins.
This right-wing slant is all the more galling when you consider that there are more than one million Muslims in London, which translates to around one in nine of the total population.
I’m not pretending this boycott would eliminate Islamophobia in the media and it would be a relatively tame course of action anyway. But it would make a clear point to the media and it would also galvanise Muslim organisations to work together against a common enemy.
And I’m a firm believer that it is a good thing to clearly define who your enemy is because it allows you to define who you are and what you stand for, as well as rallying your supporters against a common opponent.
So effectively I’m proposing that spokespeople from Muslim organisations and prominent commentators refuse to appear on LBC. And anyone who does so would effectively be a scab. And in turn I hope that campaign would persuade Muslim callers to stop ringing up the station to participate in their call-in shows.
But unfortunately my experience of the Muslim community is that we all have our own petty agendas and are incapable of uniting over issues that affect us all. And this is a clear failure of leadership and an indictment of our responsibility to those who rely on us to be their voice.
So I’m not holding my breath to see this partial boycott enacted. And I guess that media Islamophobia will continue unabated.
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