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A mosque on the TV set

26 February 2016

Radicalisation: the Sun’s story on Muslims in EastEnders

Radicalisation: the Sun’s story on Muslims in EastEnders

WHAT is it that Muslims actually do? The Sun leaves us in no doubt. They blow things up, or they think about doing so.

Two stories in Tuesday’s paper make this very clear. The first is the plan to introduce a mosque to the set of EastEnders. There is apparently no church there: the only Christian character worships in a community centre, which is a dismayingly realistic touch.

But there is one Muslim family (as compared to around 40 per cent of the families in the relevant parts of East London), and now they are to get a mosque of their own. And what will they do there? Why, they’ll be radicalised, of course.

“A soap insider said a future-plot meeting about the idea that a lead character would be radicalised by Muslim fanatics was ‘on the horizon’. The source added: ‘It’s been considered and discussed. The soap wants to be up to date and timely. It is a realistic storyline for an East London community.’”

 

MEANWHILE, on Guernsey, the same paper reported that there had been a row after a religious-affairs teacher set 12-year-olds the task of writing a letter to their parents explaining why they had converted to Islam. They were clearly instructed that this was a drill, but the readers’ comments underneath both stories were very much what you would expect.

A pretty representative one was “teach them the truth about muslim [sic] — jihadist, suicide bombers, hate preachers, female mutilation, throwing gays off roof tops. . . — do not be fooled by muslims who appear friendly — they are allowed to lie to infidels like you — they are lying low for now until there are enough of them to attack — then if any muslim does not attack they themselves will be attacked by fellow muslims in the name of their false god allah.”

 

IN THIS light, it is easy to understand the Telegraph’s decision to remove comments altogether from the redesigned portions of its website. Travel, tech, and lifestyle have already lost their comments, and there’s no reason to expect the others to get them back as the redesign rolls across the site.

These measures are spreading across the industry, as it gradually dawns on everyone that the effort required to tend a comment section so that it actually adds value to the site is quite disproportionate to the possible rewards. When I was editing the Guardian’s belief site, I worked very hard to tame and cultivate the comment section. I had some limited success: there was even a baby born to a couple who met and married through the comments there.

But the time and effort involved were immense; and the more popular any given article was, the worse were the comments. In the end, after a small heart attack, I gave up reading or caring about reader responses, and it’s hard to think of any decision that has more improved my quality of life.

 

DONALD TRUMP’s candidacy has been described as a newspaper comment section brought to life, and this captures pretty much what makes it so terrifying and barbaric. But, unlike the comment sections, it is also a source of constant, horrifying entertainment. His row with the Pope was a case in point. “I am a very good Christian,” Trump defended himself. “I’m proud of it. For a religious leader to question a person’s faith is disgraceful.”

This last is a remark that goes to the heart of the American attitude to religion. Religion is entirely a matter between the believer and their self-esteem, or their God, if there is any difference. You or I might think that questioning other people’s understanding of their faith is the defining function of a religious leader. But the ideal American religious leader has no right to do anything of the sort: faith becomes a matter of sincerity, with which no argument but force is possible.

“And as president,” Trump went on, “I will not allow Christianity to be consistently attacked and weakened, unlike what is happening now with our current president.”

This is logic really worthy of internet comments, but it does show the task of religions as representations of collective dignity. Trump’s complaint that “Christianity is constantly attacked and weakened” seems to me pretty much the same anger from collective powerlessness which leads Muslims to burn books. Of course, Trump himself does not share this rage. But he understands it, which it appears that none of the other candidates in this election can.

It’s a very noticeable illustration of the horror that Trump attracts on the British Left, as well as the shame that he inspires on most of the Right, that no one sprang to his defence as a Christian. So long as it’s believed that Pope Francis is a more representative Christian than Donald Trump, we can be certain that Christianity in this country is regarded as preferable to Islam.

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