Saturday, October 11, 2008

Letter of Complaint to the Moral Maze

This is the letter to be sent to the producer of the Moral Maze. Please read it and if you would like to add your name then e-mail me at bradfordmuslimatyahoodotcodotuk with your name and city of residence such as 'Tony Cameron, London'. I will collect the names til Saturday 18 October after which I will send the letter.

Dear sir/madam,

We are writing to you about Melanie Phillips’ appearances as a panellist on Radio 4’s The Moral Maze. We believe that the decision to continue with Ms. Phillips as a panellist seriously undermines the credibility and authority of the programme. This is for several reasons which we will explain.

Ms. Phillips, it would be fair to say, is a controversial figure in the British media. This in itself is not problematic. What is problematic and damaging for the programme is if a panellist crosses the line of acceptability by pushing a range of discriminatory viewpoints. We would suggest that Ms. Phillips has done this recently in two ways which seriously undermines the integrity of The Moral Maze.

Our first concern relating to Ms. Phillips’ appearances centres on her disagreement with the British government’s counter-terrorism strategy which holds that the problem is with an ideological and distorted form of Islam, not Islam itself. Ms. Phillips wrote in The Daily Mail on 8 July of this year that

“[t]he Government believes that Islamic radicalism can be countered by teaching authentic Islam to Muslims. But since Islamic radicalism is based upon those very authentic religious precepts, this will undoubtedly have the effect of radicalising people who otherwise would never have thought in this way”.

This quotation, and its simple and lucid message, is in explicit contradiction to the following correction to an article written by Ms. Phillips for The Observer newspaper, dated May 26 2006:

“The extract below may have given the impression that Ms Phillips's book connects all British Muslims to a campaign of violence, whereas she stresses that the vast majority are peaceful and law-abiding. She also draws a distinction between Islam, which should be respected, and Islamism, which, she believes, is the use of that religion for violent ends”.

To put it simply, Ms. Phillips now believes that the problem is with authentic Islam itself.

Secondly, Ms. Phillips in the article on 8 July 2008 stated: “The reason so many older British Muslims are traditionally moderate is that they were brought up in the Asian subcontinent under a tamed form of Islam…” It is wild animals that are tamed or domesticated. This opinion is not only untrue, but also deeply offensive.

Our contention is that while it is perfectly acceptable for Ms. Phillips (or anyone else who shares such extreme and unpalatable views) to appear as a witness on The Moral Maze, it undermines the credibility of the programme when she appears as a panellist. Not only is it totally disenfranchising to Muslims like myself, it is actually unfair to a range of debates, some of which focus acutely on Islam, Muslims, multiculturalism and integration. This is especially true given that The Moral Maze does not have a Muslim panellist, has never had a Muslim panellist, and now includes an Asian panellist who has publicly stated that Islamophobia is a myth (Prospect Magazine, February 2005). We fund your programme through the license fee, but because of the way you have decided to structure your programme in content and design, we unfairly receive the returns of your work because of our faith.

How can a programme which spends a considerable amount of time discussing Muslims in Britain continue like this with one panelist who believes that Muslims should be tamed, another that Islamophobia is a myth and no actual Muslim representation? We contend that the way in which the programme is set up is unfair, offensive and discriminatory towards Muslims. What is your response?

Yours sincerely,

Andy Disgruntled, Tunbridge Wells;


Mark Damazer, Controller, Radio 4.

Roger Bolton, Feedback, Radio 4.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

More on Mel P, the Moral Maze and the BBC

I recently asked the BBC under a freedom of information request about the number of times Melanie Phillips has been on the Moral Maze since 2001, how many times she has spoken about Muslims and Islam and how much she has been paid to do so? I asked this question because I could not believe that the BBC - a tax-funded organisation - was paying someone who believes that Muslims should be tamed as 'we did in the Raj' and that the problem with Muslims is to do with Islam itself, not some ideological version of Islam.

She appears on 'The Moral Maze' which is one of BBC radio 4's main programmes tackling the critical issues of the week. Responding to the major moral dilemmas of the day, the programme invites numerous witnesses - usually people directly involved in the debate - to answer questions from a series of panellists. Melanie Phillips is one of these panellists. This puts her into a tax-funded position of authority and because many of the debates and programmes since 2001 have been about Muslims, she has been placed in a position of authority in these debates by the BBC. But Muslims are tax payers too. Muslims have never appeared (as far as I know) on the Moral Maze as panellists but we have appeared as witnesses, numerous times. So in this court of public opinion, the BBC has decided to set up a situation in which we are regularly judged upon but can never take part in (be integrated into) the judgement making. This is while the BBC has run presumably thousands of stories over the years about 'the lack of integration of Muslims', alas, if only they could see the beam in their own collective eye. I will return to this cultural beam later.

Muslims are tax payers too, and the BBC in its wisdom has refused to answer my questions on how many times she has appeared, has spoken in a position of authority on Islam and Muslims and how much she has been paid. The Daily Mail - for which Melanie Philips writes - recently complained about Alistair Campbell being paid by the BBC, insiders estimate that he has been paid £50,000 by the BBC over the last two years. Well, since the BBC won't tell me how much Melanie Phillips has been paid over the last seven years, I am going to guess. I guess that a nationally syndicated journalist appearing as a panellist on a flagship programme for radio 4 at peak times for about an hour is paid about £1,000 per programme. There are approximately forty Moral Mazes per year, so that's £40,000 per year. This is then multiplied by seven so that's £280,000 since 2001 from tax payer's money. It's a guess, so it could be more than this and it could be less than this. I believe though that this guess is wrong and that we have the right to know since she she publicly calls for taming people like me, changing the way I practise my religion and the legitimacy of torture. I call for a collective complaint against the Moral Maze by Muslims of all professions and persuasions. It is not acceptable that the BBC uses tax payer's money to put someone into a position of authority like this. Those who would like to be a part of this, please get in touch with me. Many Muslims I know get very upset by stories that they hear about torture carried out by US forces such as the alleged torture of Aafia Siddiqui, well, Melanie Phillips argues that it is legitimate as she has recently done on the Moral Maze.

As if to make matters worse and to prove the point, radio 4's Moral Maze decided to invite an Asian person on as a panellist: Kenan Malik, who has recently started. Kenan Malik is only really involved in one debate in this country and that is the 'race and multiculturalism' debate. He also has a healthy interest in Muslims, though is not far as as I am aware a Muslim. In fact, his involvement in this debate includes a programme for Channel 4 (a channel which was created to make cultural space for Britian's minorities!) on - wait for it - 'the Islamophobia myth'. Kenan Malik wrote this week for the Guardian in which he suggested that Muslims should put up with the pain of being offended. This is the multicultural addition to the Moral Maze, a brilliant example of the assimilationist ethic at work.

Anyway, in this article, Malik refers to numerous examples of self-censorship at work. What surprised me, and I suppose didn't surprise me, was the number of instances of anti-Muslim representation in culture - which if one treats culture as some form of organism shows that anti-Muslim representation is alive and well, whether it is open or not. Is this important? Of course it is. Is someone seriously suggesting that culture and violence are not related?

Anyway, back to the complaint. If you would like to contribute to a letter to the BBC Trust and the Department of Culture, Media and Sport which funds the BBC against the Moral Maze then please get in touch with me. The Moral Maze has no credibility in Muslim eyes and it is time for it to change.

You should also keep in mind that another section of the BBC is at present being investigated for anti-Muslim bias by Stephen Whittle. I would suggest that anti-Muslim bias is not solely located within one department. The Moral Maze and radio 4 may retort that there are no middle class Muslims who are capable enough to take part in these debates. The Guardian has proved this to be a lie through its Comment is Free pages which have allowed many Muslims to enter into debates which affect them and argue their corner in fair terms. The Guardian, though it is not tax-funded, is fairer than the BBC in this regard. I am sure that if the BBC tries hard enough, may be even trains a few people, it will find that there are people out there who can step into these positions. This is after all the great lie in the freedom of speech debate. Freedom of speech without the power and ability to get your point across is of no use to anyone. Kenan Malik may complain of a lack of free speech, but it is he who occupies a position of power in a debate that affects others.