Monday, 12 January 2015
Is this the Birmingham I know?
Or should I believe this expert?
An American commentator who claims to be a so-called “terrorism expert” has told Fox News that Birmingham, England is “totally Muslim, where non-Muslims just simply don’t go.”
I have known Birmingham well since my teens. I travel through Birmingham International Airport and New Street Station countless times each year on my way to and from Lichfield. Why, I sometimes even stop and have a coffee, or a meal, or a glass of wine there. I have even visited Birmingham’s two cathedrals, Saint Philip’s and Saint Chad’s, and I have gone to church in Saint Martin’s in the heart of Birmingham.
Have I missed something? After almost 50 years, is there something no-one told me?
I have been at conferences in Woodbrooke, one of the Selly Oak colleges, and I did a short course on Muslim-Christian dialogue in the former College of the Ascension in Birmingham in the 1990s. Did my lecturers pull the wool over my eyes? Surely not.
A multilingual and multicultural welcome to Birmingham and its cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)
I must check things again when I’m passing through later this week when I am back in Lichfield.
Steve Emerson is the founder of the self-styled “Investigative Project on Terrorism,” and has been called to testify as an expert witness called to at least one US Congressional committee.
He was supposed to be offering Fox News his expertise on last week’s attacks in Paris. Instead, he launched into an amazing “expert” account of dangerous parts of Britain being controlled by Muslims, giving details of “no-go zones” in France, Belgium, Britain and many other parts of Europe.
Some expert. As more than a million people marched through Paris in a show of unity after last week’s attacks in France, he told Fox news that Birmingham is a “country within a country” and he agreed with the programme presenter Jeanine Pirro that England’s second city is a “caliphate.”
He told his American viewers that Europe is not doing enough to combat the rise of Islamic extremism. “You basically have zones where sharia courts were set up, where Muslim density is very intense, where the police don’t go in, and where it’s basically a separate country almost, a country within a country,” this self-styled “expert” claimed.
Emerson said these no-go zones are in London and Birmingham, and claimed police brutality against non-Muslims is common place: “And parts of London, there are actually Muslim religious police that actually beat wound seriously anyone who doesn’t dress according to Muslim, religious Muslim attire.”
“So there’s a situation that Western Europe is not dealing with,” he claims.
But it is even worse in Birmingham, he says. There, he said, is an entire city where non-Muslims are not welcome. He states: “And in Britain, it’s not just no-go zones, there are actual cities like Birmingham that are totally Muslim where non-Muslims just simply don’t go in.”
His claims have amused, amazed and bewildered people living in Birmingham. Many took to Twitter, starting an hilarious hashtag #FoxNewsFacts.
Emmerson has since apologised, saying he has “made a terrible error for which I am deeply sorry.”
He went on to say: “There was no excuse for making this mistake and I owe an apology to every resident of Birmingham. I am not going to make any excuses. I made an inexcusable error. And I am obligated to openly acknowledge that mistake.”
But the damage has been down, and what he said is probably going to be believed and repeated as fact by gullible viewers. He has added fuel to the fire and doubtlessly helped to stoke Islamophobia in America.
One Twitter user said: “As someone born and raised in Birmingham, I must admit there was a pressure to read the Kerrang.”
“I was supposed to go to Birmingham last week but I forgot my passport,” said another.
One amusing commentator said: “Americans think the Balti was invented in Baltimore.”
Another satirical claim said: “Croydon is an entirely Catholic city. Any non-Catholics are beaten by squads of nuns armed with rulers.”
It all serves as a reminder of the old adage that young journalists learn at the very beginning of their career – you must always best check your facts, and if you do not know something is a fact, do not repeat it.
This was not an early April Fools’ joke, and he was not confusing Birmingham in the English Midlands with Birmingham, Alabama. He was simply wrong. But how many viewers saw him, heard him and believed him? What else is Fox News wrong about? And how many of its viewers believe their “experts” and their facts”?
Fact: Birmingham is ethnically mixed: around 42% of the one million or people who live there are from an ethnic group other than white.
Fact: Birmingham is religiously diverse: 46.1% of residents say they are Christian, 21.8% Muslim and 19.3% say they have no religion.
Fact: Birmingham has a youthful population: 45.7% of residents are under 30, compared with 36.8% for England.
Fact: Birmingham, more than most cities, knows in these days of fear and violence, that the pen is mightier than the sword: at one time three-quarters of the world wrote using pen nibs made in Birmingham, with more than 100 companies manufacturing pens in the city.
Fact: Birmingham was at the heart of the English Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution in the 18th century, when members of the Lunar Society of Birmingham included the botanist Erasmus Darwin, the steam pioneers Matthew Boulton and James Watt, the chemist Joseph Priestley, the potter Josiah Wedgwood, the chemist James Keir, the author and abolitionist Thomas Day, the painter Joseph Wright of Derby, the lexicographer Samuel Johnson, the typographer John Baskerville, the poet and landscape gardener William Shenstone, and the architects James and Samuel Wyatt ... many of them from Lichfield, of course.
Fact: Birmingham is home to the Crufts Dog Show, the Horse of the Year Show and the National Exhibition Centre.
Fact: Birmingham is the home of Cadbury’s chocolate, Bird’s custard, Pebble Mill, the Moody Blues, UB40, Tony Hancock, Jasper Carrott, Bill Oddie and Frank Skinner.
Fact: Birmingham was once home to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and JRR Tolkien’s childhood memories of the landscape inspired The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.
Fact: Birmingham has art galleries, theatres, concert halls and universities, and is home to orchestras and to the Birmingham Royal Ballet, formerly the Sadler’s Wells Ballet.
Fact: The only place in Birmingham I have found without a pub is not a mainly Muslim area but Bournville, the model village built by the Cadbury family, who were Quakers.
Fact: Birmingham has more miles of canals than Venice.
Steve Emerson tells us nothing about Birmingham and everything about Fox News. Someone needs to introduce him to cricket at Edgbaston, The Archers, Spaghetti Junction, and, even in these dire days at Villa Park, to Aston Villa.
Even if I only stop for coffee, I am looking forward to passing through Birmingham later this week.
Selfridges in the Bullring is an architectural symbol of modern Birmingham (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)