The troops and the ‘good muslim, bad muslim’ narrative: A reply to Richard Seymour

Richard Seymour has published an article explaining a dislike to the BBCs reporting of Muslims mourning the war dead in Afghanistan.

An underlying factor of the article, not lost on Seymour, is to show Muslims mourning and demonstrating their opposition to extremism. One woman interviewed, Kalsoom Bashir is quoted in the BBC article as saying:

We are here for two reasons, to say that as mothers we share the grief of those that have lost their loved ones and we salute the loyalty of those men and women that have laid down their lives for our country.

Secondly we are here to say loud and clear to those extremists that would exploit that grief, you’re not one of us, you don’t represent us.

Seymour finds something revolting here, something that, though seemingly harmless by the BBC on first glance, actually contains a less palatable message between the lines. Seymour elaborates:

Such news items actually reinforce the racist hysteria by playing the game of ‘good Muslim, bad Muslim’. It lays out the kind of behaviour that is required of Muslims in order that they might not be subject to ritual denunciation and interrogation. It is in essence no different from the kind of antisemitic ideology that counterposed the good ‘National Jew’ from the malevolent ‘International Jew’. The response it nakedly invites us “they’re not all bad, then”, which is a racist response.

I can see the point, but I think it is slightly over-egged.

Before reading this I had put down yesterday’s observer, having just read Sarfraz Manzoor’s article on Hadiya Masieh, former Hizb ut-Tahrir member turned inter-faith campaigner, having had her views changed by the 7/7 bombings.

My charge is that this article is more ‘good Muslim, bad Muslim’ than the one Seymour exemplifies, which I fail to see linking with his main point; the BBC item, for example was time specific, happened rather recently and is relevant. One could argue that Manzoor’s article is simply an inspirational story, without time relevance at all, and is mere tub-thumping (though I personally wouldn’t take that view).

Manzoor’s reason for doing this piece sits well with me;  it is pressing that the national media counter the charge that all Muslims are bad Muslims, and are naturally consumed by the arguments of jihadis.

For this reason I think Seymour’s argument is strongest when he is not charging counter to the ‘good Muslim bad Muslim’ narrative, but saying the BBC is being uneven about its coverage of the war in Afghanistan. Of course I worry that the BBC are trying to promote what is, in their opinion, the correct attitude for Muslims to take on this subject, but I can’t think of any other way in which the BBC would portray the words of Kalsoom Bashir.

We all have our opinions on Afghanistan, and mine are a little different to Seymour’s, but though I cringe at the bias in the said BBC article, I also think that Seymour is a little over the top on his accusations of it.

With Islam, there is an image that ought to be quashed, one that is perpetuated in the right wing gossip papers. I think Seymour should rest assured he isn’t in Columbia, where one can expect to watch programmes made by Christian evangelicals interviewing reformed socialists, and their plight from evil red fire and brimstone, to heavenly preaching. Those programmes promote the view that, to coin a phrase, a good socialist is a reformed socialist. There is no such plans for a BBC documentary on the plight from evil socialism to laissez-faire capitalist (I should hope).