On 30th April 2009, Quilliam issued the following alert:
The Islam Channel is the largest satellite channel aimed specifically at British and European Muslims. Many of its speakers are Islamist extremists from organisations like Hizb ut-Tahrir who use the channel to promote intolerant and bigoted interpretations of Islam. Others are Wahhabi graduates of Saudi universities who have denied the Holocaust and promoted hatred of Shia Muslims. Other presenters are Islamists who have been suspended from their jobs in government due to their extremist statements or who are from organisations that the government has broken ties with due to their leading members’ alleged support for terrorism.
In recent weeks the Islam Channel programme ‘Ummah Talk’ has been hosted by Azad Ali, a civil servant who has been suspended since January for writing blogs on the website of Islamic Forum Europe (a Jamaat-e-Islami front-group) which have been interpreted as condoning terrorist attacks on British troops in Iraq – as well as other blogs supporting Hamas and advocating the re-creation of the Caliphate. Ali is also a trustee of the East London Mosque and in 2008, despite his extreme views, he was elected to the council of Liberty, the human rights pressure group.
Yasir Qadhi, a Wahhabi graduate of the University of Medina who has denied the Holocaust, is also a regular presenter on the Islam Channel’s religious programmes. Qadhi has said that “Hitler never intended to mass-destroy the Jews”, calling conventional accounts of the Holocaust “false propaganda” and adding that Jewish depictions of Hitler were “not correct”. Qahdi later retracted this speech, saying he had referenced anti-Semitic books by “mistake” and adding that “I firmly believe that the Holocaust was one of the worst crimes against humanity that the 20th century has witnessed”. Qahdi has however also denounced Shia Islam as “the most lying sect of Islam” and said that “the Shias are allowed to lie and it is their religion to lie”.
Inayat Bunglawala, from the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), is frequently a presenter on the Islam Channel’s ‘Politics and the Media’ programme. The Government recently broke off relations with the MCB after Daud Abdullah, its Deputy Secretary-General, signed a statement that denounced the Palestinian National Authority as “not eligible to represent the Palestinian people” on account of “giving up” jihad against Israel and which also potentially authorizes jihadist attacks on the Royal Navy. Earlier this year, Bunglawala complained to the BBC after they referred to the pro-jihadist cleric Abu Qatada as “an extremist”.
Several presenters on the Islam Channel are also active members of Hizb ut-Tahrir, a global movement which is dedicated to establishing a totalitarian state in which women and religious minorities would be systematically deprived of their basic human rights. Many of these speakers regularly use their shows to promote Hizb ut-Tahrir’s ideology. Islam Channel presenters who are members of Hizb ut-Tahrir include Sajid Varda, the host of last season’s ‘Saturday Night Live’ programme on the Islam Channel, Ibtihal Ismail Bsis, Aamna Durrani and Basharat Ali. Ironically, Basharat Ali and Ibtihal Ismail Bsis, despite HT’s rejection of the British legal system as “un-Islamic”, are both practicing lawyers.
Islam Channel claims to be committed to giving a platform to a range of views from across Britain’s Muslim and non-Muslim communities. However, one unfortunate side-effect of this laudable and broad-minded policy has been to give an undue prominence to Islamist voices that represent only a small minority of British Muslims. This over-representation has also led to other voices – for instance from the UK’s Shia community or from non-Islamist Muslim groups – being under-represented on the channel.
Later this year, the Islam Channel will organise its annual ‘Global Peace and Unity’ festival in London which will be attended by tens of thousands of British Muslims. Previous events (which have been partly funded with taxpayer money) have featured anti-Semitic speakers, Holocaust deniers and supporters of terrorist violence and gender apartheid – as a well as a range of hardline Wahhabi speakers – while moderate, tolerant Muslim voices have been sidelined.
This imbalance in favour of extremists on the Islam Channel and at its Global Peace and Unity Festival acts to the detriment of British Muslims. The Islam Channel is ideally placed to help foster the development of a British Muslim identity that contributes to wider society and which is comfortable in a secular, democratic and liberal country. This year’s Global Peace and Unity Festival should be a platform for showcasing the diversity of modern British Islam rather than becoming an occasion that creates more controversy and suspicion toward British Muslims. The Islam Channel can do better.