Even the BBC needs to tone down the shrill

Muslims, Muslims, Muslims! It must be difficult for the bottom-brow press. So desperate are they for scary stories about angry swarthy types shouting and threatening to take over the world that they have to resort to exaggerating and making stuff up when reality refuses to provide them with the copy.

Three lonely thickoes with bits of A4 can become a mob of protesters. Someone mentioning Muslim friends in an offhand way when complaining about a vent chugging out cooking smells into his flat can be turned into a story about Muslims forcing the vent to be banned. When pigs are taken out of toy farmyards because of some misguided fool wanting to protect Jews and Muslims, the mention of Jewish people can be ignored in favour of saying they were taken out because of Muslims. Job done.

It's actually worse than that. Newspapers are prepared to help out extremist groups if it'll provide them with a bit of copy and some scary pictures. A couple of weeks ago, twatty dickhead Anjem Choudhary's bunch of numpties - officially named 'Muslims Against Crusades' - apparently called up newspapers to publicise their dunderheaded poppy burning stunt. Instead of thinking, 'hey, these tools clearly need our help in publicising their stunt and the last thing we want is to actually help the extremists we hate so much, so sod them,' the press collectively thought, 'help spread the extremist message to a bigger audience and whip up their far right counterparts in return for pictures of shouty brown men burning things? I'll buy that for a dollar!'

A week later, the West Midlands Police Counter Terrorism Unit warned that EDL style shovelhead protests 'feed Islamic extremism'. Well, duh. So we come at full circle. Tabloid reporting very obviously inspires the EDL, with a recruitment video from a couple of years ago including a series of stills from scaremongering newspaper stories to whip up the mob, including a few about previous stunts by twatty dickhead Anjem Choudhary's bunch of numpties, surprisingly enough. When they're suitably riled, the EDL can drive people toward extremism, whose stunts can inspire the EDL and on and on in a cycle of dunderheaded, knuckle-dragging twattery.

A bunch of EDL even turned up to this latest stunt jump up and down shouting about the burning poppies and try to fight the people doing the burning. Funny that - the people who would have been talking about how backward and violent Muslims are because some of them might get violent over someone burning a Qur'an a few months ago now transformed into screaming, red, windmill-throwing balls of rage over something sacred to them being burned. My irony meter and internet cliche machine both exploded.

It's this sort of thing that inspired Hope Not Hate to write to the Daily Star, as the worst of the low-rent tabloids, and ask the paper to tone it down a bit. You can sign it too (so go on). It's apparently part of a longer campaign for responsible reporting in the media - a welcome campaign, even if it has about as much chance of working as the car I've built out of chipsticks and monkeybums.

So, this is the environment where the BBC, apparently above all that, produced this week's Panorama. While 'British schools, Islamic rules' didn't go in for as much farting around with the facts that the tabloids trailing the show did (saying children 'as young as six' are taught stuff that appears in textbooks for fifteen year olds, inventing scenarios of 'ranting fanatics preaching at them', although it did kind of separate Muslims and 'Brits' in the title), it didn't exactly cover itself in glory.

You'd expect a responsibly produced programme about Islamic extremism in the environment we live in to be very precise, meticulous in showing its working and absolutely careful to put everything in proper context. The programme attempted some half hearted stabs at this, but came up a bit short.

The first half, devoted to ordinary Muslim day schools, left so much open that I spent most of it saying 'how many does 'some' mean?', 'which schools said that?', 'how many is 'several'? Sure, you get reference to one Orthodox Jewish School saying something separatist, and vague references to Evangelical Christian schools saying something but I've forgotten exactly what those were because they were quickly swept away in favour of claims that 'several' Muslim schools do something or other and look! This one school invited someone who has said off colour things to a fundraiser where we're not going to tell you if pupils were present.

The second half, which addresses the Saturday schools and clubs that the tabloids jumped on is just as disappointingly vague. How do we know there are 40 of these organisations? How do we know 5,000 kids attend them? How many kids attend regularly? How many places teach the textbooks we're shown? In what context are the books taught? In what context do the books mean the objectionable things they say? Are they merely teaching that some nasty things exist in the Hadith and Sharia Law that are interpreted badly? How do we know?

A commenter here on the Engage website (usual caveats - I don't know much about Engage so I'm not necessarily endorsing them) claims that one phrase - the one about Jews looking like monkeys and pigs - is misquoted.  The commenter, Ahmad, has apparently complained to the BBC pointing out that, "The text shown actually says "... and the breakers of the Sabbath were punished by being morphed into monkeys and pigs...".  I have no way of knowing if this is right.  I have no way of knowing how this phrase is followed up in the book.  I have no way of knowing how this material is taught in the Saturday schools and clubs the programme is talking about.  The programme favours ominous music played over hidden camera footage of the books being collected instead of telling us properly.

Plus, in the context of religious fundamentalism, some of these horrible things aren't that horrible. Teaching kids that non-believers go to Hell or that your religion is the one true faith? What's more horrific about Muslims saying this than Christians?

It's a sorry state of affairs to be in where a programme like this qualifies as being among the most balanced you're likely to see. It leaves far too much to the imagination, which is easily influenced by creepy music and shaky hidden camera footage, and far too much goes unexplained. When we're being warned that right wing extremism is feeding Islamic extremism (which - along with exaggerated and alarmist coverage of ordinary Muslims - is feeding right wing extremism and on and on and on) we need an investigation like this to be thorough and authoritative.

Instead we have vague claims and infuriating 'aha! Found you out!' style finger pointing followed by scary music and hidden cameras recording someone picking up a book that might have said something nasty and antisemitic and might have been taught alongside some other books that might have said something else and might have been used to poison children's minds.

If there's a fire in a crowded theatre, you might want to do something about it. If you see a vague glow and you're not sure what it is, it's probably a good idea not to shout 'fire!' until you're sure. Especially if you're surrounded by two groups of idiots ready to fight whatever group starts fires with their chosen sacred object.

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