A Muslim activist group with links to the Muslim Brotherhood has asked the British government to restrict the way the British media reports about Muslims and Islam.
The effort to silence criticism of Islam comes amid an ongoing public inquiry into British press standards following a phone-hacking scandal involving the News of the World and other British newspapers.
The Leveson Inquiry, established by British Prime Minister David Cameron in July 2011, is currently considering how to increase government oversight of the British media.
But in a move that many worry will result in government regulation of the Internet, Lord Justice Leveson, a British judge who serves as Chairman of the inquiry, now says he wants to include Internet bloggers into any system of press regulation that he proposes.
Observers say the Leveson Inquiry's effort to regulate blogging, combined with the Muslim attempt to ban negative reporting about Islam, poses a clear threat to free speech in Britain.
Appearing before the Leveson Inquiry on January 24, Muslim activist Inayat Bunglawala said the amount of negative stories about Muslims in Britain is "demonizing" Islam and fuelling a "false narrative." He called on the government to do all it can to "ensure a fairer portrayal, a more balanced portrayal of the faith of Islam" in the British media.
In a separate written submission, Bunglawala complained about the "enormous impact of coverage that is proven to be inaccurate, inflammatory, prejudicial and detrimental" to the representation of Islam in Britain.
He continued: "British Muslims as a social group collectively suffer from poor media practices, whether this be the excessive attention granted to fringe Muslim groups, like Muslims Against Crusades, by the media or poor fact-checking prior to publication. Improving media practices and media responsibility on portraying and reporting fairly on Islam and British Muslims, without bias or discrimination or intent to incite anti-Muslim prejudice, is an urgent concern."
His solution: The British media needs a "more robust system of self-regulation…one which mandates the right…to challenge misrepresentations, inaccuracies and false reporting."
Lord Justice Leveson expressed sympathy for Bunglawala's plea and said that any government regulation of the British media would have to extend to the Internet and include blogs, so as to ensure a "level playing field" between print and online media.
Lord Hunt, the chairman of the Press Complaints Commission, a self-regulatory body which deals with complaints about the editorial content of newspapers and magazines, recently said he is looking into the idea of regulating bloggers and online publications. According to him, "at the moment, it [the Internet] is like the Wild West out there. We need to appoint a sheriff."
Lord Hunt would invite bloggers on current affairs to voluntarily agree to regulation. They would receive a seal-of-approval rating that they would lose if complaints against them were repeatedly upheld.
This plan would please Muslim activists such as Bunglawala, who say they are offended by Islamophobia but have no problems purveying anti-Semitic rhetoric about Jews, Zionists, Jewish power and the "Tribe of Judah."
Bunglawala, who says he represents mainstream moderate Muslim opinion, is a director of the Muslim Council of Britain, a self-appointed umbrella group that is closely linked to the Muslim Brotherhood. He strongly objects to the use of the phrase "Islamic terrorism" and has described Osama bin Laden as a "freedom fighter for hundreds of Muslims in Britain."
Bunglawala said the blind Sheikh Omar Abdul Rahman, who bombed the World Trade Center in 1993, was "courageous" and living out his "calling on Muslims to fulfill their duty to Allah and to fight against oppression and oppressors everywhere."
In 2010, Bunglawala published an article in the Guardian newspaper entitled, "If We Care about Free Speech, Let these Muslim Speakers In," in which he urged the British government to "demonstrate its commitment to liberal values" by allowing two Muslim "hate preachers" to enter the United Kingdom.
The late Christopher Hitchens described Bunglawala this way: "A preposterous and sinister individual named Inayat Bunglawala, assistant secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain and a man with a public record of support for Osama bin Laden, was made a convener of Blair's task force on extremism despite his stated belief that the BBC and the rest of the media are 'Zionist controlled.'"
As for the BBC, it already self-regulates when it comes to reporting on Islam. Consider a recent 700-word article on the proliferation of honor-based violence in Britain, in which the BBC failed to mention the words "Muslim," "Islamic" or "Islam" even once.
A poll of Muslims in Britain found little support for freedom of speech. Nearly 80% of Muslims in Britain said that the publishers of the Danish cartoons depicting the Muslim Mohammed should be prosecuted; 68% said that those who insult Islam should be prosecuted; and 62% of Muslims in Britain disagree that freedom of speech should be allowed if it insults and offends religious groups.
Meanwhile, the European Union has offered to host the next meeting of the so-called Istanbul Process, an aggressive effort by Muslim countries to make it an international crime to criticize Islam.
The Istanbul Process -- its explicit aim is to enshrine in international law a global ban on all critical scrutiny of Islam and/or Islamic Sharia law -- is being spearheaded by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), a bloc of 57 Muslim countries.
Based in Saudi Arabia, the OIC has long pressed the European Union and the United States to impose limits on free speech and expression about Islam.
But the OIC has now redoubled its efforts and is engaged in a determined diplomatic offensive to persuade Western democracies to implement United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) Resolution 16/18, which calls on all countries to combat "intolerance, negative stereotyping and stigmatization of … religion and belief." (Analysis of the OIC's war on free speech can be found here and here.)
Resolution 16/18, which was adopted at HRC headquarters in Geneva in March 2011, and was recently backed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the most recent Istanbul Process Conference in Washington in December, is widely viewed as a significant step forward in OIC efforts to advance the international legal concept of defaming Islam.
Soeren Kern is Senior Fellow for Transatlantic Relations at the Madrid-based Grupo de Estudios Estratégicos / Strategic Studies Group. Follow him on Facebook.