Not for the first time, the BBC's Panorama has been an outrider for the Islamophobia that is now so ingrained in the British establishment argues Chris Nineham
Last night's Panorama on Islamic extremism in Britain, brought forward to take advantage of the furore generated by the terrible events in Paris, was weak and deeply irresponsible, even by the programme's own dubious standards.
While many are trying to insist on the limited and exceptional nature of violent extremism, reporter John Ware was doing precisely the opposite - claiming that a growing strain of 'non-violent Islamic extremism' was closely connected to terrorism and therefore encouraging precisely the kind of wider 'blame the Muslims' game that most people with any sense of responsibility or humanity want to avoid at all costs.
Ware had little actual evidence to support his claims, just a montage of decontextualised video clips and the opinion of a few barely known 'experts', some of whom appeared to need prompting to support his analysis.
Oh yes and one or two soundbites from David Cameron and Theresa May.
The main thrust of his opening argument was that 'puritanical' strains of Islam -- in other words Muslims that didn't like having fun - was leading directly to Jihadi violence. I kid you not.
After fifteen minutes or so, perhaps, to be generous, sensing the tenuousness of his argument, Ware changed tack. His second claim was that it was actually a 'sense of victimhood' - apparently propagated largely by Islamic media - that leads people to violent jihad.
Ware's obedient interviewees twisted and turned with him and endorsed this second 'theory', complaining about how many Muslims had the nerve to feel as if that they were discriminated against and were getting a raw deal, despite the obvious fact that they are all doing so well in an equal, fair and free society. They agreed too that such a sense of grievance was extremely dangerous.
Now, social and political context has been missing from much of the discussion around recent tragic events. But to discuss a 'sense of grievance' as a problem without even a cursory consideration of whether the grievances might be real takes condescension to new levels.
The programme didn't pause for a beat to consider whether the well documented levels of police harrasment against Muslims, clear economic marginalisation, or British participation in a series of invasions of Muslim countries might have fuelled this sense of grievance.
Or, heaven forbid, that these things might actually have contributed to the huge and worrying increase in terrorist attacks in the last decade and more. That would have introduced some balance, and some sanity, into the proceedings.
Ware's case was feeble and his lack of basic journalistic rigour and sensitivity on these issues is hardly a secret after his widely condemned attempt at a hatchet job on Lutfur Rahman's popular administration in the local London borough of Tower Hamlets.
In one sense it is tempting to dismiss the programme as an aberration.
But on these issues Panorama has regularly been an outrider for the official cavalcade. Islamophobia is now so ingrained in the British establishment, and the desire to avoid a serious discussion about the impact of the war on terror or discrimination runs so deep, that John Ware's approach may well be mainstreaming in the near future.
Chris Nineham is a founder member of Stop the War and Counterfire, speaking regularly around the country on behalf of both. He is author of The People Versus Tony Blair and Capitalism and Class Consciousness: the ideas of Georg Lukacs.
More articles from this author
- Who starts it? Violence, protest and what the police are really for
- Social movements can beat attacks on the right to protest - podcast
- 'America is back': Biden and the continuation of US imperialism
- It’s not the vaccine, it’s the vacuousness: polling, politics and the Starmer slump
- Biden's presidency, the warmakers and the anti-war movement in the US
- Conscious barbarism: Pompeo ramps up war on Yemen in final days of Trump administration
- The government will not deal with the Covid emergency. The labour movement must step up.