Morning Call: pick of the papers

The ten must-read comment pieces from this morning's papers.

1. Miliband and Balls look to the past to plan for their future (Independent)

The Labour leader and shadow chancellor are unusual in having experience of shaping policy while working in opposition, writes Steve Richards.

2. Why has Cameron put us on al-Qaeda's side? (Daily Telegraph)

Just like Tony Blair over Iraq, the Prime Minister has lost touch with reality when it comes to Syria, says Peter Oborne.

3. France should copy Germany’s reforms (Financial Times)

Staying ahead in competitiveness on a worldwide scale must be the priority for France and for Europe, says Gerhard Schröder.

4. Sometimes it’s right to tell voters they’re wrong (Times)

Everyone knows some hospitals must close to improve healthcare, writes David Aaronovitch. Politicians on all sides must make the case.

5. Me-first parents do the rest of us an injustice (Guardian)

Like James Caan, I want the best for my children, writes Zoe Williams. But seeing people in power privileging their own just entrenches inequality.

6. Wash the dirty linen in private, minister (Daily Telegraph)

Politicians’ relentless criticism of their civil servants is bad manners – and bad tactics, says Sue Cameron.

7. How the French lost their je ne sais quoi (Independent)

They see globalisation as a process that destroys individual cultures and identities, writes Andreas Whittam Smith.

8. At last it’s springtime for Britain’s economy (Times)

Barely a month ago, the talk was of a triple-dip recession, writes Ian King. Now the momentum is growing.

9. I admit it - I hog the middle lane. But how will picking my pocket make our roads safer? (Daily Mail)

Bit by bit, our freedoms are eroding under this Tory-led government, says Stephen Glover.

10. Google is this era’s General Electric (Financial Times)

Larry Page has boundless ambition and the capacity to deliver unexpected products, writes John Gapper.

Felipe Araujo
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Manchester's Muslim community under siege: "We are part of the fabric of this nation"

As the investigation into last week's bombing continues, familiar media narratives about Islam conflict with the city's support for its Muslim population.

“You guys only come when something like this happens,” said one of the worshippers at Manchester's Victoria Park Mosque, visibly annoyed at the unusual commotion. Four days after the attack that killed 22 people, this congregation, along with many others around the city, is under a microscope.

During Friday prayers, some of the world’s media came looking for answers. On the eve of Ramadan, the dark shadow of terrorism looms large over most mosques in Manchester and beyond.

“People who do this kind of thing are no Muslims,” one man tells me.

It’s a routine that has become all too familiar to mosque goers in the immediate aftermath of a major terror attack. In spite of reassurances from authorities and the government, Muslims in this city of 600,000 feel under siege. 

“The media likes to portray us as an add-on, an addition to society,” Imam Irfan Christi tells me. “I would like to remind people that in World War I and World War II Muslims fought for this nation. We are part of the fabric of this great nation that we are.”

On Wednesday, soon after it was revealed the perpetrator of last Monday’s attack, Salman Ramadan Abedi, worshipped at the Manchester Islamic Centre in the affluent area of Didsbury, the centre was under police guard, with very few people allowed in. Outside, with the media was impatiently waiting, a young man was giving interviews to whoever was interested.

“Tell me, what is the difference between a British plane dropping bombs on a school in Syria and a young man going into a concert and blowing himself up,” he asked rhetorically. “Do you support terrorists, then?” one female reporter retorted. 

When mosque officials finally came out, they read from a written statement. No questions were allowed. 

“Some media reports have reported that the bomber worked at the Manchester Islamic Centre. This is not true,” said the director of the centre’s trustees, Mohammad el-Khayat. “We express concern that a very small section of the media are manufacturing stories.”

Annoyed by the lack of information and under pressure from pushy editors, eager for a sexy headline, the desperation on the reporters’ faces was visible. They wanted something, from anyone, who had  even if a flimsy connection to the local Muslim community or the mosque. 

Two of them turned to me. With curly hair and black skin, in their heads I was the perfect fit for what a Muslim was supposed to look like.

"Excuse me, mate, are you from the mosque, can I ask you a couple of questions,” they asked. “What about?,” I said. "Well, you are a Muslim, right?" I laughed. The reporter walked away.

At the Victoria Park Mosque on Friday, Imam Christi dedicated a large portion of his sermon condemning last Monday’s tragedy. But he was also forced to once again defend his religion and its followers, saying Islam is about peace and that nowhere in the Koran it says Muslims should pursue jihad.

“The Koran has come to cure people. It has come to guide people. It has come to give harmony in society,” he said. “And yet that same Koran is being described as blood thirsty? Yet that same Koran is being abused to justify terror and violence. Who de we take our Islam from?”

In spite of opening its doors to the world’s media, mosques in Britain’s major cities know they can do very little to change a narrative they believe discriminates against Muslims. They seem to feel that the very presence of reporters in these places every time a terror attack happens reveals an agenda.

Despite this, on the streets of Manchester it has proved difficult to find anyone who had a bad thing to say about Islam and the city’s Muslim community. Messages of unity were visible all over town. One taxi driver, a white working-class British man, warned me to not believe anything I read in the media.

“Half of my friends are British Muslims,” he said even before asked. “ These people that say Islam is about terrorism have no idea what they are talking about.”

Felipe Araujo is a freelance journalist based in London. He writes about race, culture and sports. He covered the Rio Olympics and Paralympics on the ground for the New Statesman. He tweets @felipethejourno.

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