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The Stirrer’s Talk-In Radio Blog (4)

OPEN SEASON ON BRITISH MUSLIMS

14-03-2009

F-off

This week’s anti-war protests in Luton led to a massive media backlash against Muslim extremists.... and provided no shortage of fodder for Stirrer editor Adrian Goldberg on his overnight Talksport show. The hard job was ensuring the debate remained balanced.

Let’s be honest – when Muslim anti-war protestors heckle and wave placards at homecoming soldiers it’s a no-brainer for newspaper editors and radio presenters alike. This, you know, will be the story of the day.

On Wednesday morning, I kicked off with the subject on my Talksport show at 1am, thinking it might sustain us for – at best – a couple of hours. In the event, although we broadened out the show at around 4.30 to include a discussion about the Child Support agency, we could have gone all the way through until 6 as a single issue programme.

There was genuine anger at the notion of a British regiment returning from Iraq and Iran – minus 12 of their fallen comrades – and I said then (and believe now) that if any group of activists had turned up in Luton waving placards with words like “murderer”, there would have been a backlash.

Make no mistake, though – the controversy fed into and was fuelled by a wider sense of unease about the role of Muslims in British life. So much so that the following night I generated a further three hours of discussion about whether the entire hullabaloo had become an excuse for a national hatefest against a scapegoated minority.

When national newspapers like the Daily Star (headline - “The Enemy Within”) and the Daily Mail run front page leads two days in a row about the activities of fewer than two dozen, non-violent agitators, there’s clearly something going on here above and beyond the fear of hurt feelings among the troops.

Callers to my show complained about what they perceived as an unwillingness to integrate into British society by Muslims; and a lack of patriotism.

Too often, I was told, mainstream society has to tread on eggshells around the sensitivity of minorities, but that respect was not repaid in kind.

There were complaints about the partiality of the police, too. They were accused of turning a blind eye to the protestors’ “incitement”, while being only too happy to arrest a couple of people who had turned out to welcome the soldiers and were outraged by the counter-demo (a view, incidentally, with which I have some sympathy).

It could be argued that even by hosting the debate, and allowing callers to give vent to their anger, I was helping to foster a widespread anti-Muslim sentiment.

But without the row, I doubt whether we would have brought forward feisty responses from the likes Sadia in Bolton and Zara, a 17-year old first-time caller from Birmingham, who both challenged the stereotype of downtrodden, Muslim women.

They both distanced themselves from the Luton rabble, and gave eloquent voice to a moderate, contemporary version of Islam, entirely compatible with life in 21st century Britain.

It’s no co-incidence that after hours of engrossing, challenging and sometimes wearying argument, theirs are the calls I can most readily call to mind.

When any community is called into question, there is nothing quite as successful in confronting ill-informed prejudice as hearing evidence, first hand, from those involved.

Adrian Goldberg hosts “Britain’s Biggest Phone-In”, Tuesday-Friday, on Talksport (1053/1089 AM) between 1am and 6am.

This week's Top Five Phone-in Subjects

1) The Luton anti-war protests

2) Norther Ireland

3) Was the reaction to the Luton anti-war protests an anti Muslin hatefest?

4) Child Support Agency

5) Wayne Rooney "hates" Liverpool

One that bombed - the pro-Christian bus adverts.

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