BBC Newsnight’s segment on who represents Islam and British Muslims was completely shambolic and an absolute travesty. Maajid Nawaz was faithfully summoned to produce a 6 minute film discussing the issues affecting the representation of British Muslims, followed by a panel debate with Maajid going head to head against Mo Ansar and Mehdi Hasan.
It is interesting that of all the people the BBC could have possibly chosen to make such a documentary, they chose Nawaz, a controversial figure who has a reputation for causing discord within the British Muslim community. If the BBC were serious about initiating such a discussion, they could have at least commissioned the documentary to an individual that British Muslims recognise as a member of the community, who is in touch with the issues they face on a daily basis.
In his film, Nawaz said he wanted to represent those within the Muslim community who fail to have their voices heard. Indeed, it is a noble intention, but it’s also rather ironic that one of the ‘voices’ he chose from the Muslim community in his segment was that of an ex-Muslim. As far as representation goes, all the personalities he chose for his film have received their fair share in the media limelight in the past; therefore, to say that he wished to ensure that these individuals are heard is somewhat absurd. Why didn’t Nawaz instead speak to those ordinary Muslims who go about their daily lives as British citizens? These are the people that need to be heard, and unfortunately they are the ones who are repeatedly ignored, primarily because they don’t provide the media with the sensationalism they require.
However, what subsequently unfolded was a shouting match between the three men. The glee on Paxman’s face couldn’t be disguised as they squabbled like children in a playground. I think it is fair to say that this wasn’t his finest moment in the office; Paxman has been renowned for keeping debates to the point and cornering his interviewees by preventing them from going off on tangents, but it seemed that he was overcome by his desire for a bit of entertainment. Furthermore, Newsnight has a reputation as a serious current affairs programme, where the views of leading public figures are thoroughly questioned. Given this to be the case, many people would have tuned in expecting to see a meaningful debate, but instead would have been left disappointed at the lack of decorum. If the BBC intended on having a serious debate about the representation of Muslims in Britain then they most certainly failed. If, on the other hand, they wished to stage a debate purely for the sake of entertainment value (which seems a likely possibility), then they definitely succeeded.
But it wasn’t a complete disaster. Amidst the mayhem, there were some interesting points raised. Mehdi Hasan perhaps raised the most profound point – when asked as to why there isn’t a wider representation of Muslims in Britain, he quite rightly pointed out that the media must take a considerable amount of blame for this. Ironically, for all that the media has sensationalised the lack of female representation amongst Muslims, the BBC themselves discarded the opportunity to engage with a Muslim woman, Myriam Francois-Cerrah, who is well-known for her views on British Muslims. Instead they opted for Mo Ansar and subsequently, an all-male panel.
Maajid Nawaz’s performance in the debate was particularly telling. British Muslims are well aware that in many ways, little has changed about Nawaz. The manner in which he constantly interrupted Mehdi Hasan with his belligerent attitude was no doubt something he acquired during his days with Hizb-ut-Tahrir, and it seems this has stuck with him, in spite of his constant renunciation of his previous ways. Moreover, those who are familiar with Anjem Choudary will only know too well that he too has a tendency to interrupt and speak over others. It seems that Nawaz has indeed taken a leaf out of Choudary’s book; after all, they’re both cut from the same cloth.
More importantly, given that Maajid Nawaz is a parliamentary candidate, I watched the debate wondering whether he holds the traits of an MP. One of the fundamental aspects of being a successful MP lies in speaking about a wide range of affairs affecting the British public, and presenting workable solutions to the problems we face living in Britain. It seems that all Nawaz can talk about is Muslims in Britain, and even then, many Muslims and even non-Muslim academics have heavily criticised his provocative views. That being said, in spite of my disagreeing with many of Nawaz’s assertions about British Muslims, that’s not the reason why I would personally question his abilities as an MP. Put simply, Nawaz has portrayed himself as a one trick pony, with nothing substantial to say on the wider issues that affect us all as British citizens, such as the state of our health service or the effects of austerity. Last night, Nawaz merely affirmed my assertions about him.
The reality is that none of the people present on the panel today represent Islam. The real representatives of Islam are not those individuals who merely label themselves as Muslim and seek fame in doing so, but those people who love Allah, glorify Him, and unobtrusively but purposefully make themselves known on the grassroots level in performing righteousness, from feeding the poor to saving the oppressed. These are the truly unsung heroes of Muslims in Britain, and they are our representatives.