Bowen tackles British attitudes to Muslims

 BBC Breakfast presenter Jeremy Bowen is to present a programme examining British attitudes towards Islam as part of a week-long season on BBC2.

Islamophobia looks at prejudice in Western culture and includes interviews by the former Middle East correspondent with British National Party leader Nick Griffin and Muslims who have experienced discrimination.

Bowen, who left his foreign posting last year to join Breakfast, said he had welcomed the opportunity it gave him to look at Islam in this country in a programme which avoided "politically correct genuflection".

"I’ve spent a lot of time in Islamic countries, but I’ve never had a chance to look at how they do here," said Bowen.

"I wanted to challenge the people I interviewed, whatever viewpoint they came from. "What I think the programme shows is perhaps not mind-blowingly surprising, but it shows that Muslims are just like the rest of us – one might be good, one evil, another a saint. You get the full range of human activity."

The programme, part of a £1m season called Islam UK which begins on 11 August, also looks at media attitudes towards Islam and features journalist and critic Ziauddin Sardar.

"We look at things like the barrage of comment when Jemima Goldsmith announced she was to marry Imran Khan, when everyone was telling her what it would be like, that she would have to shroud herself in black and walk 10 paces behind her husband," said Bowen. "It’s something that has always struck me as strange in this country that the media see Muslims as a homogenous bunch, which they aren’t."

Islamophobia also includes PR consultant Max Clifford discussing with a group of young Muslims how public perception of their community could be changed.

Other programmes in the season include Haj, a documentary following three British Muslims on a ritual pilgrimage to Mecca, a beginner’s guide to Islam by the boxer Prince Naseem and a three-part history of Islam.

Other programmes chart the progress of a Muslim football team from the East End, look at the lives of Muslims called Ahmed and examine life inside Birmingham’s Central Mosque.

Islam UK’s editor, Ruth Pitt, creative director of general documentaries in Manchester, said The Mosque showed a glimpse of Islamic life she thought "has not been seen on television before".

Pitt said she began working on the series with deputy editor Aaqil Ahmed at the beginning of the year, but recent riots in the north of England had made the programmes "even more significant".

"It’s a very timely portrayal of what life is like for British Muslims, a good antidote at a time when we have seen lots of images of young Muslims taking to the streets," she said.

By Julie Tomlin

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