Thank you Trevor Phillips, you’ve made me much more radical than before

Trevor Phillips was the former chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission

anjum anwarAnjum Anwar is a Dialogue Development Officer at Blackburn Cathedral. You can follow her on Twitter @AuntyG

Anjum Anwar, who took part in the Trevor Phillips Channel 4 documentary on British Muslims which aired last week, says that the deeply flawed programme has made her more radical than before.

The Channel 4 documentary started with a big bang. Literally. Images of terrorism and collapsing buildings were plastered over our screens with the obnoxious comment: “Our findings will shock our viewers.” I sat there thinking: “Hell! Do I really need to put myself through this? What did I say or not say?”

Twenty-four hours before the Channel 4 documentary was aired I received a call from someone who was involved in recording the programme, informing me that it was being presented by Mr Trevor Phillips and was not being aired as originally thought. I thought to myself: “Why the hell are you telling me this now?”

To be honest I couldn’t remember when it was recorded and what I’d said; the only thing I remembered was that the team was with me for a few hours. The caller also said that “your contribution was positive.” Well, positive for whom?! I prayed that it wouldn’t be positive for Trevor Phillips who doesn’t seem to understand the difference between integration and assimilation!

Sometimes I wonder if there is “unconscious bias” in his approach to the subject matter. Is he speaking from his own community’s assimilation perspective in UK society which has left black communities searching for their own particular identity? I have repeatedly said that I as a Muslim am not interested in “assimilation” but I’m fully integrated in my country as a Muslim.

How else could I – as a headscarved Muslim woman – walk into somebody else’s sacred space (Blackburn Cathedral) and survive for ten years?

However, that doesn’t mean that I will not challenge certain unjust policies of my government whether that be Prevent, or international policies impacting local communities, such as what’s happening in Palestine or Kashmir. Or for that matter a lack of religious and political leadership in my own faith community, or local politicians who rule their communities through divisive policies.

Integration v assimilation

What really came through the documentary for me was that the only way to be fully “integrated” into our society was to accept “certain chosen” liberal, democratic values. Well, as I have often said I have no issues with “certain values” as long as those values do not contradict God’s laws. When I was asked about homosexuality for the documentary I stated clearly that the act of homosexuality is forbidden in Islam and I am driven by my faith values. But that doesn’t mean that we can become judge and jury and harm those on the streets who are homosexuals.

The documentary interviewed 1,081 Muslims and in so doing demonised three million. The comments about Sharia councils were very telling; I just wonder if similar questions could be asked of our Jewish friends about their Beth Din Courts which address some of the Jewish Faith issues. Although I guess the Beth Din Courts are probably better organized than some of our Sharia Councils.

British Muslims are constantly targeted by the mainstream media
British Muslims are constantly targeted by the mainstream media

Constructive criticism is always welcome but I think Channel 4 missed the point about Sharia Councils. Without Sharia Councils Muslim women in particular would not be able to address some of the issues that they face in our society, e.g. Islamic divorce. I will of course stand by my remarks about Sharia and about segregation, although the documentary did not elaborate on the context of them.

Of course there is segregation in a town like Blackburn, but the question is why? And I have constantly said that we cannot resolve the situation of communities living in pockets if we do not tackle the question of “white flight.”

I found the documentary flawed on so many levels that at the end (after much reflection) I decided maybe, just maybe, Trevor Phillips in his naivety has done me a good turn! He has made me much more of a “radical” than before! The documentary has pushed me to investigate my own faith much more deeply and be the “Muslim” that Mr Phillips seems to be so afraid of – a thinking Muslim, a just Muslim who will never compromise on her faith perspective.

On the other hand, has the documentary alienated some to the point of no-return? Has it  killed community cohesion? Has it caused irreparable damage to communities who are trying desperately to build bridges?

I look forward to an apology from those who carried out the survey and concluded that “Muslims who have a separatist view about how they want to live in Britain are far more likely to support terrorism than those who do not,” quoted by Mr Phillips.

I am now wondering how far Ken Livingstone was right in 2006 when he made the comment about Mr Phillips that “he is pandering to the right” so much that he “would soon join the BNP.”

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