Channel 4 - Who speaks for muslims

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Who Speaks for Muslims?

Friday 15 March, 7.30pm

In the wake of the 2001 summer riots and the aftermath of September 11, the British government urgently needed to connect with the Muslim Community. By September 27 2001, Tony Blair was meeting Muslim leaders at Number 10. Some of those who attended also hold regular meetings with other government ministers and go on Foreign Office trips abroad.

But how representative are these leaders and how did they come to be seen by New Labour as speaking for the majority of moderate Muslims? Britain has an estimated two million Muslims - our biggest ethnic minority group - who between them speak more than 100 languages and have roots in 56 countries - is it possible for any small group of people to speak on their behalf?

Reporter Jonathan Miller meets the leaders themselves. And he examines how some of the mainstream Muslim leadership in Britain differ in attitude to mainstream political opinion - while uniting together in condemnation of the Sept 11 attacks. In terms of domestic affairs, some Muslim leaders want Muslim family law to apply in Britain - which would mean Muslims would have a parallel legal system. But it's in international affairs that there is the most marked difference. Muslims have a special sympathy with the plight of other Muslims abroad - particularly in Palestine. So, for example, some British Muslim leaders attended a conference in Iran last year about the Intifada - also there were representatives from groups like Islamic Jihad and Hamas. The programme asks if there is a conflict between meeting Tony Blair and Hamas. The leaders involved say their actions and motivations are misinterpreted by critics.

Other members of the Muslim Community say that Muslims have to stop facing both ways. As one contributor puts it, their minds are British and in the mainstream but their hearts lie elsewhere - and they must learn to reconcile the two.

The film includes contribtions from Yousuf Bhailok, Dr Siddiqui, head of the Muslim Parliament, Baroness Udin, Professor Ziauddin Sardar, Lord Ahmed, Sayed Pasha and Khalid Mahmood.

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Frank Kitman