Tuesday, August 8

Mosqued Messages

Big Brian Yates sees hope in Channel 4's dispatches on multi-cultural Britain

Dispatches: What Muslims Want, (Channel 4, 9.00) didn’t seem at all sure what it wanted to be. The title thudded onto the screen in bold, square letters, followed by close-ups of police machine guns, all accompanied by a conspiracy-thriller soundtrack.. This was going to be menacing stuff! Then we had young Muslims in arty street scenes filmed through moving bus windows and shots of mosques juxtaposed with tower blocks at interesting angles. But mostly we got Jon Snow talking to a lot of Muslims about how they see life in England today, with Snow proposing that a new generation of Muslims feel less British and more radical than their parents’ generation and that integration has come to a standstill.

This was offered as a frightening prospect, but most of the young people Snow spoke to were thoughtful, balanced and unthreatening. Yes, he also spoke to some dim-wits who thought that 9.11 was an American conspiracy and that like, you know, kind of thing, and to a young graphic designer who saw Allah’s will in the fact that he had accepted a free state education before turning to Islam and who refused to denounce the 7.7 bombers. This discussion was interrupted by a passer-by, also a Muslim, who took the hypocrite to task and insisted that Muslims living in England should adhere to English law!

The bulk of the programme featured a series of speakers explaining why they preferred not to integrate into a society where binge-drinking is expected of teenagers, criminals are not seen to be punished, children do as they please and women’s bodies are perceived as commodities. Unfortunately, what might have been a meaningful debate never materalised as Snow declined to probe into why one girl chose to speak through a veil or how another had met discrimination at the hands of the police. He also seemed fairly na├»ve in accepting that women didn’t feel oppressed within Islam because two or three middle-class women said so. I suspect that bullied wives and sisters who can’t speak English may lack the Big Brother urge to appear on national television and bare their souls!

In the end, this programme didn’t make for an hour of riveting television: the real truth of C4’s survey lay in its liberal sprinkling of statistics, which we could have absorbed from a good newspaper in five minutes. But seeing and hearing these young English sons and daughters of immigrants offered food for thought and some cause for optimism: a lot of what they reject in English society is fairly objectionable; their confidence in rejecting shows that our multi-cultural society hasn’t completely failed.

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