Following Pizza Express’s announcement on their use of halal chicken on their pizzas, Guardian columnist Sid Lowe tweeted “so the pizzas are halal? Good.” Naturally, the replies flowed in and it soon appeared that it would have been easier to count the Earth’s population of those who hadn’t replied. Lowe responded but for the most part remained quiet and observed the comments from the sidelines.
This incident is one of the many examples of the silence displayed by whatever remains of the left-wing British media; their approach is too quiet and too ineffective to truly challenge the popular myths presented by the right-wing as factually correct. This isn’t really about halal pizzas, although the outcry over the issue seems to indicate the level of disdain that parts of Britain hold for Muslims. The issue goes deeper – the sweeping generalisations of Muslims that are presented as facts but left completely unchallenged and unchecked in the media.
Many British Muslims strongly feel undermined and betrayed by the media. They are perpetrated wrongly, slandered and depicted as terrorists and paedophiles or as extremists trying to implement their incorrect understanding of the shariah on other members of the British public. The general image perpetuated by the media is the orientalist view that Muslims are people who fled the uncivilised east in search of the ‘civilised’ west, but then realised they wanted to bring their uncivilised ethos to the west.
Perhaps the more accurate assertion would be that one half of the media lies about us and the other half of the media doesn’t do enough about it. When the Daily Mail constantly publishes inflammatory articles detailing in meticulous length on the perniciousness of halal pizzas, Asian sex grooming gangs and crazy Muslim preachers, there is rarely a counter-argument posed by the left. Their disapproval does somehow materialise but nothing is sufficient enough to truly change the myths about Muslims. Their discontent is akin to a silent shake of the head.
The problem that then occurs is that the quiet discontent of a few becomes that of many. A single radical may be presented in the media as the voice of British Muslims but it doesn’t simply stop at Britain. On a global scale, actions committed by a minority of Muslims that would have no place in any religion are taken as gestures that are symbolic of what the wider Islamic community has espoused. How many Muslims would praise suicide bombings? How many Muslims would truly feel happy at the horror of Boko Haram’s actions?
Guilt and affirmation is often judged by silence. If the majority of the left-wing media do not speak out, surely that means they condone it? Moreover, if the minority of Muslims praising violence and evil are represented by the media as the majority, surely it appears that all Muslims, and by extension Islam, are like that? It’s impossible to set foot on the Tube today with a rucksack and a beard without setting everyone’s pulse-rates on the carriage to extremely high. As a result, Muslims have been subjected to verbal abuse and even violence in some cases. The unfortunate consequences of unchallenged views are a predicament for Muslims as well as the left-wing media. In any aspect of society, the radical minority are heard because they’re louder and it is down to the majority to quash that. But it’s also the media’s responsibility to ensure that the facts are presented correctly, as opposed to the melodramatic form that it’s currently taken on.
What is deeply disturbing is that many people would know that not all Muslims are as evil and wicked as has been propagated. They have gone to school and university with Muslims, worked with them or had friends who are Muslims. It seems, however, that all that is required is a powerful headline from the Daily Mail for Muslims to suddenly be viewed as the scum of society. It’s worrying that the right-wing can convince a large portion of the British public of this; the fact that the left-wing hasn’t been able to stop it is emblematic of a familiar problem – in times of crisis, the left-wing will be the rational ones but the right-wing will be the loud ones. And ultimately, the ones you can hear are the ones you listen to.
However, the issue goes far beyond demonisation of Muslims. The left-wing has lost the battle in challenging myths over welfare abuse, immigrants and the benefits of collectivisation. Their lack of relentlessness is in contrast to how the prominent right-wing newspapers have persistently pursued their targets. This is what has contributed to the national vilification of the vulnerable – the poor, the disabled, Muslims, immigrants and women.
This isn’t to say the left-wing do not speak out at all. They do and they have spoken extraordinarily well on many issues. The Guardian exposed the NSA hackings and the £350m worth vacated homes in Billionaires Row. But when it comes to setting the truth straight about Muslims or the vulnerable, they are clearly not doing it powerfully enough. It is fitting, given that within Britain there isn’t a political party that could truly be labelled left-wing. But unless the British left stave off the relentless jabs of the right, the media perception of British Muslims and the vulnerable will be moulded permanently.