Dr Masuma Rahim
The recent ‘Visit My Mosque’ initiative was, in my view, a stellar idea. For too long, mosques have been reluctant to open their doors to ‘the other’ (and sometimes the ‘other’ can be Muslims of a different denomination, ethnicity or gender, though that is perhaps a topic for another day), so the idea of welcoming any visitors who wished to drop by in an ‘open house’ format seemed to me to be a very good one.
Unfortunately, the day was finalised only 48 hours in advance, with the result that, nationally, no more than a couple of dozen mosques participated. Pleasingly, my local mosque was one of them (and I am proud to say that my mosque has a long history of participating in such outreach events).
It was a shame that the day was marred by reports that Cathy Newman, the Channel 4 broadcaster, had been ‘ushered out’ of another mosque in the area by an apparently unwelcoming person. Although it later transpired that there had been a misunderstanding – she had gone to the wrong location – there were still eyebrows raised at the fact that she had been rudely ejected at all.
We now know, of course, that Newman was not ejected, ushered, or in any way forcibly removed from the premises of that mosque. CCTV evidence tells us that she spoke to a gentleman at the establishment and that he indicated where the exit was. It may not have been the welcome reception waiting for her at the correct venue around the corner, but it was hardly the scandal that was initially suggested and it was difficult not to feel immensely irritated and disappointed by the whole business.
Newman is not naïve – she is an astonishingly well-informed journalist who is well aware of the power of social media. A couple of tweets from her remonstrating over her alleged treatment at Streatham Mosque led to vast amounts of vitriol directed towards Muslims in general and the mosque in particular (several threats of violence were made). When it turned out that her original assertion was less than accurate, the abuse was directed at her (and aggressively so). No one wins in this situation. We all look intolerant; we all suffer.
I can’t say I think Newman was actively trying to stir up trouble. We are all given to embellishment and exaggeration in certain situations and I suspect she simply didn’t count on there being CCTV footage. But the power of the media and those who work in it is tremendous. Obviously that power has to be managed responsibly and with careful thought. A couple of errant posts on Twitter and this is what happens: insults are freely traded and a mosque is openly threatened. Truly, there are no winners in situations such as these.