Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Islam Channel or Haram Channel?

I finally received a judgment handed down by an English county court ordering Islam Channel Ltd. to pay me thirty pounds in costs. A trifle sum you might think for a satellite TV station spending and earning millions. However, when it comes to the people who have contributed and continue to make this enterprise a success, Islam Channel appears to prefer the cut-throat business practices of an East End sweat shop by trying to get everything for next to nothing.

The thirty pounds represented the court fee I had to pay in order to pursue Islam Channel for fifty pounds they owed me in travel expenses. This related to me having agreed to contribute to the show "Politics and Beyond" on the condition that my travel expenses would be met, a reasonable request considering I was not going to charge for my time or demand a fee as would be customary for most radio and tv appearances. But because of the word "Islam" in the name of the business I acted like numerous other Muslims who generously give their time freely without asking for recompense.

The way the show had been run, like much of the programming on Islam Channel, had been rather amateurish. It was meant to be a panel discussion before an audience, but the audience was dispensed with due to technical problems. Since one of the expert panellists did not turn up, a student member of the audience was elevated to expert status. There is very little critical viewing amongst Muslims - as indeed amongst the general population - and any reality presented on screen is usually accepted as factual. This is not unique to Islam Channel, I hasten to add.

The unique Islam Channel experience, however, was that the promised cheque for travel expenses never arrived. Many months later, after numerous reminders and empty promises, I felt I had to keep my own promise of pursuing the matter in court should Islam Channel fail to honour its commitment. To do so, I had to pay thirty pounds to the courts in order to try and recover the debt of fifty. Following my claim the travelling expenses of fifty pounds were promptly paid, not, however the added costs of having to chase the money through the court system. My letter demanding reimbursement of this cost was met with the disingenious reply by Islam Channel's legal advisor Madeeha Dani that at no time had they contracted my services and therefore my claim was not valid. Apparently, they had only paid me the fifty pounds because I was a nice guy, not because they owed it to me.

The court took a different view. It ordered the sum of thirty pounds to be paid, describing the defence comments as irrelevant and wondering why someone would go through the troubles of paying £30 in order to get £50 if there was no possible entitlement to this money at all whilst at the same time receiving that very sum in response after it had remained unpaid until the summons is issued. I suppose such common sense arguments totally escape the legal advisors of large corporations who defend all claims at all costs. Let's hope, I don't have to spend additional funds now to collect the officially confirmed debt.

Besides having wasted time unnecessary, I could put this episode down as one of the comedy aspects of daily life not worth commenting on but over dinner. But the issue cuts deeper. What it reflects is the abuse of the concept of Muslim brotherhood which is epitomised here by Islam Channel but is not their exclusive prerogative. Many a Muslim employer pays his Muslim employees less than their due but acts as if he owns their very souls. Islam Channel became a success because Muslims thought it was representing them. In fact, it is simply another business out to make money, and if programs can be made on the cheap and costs saved, this would certainly serve the corporate objective notwithstanding the lofty statement by its CEO Mohamed Ali on one occasion: "The Islam Channel is an honourable project with high ideals, and those who offer to help us come from eclectic backgrounds, but always their intentions are honourable." Well, my honourable intention, after the experiences just described, is to expose them, and before anybody talks about backbiting and its prohibition in Islam, I did warn Islam Channel that I would make the judgment public should they defend my claim in court.

Many Muslims mistakenly believe that the commercialisation of Islam, which has taken place rapidly over recent years, represents an acceptance of their religion by the Western establishment. Nothing could be further from the truth. To be exploited or to be taken advantage of does not imply to be accepted. If a non-Muslim bank offers so-called halal (Islamically lawful) mortgages at a higher interest rate than their haram (unlawful) mortgages tailored to non-Muslim customers, then this does not indicate their conversion to an Islamic critique of interest based finance nor that Islam has become established in the West - it simply means that they consider us stupid enough (not without justification) to be taken advantage of. The same goes for many of the multitude of commercial enterprises who have added the label Islam or Muslim to their brand names. In my judgment, Islam Channel is just another commercial TV operation out to make money out of Muslims.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Honourable corruption

"I have decided there is insufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction against any individual for any offence in relation to this matter" said Carmen Dowd of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) after more than a million pounds had been spent in a high profile Metropolitan Police investigation lasting well beyond a year. The CPS, ready to pursue petty criminals and motorists any time, threw in the towel and decided that with the "Cash for Honours" probe, during which Labour Party fund raiser Lord Levy had been arrested and ex prime minister Blair interviewed, they had bitten off more than they could chew. Or maybe they only did their service for the country by replacing the lid on a can of worms which was getting bigger by the day.

It is doubtful that the CPS decision was a technical one relating to the strength of the evidence. Many people suspect that it was politically motivated. The police enquiries had been embarrassing for the Blair government, but corruption is not an exclusive New Labour prerogative. Dragging the scandal out in open court might have been a death blow to Britain's increasingly tarnished democracy in which voters are no longer bothered to go to the polls since the elected party, one or the other face of the same coin, usually only carries minority popular support and forces through a long string of unpopular measures and new inventive methods of taxation. The cash for honours issue was about big money and the corruptibility of politicians and business men alike.

Liberal Party leader Sir Menzies Campbell was probably right when he said: "There still remain many questions of political responsibility. This whole affair has diminished politics and politicians in the eyes of the public." Withdrawing the charges and vindicating the loathed Blair administration has merely added cynicism to the way the British public views its politicians and "democratic" institutions. Few have any doubts that money exchanged hands for honours. After the Attorney general halted an enquiry into the BAE arms deal bribery scandal, this is the second occasion where probing into high level corruption has been prevented. The honourable gentlemen in the two houses of parliament will heave a sigh of relief: In Britain, it seems, they can still do their corruption honourably.

This item appears late on my blog because Google decided, without informing me by email, that my blog has been classified as a spam blog and will be removed within a week if I do not submit it for review. Is that political too? Is the fight against spam, annoying as it is, going to be the means of curtailing the internet freedom of embarrassing the powerful and showing up the compliant mainstream media?