Sheikh Haitham Al-Haddad responds to BBC Panorama attacks

Sheikh Haitham Al-Haddad responds to Monday’s episode of Panorama, ‘After Paris: The Battle for British Islam’, where the programme demonised him for holding certain Islamic views.  

The recent Panorama documentary was a shameful attempt to divide Muslims in the UK into arbitrary labels and categories, which can then be abused by this Tory government and the right-wing.

Its misrepresentation of my views was a negligible misdemeanour when compared to the more dastardly crime of carrying out traditional schemes of divide and conquer, by presenting a dichotomy between a government-sponsored Islām and the Islām practiced by the mainstream majority.

I wish to address this fact first and foremost, and secondly I will point out some aspects which show the inaccuracies in presenting my thoughts and beliefs.

John Ware concocted a biased programme that was in support of a right-wing agenda to assert that there are two types of Islām in Britain.

British Islām, according to him, is what is consistent with (his) “British values” and “extremist” Islām is that which opposes British values, despite being non-violent.

The problem with “extremism”

Any serious attempt to investigate this matter would first consider what the government’s definition of extremism actually is.

Having done so, it would be evident that what the government has decided to label as “extreme” is totally arbitrary and open to abuse. It defines extremism as opposition to British values.

Yet not once did the government or the Panorama programme define ‘British values’. So, immediately, it is clear to any objective person that the term ‘extremism’ is subjective and open to abuse—as we have seen. The programme purposefully overlooked this key point.

The most hard-fought value that came out of the British revolution was the freedom of religion and thought. Yet we now have a government and an agenda-driven BBC reporter trying to criminalise those that practice that very same British value. It has manufactured labels that divide a minority religious group, and sanctioned one version of Islām that sits well with the right-wing agenda of robbing us of our freedom of thought and religion, while trying to present genuine orthodox Islamic beliefs as criminal.

BBC reporter John Ware
BBC reporter John Ware

An excruciating result of demonising normative Islamic beliefs and acts can be seen in the countless cases of attacks on Muslims who display symbols of their faith. The example of Nahid Almanea comes to mind, who went for a walk in her local park in Colchester. She was not doing anything out of the ordinary for a woman in Britain, other than dress in the Muslim headscarf and long dress.

Yet she was targeted for her identity as a Muslim, and stabbed no fewer than 16 times by an assailant, who then ran away leaving her to die in a pool of her own blood. Nahid did not practice any form of ‘extremist’ Islām, she merely practiced the orthodox understanding of Islām like the rest of the 99% of the Muslims. Yet her attacker saw her as an extremist because normal Islamic practice has been demonised in the media to the point of dehumanisation.

Through this labelling of normal practices and beliefs of Muslims as ‘extreme’, the Islām of the majority of Muslims is being attacked. Such as, for instance, gender segregation at Muslim gatherings or simply stating a clear-cut belief that homosexual acts are a sin in Islām. There is a clear attempt being made to almost criminalise certain aspects of being a Muslim. John Ware’s programme was seeking to help this process.

The programme’s whitewashing the debate reached intolerable levels. In order to avoid the elephant in the room, that it may be government policy and the War on Terror which seems to have increased terrorism around the world and is in fact to blame for the rise in actual violent extremism, it sought to blame Muslims for having a victim mentality. Being angered over illegal wars and gross miscarriages of justice conducted in the name of freedom and democracy is what John Ware would have us believe is a victim mentality.

Furthermore, the discrimination and Islamophobia against Muslims in the UK is not something we will be silenced over. John Ware demonstrated clearly his political allegiances by declaring that the Tories would crack down on non-violent extremists. The BBC effectively allowed him not only to promote the Tories and encourage voting for them in the upcoming election, but to do so using the most potent tool in the far right toolkit: irrational fear.

Misrepresentation

The programme claimed that I declined an interview. This is false. We were in conversations with Panorama but I suspect the programme makers wanted to cynically capitalise on the events in Paris and they released the programme sooner than scheduled before we could agree a suitable time and terms. The programme sought to demonise me by showing imagery of crimes committed by ISIS, such as beheadings and the events in Paris, in-between clips of myself.

Sheikh Haitham al Haddad
Sheikh Haitham al Haddad

The programme purposefully quoted me out of context. A clear example is shown with the clip suggesting I asserted that democracy is ‘filthy’. In the whole video I was actually encouraging people to participate in the 2011 elections and I was responding to some Muslims who believe that we should not participate in Western democracy because it is ‘filthy’. I was illustrating the attitude of some who may disapprove of political participation—many of whom are of course not even Muslims.

It is a matter of public record that I have already responded to this particular clip. I was in fact one of the first orthodox Islamic scholars to encourage voting in Britain. John Ware most likely sourced these from a well-known racist website and, quite frankly, this was fitting for the type of programme he made.

Another deliberate misrepresentation was in another video clip of me referring to ‘this equality’ as ‘evil’. Again, the programme did so in order to give the impression that what I meant by ‘equality’ is the common political and philosophical usage of the term, referring to equality ‘in status, rights, or opportunities’.

However, as it is clear for anyone watching the video or referring to my numerous, clearly expressed views in the public domain, this cannot be further from the truth. I was in fact obviously referring to a growing childish, irrational and frankly misogynistic literal interpretation of ‘equality’ which demands women act exactly like men.

Genuine open, honest debate.

It is important to stress that just like not everyone will agree completely on their interpretations of ‘British values’, likewise those Muslims subscribing to mainstream, orthodox Islamic values will also disagree with others on their interpretations of ‘British values’.

panoramaFirstly, Muslims who are part and parcel of British society are just as much entitled as anyone else to contribute to what ‘British values’ actually are and how they are applied.

Secondly, the inevitable differences of opinion among us must never be used as an excuse to silence Muslims or any other stakeholders from this debate, under the xenophobic pretext of fear, national security and ‘terrorism’.

It is important to stress that the differences between Muslim beliefs and some western values, need not be a reason for violence. I strongly believe in peaceful social cohesion. This requires mutual respect, decency and compassion for all. This means allowing a space for genuine, honest debate, not an intellectual dictatorship that criminalises a Muslim for simply having different opinions—essentially being Muslim. This is indeed the best solution to resolve conflict and the problem of terrorism.

Finally, to be clear, a peaceful society that accepts Muslims for who they are is what all Muslims desire. The sooner the right wing in this country accepts that Muslims and Islām are part of Britain and British society the better.

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