Game set and match
I often listen to the radio when driving and so I caught the interview with Sir Iqbal Sacranie of the Muslim Council of Britain on BBC Radio 4’s “PM” news programme. I have run many training sessions of how to interact with the media and successfully get a point across during interviews, and this particular piece would have been an excellent example of how NOT to do it.
Sacranie rose to fame during the poorly managed Rushdie affair, and his Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) was the Labour government’s attempt to create a favourable body of Muslim representatives. Whilst the unelected MCB claimed to represent and speak for all Muslims, Muslims never felt very much represented by it, so ultimately the MCB could not deliver what it was set up to do: to create an official, “moderate”, government-friendly Islam in Britain. In order to not be fully discredited in the eyes of ordinary Muslims they did, however, have to criticise the government over the Iraq war, for example. Sacranie was knighted for his service, but his organisation has since fallen out of favour, having lost its usefulness.
So back to the interview: The interviewer chose the topics and decided where the interview was going all along. He laid one trap after the other, and Sacranie walked straight into each and every one of them. In this cat and mouse game he let Sacranie boast that his organisation was going to meet Islamic terrorism head on, then listened to his assurances that, of course, they did not have any links with terrorism and didn’t know who the terrorists were, and then had a lot of fun with exploring the question of how they could possible meet head on a group of people of whom they knew nothing. Sacranie tried to stutter his way out of it. One nil for the interviewer.
In the second half the MCB spokesman didn’t fare any better. First he was given an opportunity to profess his commitment to tolerance in society. Then he was given a chance to elaborate on his objection to same-sex relationships. Game set and match: what followed was the presenter enjoying the futile attempts of the interviewee to extricate himself from the contradictions of preaching tolerance, yet not tolerating an “alternative” lifestyle. Whatever he said would damn him either in the eyes of the general public or the Muslims. Heads you lose, tails you lose.
As long as we continue to have willing “sheep to the slaughter” obliging spokespeople like this for the media to play with, we needn’t worry about Islam being taken seriously. The media can happily “give a platform” to Muslims and include their views without ever risking to be challenged in substance. Not once did Sacranie turn around and challenge any of the underlying assumptions. Not once did he state that neither terrorism nor homosexuality are on top of the Muslim agenda, nor for that matter the rest of the country who are more worried about job security or indeed gas and oil prices. He wouldn’t talk about state terrorism, the illegal war on Iraq, the Israeli apartheid regime, racism and discrimination in Britain, because he was too busy trying to please everyone at the same time. He certainly wouldn’t be asked about the Islamic alternative to our devastating interest-based economic system. Just as well, he probably wouldn’t know what to say anyway.