The day after it was revealed that the London bombers were British, the Guardian newspaper gave space on its opinion pages to one of its trainee journalists, a young Muslim called Dilpazier Aslam, to write about the background to the atrocity.
Describing himself as a “Yorkshire lad born and bred”, Aslam said that second- and third-generation British Muslims were different from their elders, “much sassier” and more ready to “rock the boat”. They were angry about British foreign policy, he wrote, and their anger would build up “till it can be contained no more”. He included one line of measured condemnation: “I think what happened was a sad day and not the way to express your political anger.”
This article, striking for its tone and because the writer had a highly relevant background, was reprinted in the Melbourne Age and Los Angeles Times. Aslam also wrote news articles about the events surrounding the bombings.
What readers of the Guardian were not told was that Aslam is a member of the extreme Islamist organisation Hizb ut-Tahrir. Though it publicly dissociates itself from violence, Hizb ut-Tahrir is shunned by most British Muslims and banned from many mosques. As I have reported in the New Statesman, it manipulates people and can be seen as part of a conveyor belt towards violence – its literature was found, for example, in the home of Omar Sharif, the Derby man who volunteered for a suicide bombing mission in Israel. Hizb ut-Tahrir is banned in Germany.
My strongly held view is that members of such a group should not be allowed to write on this subject in the national press (just as the British National Party, which also claims to be non-violent, is very rarely given space), but if they do their connection should be made clear, preferably at the beginning of the article.
How had it come about that this Guardian journalist was reporting and commenting on such events without his background being made known to readers? When I raised this with the paper, it confirmed that Aslam was a member of Hizb ut-Tahrir but would only say the matter was “under review”. I reported this in the Independent on Sunday (I am freelance) and the story separately, without my involvement, found its way on to internet blog sites.
The issues at stake are important, both ethically and in relation to the reputation of the Muslim community, but the questions remained unanswered. When I approached the Guardian again, it accused me of being “irresponsible in the extreme” and said it had complained to the editor of the Independent on Sunday. As for the key questions, it said only: “This is an internal matter which is currently under review and we have nothing further to add.”
I hope the review is rigorous and that its results will be made public. And, for the record, I am not a member of any party or religious organisation.