Open letter slams BBC after 'Islamophobic' interview of first female MCB head

Open letter slams BBC after 'Islamophobic' interview of first female MCB head
The letter by Jewish Voice for Labour calls on the BBC to issue a statement in which it recommits to engage with Muslim women “in good faith”.
3 min read
17 February, 2021
The BBC Radio 4 interview of Zara Mohammed drew accusations of Islamophobia [MCB]

An open letter urging the BBC to improve its engagement with Muslim women and commit to hiring more Muslims to leadership roles has amassed hundreds of signatures online, including from prominent British academics and lawmakers.

Jewish Voice for Labour (JVL), a left-wing UK political group, penned the letter to British broadcaster on Tuesday, followng a controversial BBC Radio 4 interview with the first elected female head of the Muslim Council of Britain, Zara Mohammed.

Emma Barnett, host of the Women’s Hour programme, stirred outrage after she repeatedly asked Mohammed how many female imams there were in the UK. Some commentators accused her of Islamophobia and religious illiteracy.

The MCB head tried to answer that it was not within the parameters of her role to make religious judgements and that Islam has a diferrent understanding of clergy to Christianity and Judaism. However, her responses were interrupted by Barnett four times.

Read also: Muslim Council of Britain elects first female leader

The JVL letter calls on the BBC to issue a statement committing to engage with Muslim women “in good faith”.

"Most of Mohammed’s answers were interrupted, revealing an instinctive urge not to listen to the voice of a Muslim woman but to jump in," the letter said.

"Despite the BBC having a commitment to due impartiality and fairness, the line of questioning fell into a well-worn narrative of presuming Muslim women are inherently disenfranchised," it added.

The letter urged the BBC to boost recruitment of Muslims to "leadership and commissioning roles" within the organisation and provide better opportunities to those in "non-leadership positions" to reach those roles.

It mentions the BBC's own admission in its latest annual report that virtually no Muslims work at BBC Studios, the broadcaster's TV and radio production arm.

The letter added that the lack of Muslim representation  impacted how the BBC can engage and report on Muslim communities.

It cited data showing that over nearly 5,000 episodes of Women’s Hour broadcast in the space of two decades, less than 00 guests have been Muslim women.

Amassing over a hundred signatures, including from four current British MPs and four university professors, the letter demanded that the BBC commited to programmes that ensure diversity in production and editorial teams

Following the controversy, Women's Hour have removed a tweet which was a specially clipped 'female imam' segment for social media.

The BBC stated in retrospect that that "the clip should have included more of the radio interview to provide full context of the discussion".

The BBC did not respond to The New Arab’s response for comment at the time of publication.

Neither Zara Mohammed nor the MCB, which describes itself as the UK's "largest and most diverse umbrella of mosques, Islamic schools and Muslim associations", have publicly spoken about the matter.

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