The Northern and Shell Building
10 Lower Thames Street
9th November 2009
Dear Mr Hill,
We are writing concerning recent coverage in your newspaper of a tiny protest in central London planned for last Saturday (31st October) by an ultra extreme Islamist splinter group, al-Muhajiroun – a protest which did not, in fact, take place.
Starting with a front page article entitled ‘Now Muslims Demand Full Sharia Law’ on 15th October, The Express, sadly carried no fewer than six articles in which al-Muhajiroun leader Anjem Choudary’s propaganda was reported as fact. For example, although al-Muhajiroun failed to convince much more than 100 people to attend their re-launch event in June, The Express repeated his claim that they would be able to attract as many as 5,000 people to their protest last weekend and, published alongside this article, The Express carried propaganda images produced by al-Muhajiroun of how they would like London to look under their understanding of Islam.
We have worked with some of your journalists on various stories and found this reportage to be out of kilt with previous experiences.
More concerning is your paper’s failure to identify this group as being entirely unrepresentative of British Muslims, a failure which risks fanning the flames of right-wing extremism. For example, on 15th October you used the headline ‘Now Muslims Demand Full Sharia Law’ whilst your article on the day of the protest, 31st October, ‘Uproar as Fanatics Go On March For Sharia Law in UK’ opened referring to “A Muslim march to promote sharia law” and repeated Choudary’s claim to be “Britain’s chief sharia law judge”. This could easily give the impression to your readers that British Muslims respect and follow Anjem Choudary and share his desire to turn Britain into his medieval vision of an Islamic state.
However, Choudary is not “Britain’s chief sharia law judge”. He has no religious qualifications and he has no more than a handful of followers. Indeed, when he appeared on the BBC’s ‘The Big Questions’ with Quilliam’s director Maajid Nawaz, Choudary revealed that he does not even understand basic religious Arabic – he got wrong the derivation of the word “Islam”.
On 16th October your paper featured an editorial ‘Moderate Muslim Majority Must Confront Extremism’. In this editorial you wrote:
Police say that Islam4uK cannot be stopped from holding a rally in London later this month. In that case, it would be hugely encouraging were moderate Muslims to organise a much larger counter-demonstration that stressed their support for British law.
While there have certainly been criticisms of Islam4uK by more moderate groups, there is no sign of any such event taking place. It is the emerging tragedy of British Islam that moderates appear unable to marginalise extremists or to offer sufficient reassurance to the non-Muslim majority.
In fact, many Muslim groups came together to counter al-Muhajiroun’s protest. Groups including British Muslims for Secular Democracy, the Islamic Society of Britain, Muslims for UK and various south London Muslim institutions all mobilized Muslims who are horrified by al-Muhajiroun’s extremism and want to help marginalise them. Despite your paper’s calls for such initiatives to be organized, when they were organized they received no coverage.
Instead, The Express carried another article (‘British Muslims are Going to Hell’, 1st November) which repeated, uncritically, yet another publicity stunt from al-Muhajiroun.
We understand that the antics of Anjem Choudary and his small band of not-so-merry men make for dramatic reading, especially when accompanied by provocative mock-up images of their dystopian vision of London. However, it is irresponsible to portray them as anything other than an extreme minority of Britain’s Muslim population and it is unfair to call on moderate Muslims to challenge al-Muhajiroun and then fail to provide coverage when they do so.
We would be glad to meet with you and your journalists to discuss these concerns in person and to assist them in distinguishing extreme Islamist groups like al-Muhajiroun from the Muslim mainstream in this country.
Maajid Nawaz Ed Husain