The Arab-American Anti Discrimination Committee was just one of the
groups that, in a PRWeek US report last month, said they were struggling
to cope with the magnitude of the media interest in their issues. But in
the UK, Muslim groups have for years been tackling issues that have now
hit the headlines in the wake of the attacks.
Most prominent among these groups is the Muslim Council of Britain,
comprising a host of local, regional and national organisations. Shortly
after it was formed in 1996, a specialist media committee was set up,
headed by secretary-general Yousuf Bhailok - a sign of the importance it
gave to PR.
Since then the committee has held talks with newspaper editors and staff
at Number 10, including director of communications Alastair
Issues discussed include media bias against mainstream Islamic groups,
religious and racial attacks on Muslims and mosques, a lack of
legislation outlawing discrimination and the need for the groups to
Media committee secretary Inayat Bunglawala says a strong PR and PA
strategy was already in place, and that the period after the 11
September was all about building on this.
MCB spokesmen, Bhailok and media committee vice-chair Iqbal Sacranie
were increased to five with Bunglawala, the council's deputy secretary
Mahmud Al Rashid and media committee member Shir Khan all promoted to
take on spokesman duties. Bunglawala says: 'We have been talking to
editors and those at Number 10. They know us and this has helped.'
Margaret Thatcher provoked fresh controversy last week by criticising
Muslim groups for not doing enough to condemn the attack. Bunglawala
says the former PM cannot be more wrong: 'By 5.30pm on 11 September we
had sent out releases condemning what happened. It was important we made
it clear that terrorism is despised by Muslims.'
A key concern was perceived bias. Many articles focusing on extremists
based in the UK, such as muslim cleric Bakri Mohammed, followed the
Editors were immediately contacted and the council is now satisfied this
has led to a reduction of column inches devoted to extremists.
Following a conversation between the council's media committee and
Campbell, journalists attending a Downing Street briefing last month
were warned against gratuitous coverage of Muslim extremists.
The council even secured meetings with Blair and his Tory counterpart
Iain Duncan Smith to discuss the need for laws to stamp out religious
hatred and discrimination. Within a week of these meetings, home
secretary David Blunkett had announced plans to extend race laws to
During the coming weeks the MCB's work will concentrate on liaising with
regulators, including the Independent Television Commission and the PCC,
to ensure fair reporting of Muslims in the UK. Lord Wakeham, PCC
chairman, has already been approached.
The work of the council has attracted the interest of PR agency Weber
Shandwick Worldwide. Head of international government affairs Marcus
Courage gave a presentation to the council last week in a bid to assist
with its PR. But Bungalawa says: 'We found a lot of what they suggested
we were already doing so, outsourcing PR is not something we want. We
feel it is important that this is being handled from within the Muslim
Other Muslim groups involved in PR after 11 September include the Muslim
Institute and sister body the Muslim Parliament. As with the MCB, this
group already has a solid background in media relations and PA, handled
by Dr Ghayasuddin Siddiqui, secretary of the institute and leader of the
Siddiqui echoes the view of the MCB, that the priorities were to
distance the Muslim faith from terrorism and ensure fair and accurate
media coverage of Muslims. The institute is leaving government relations
to the MCB but has been in talks with civil rights group Liberty over
the implications of legislation to outlaw discrimination. 'We support
legislation and setting up a statutory body to regulate it but, at the
same time, are aware of the civil liberty issues,' Siddiqui says.
In June a number of Muslim groups joined to form the Forum Against
Islamophobia and Racism. Siddiqui says that because of the events in the
US and the increase in attention the forum is now looking to recruit PR
professionals: 'With this subject they are better equipped to handle the
Since 11 September there is evidence of a backlash against Muslims with
attacks taking place on Muslims and mosques across Britain. Last month
an Afghan minicab driver was left paralysed after an attack in London, a
Muslim woman was the victim of a baseball bat attack in Swindon and a
Southend mosque was vandalised.
With such public safety and community relations implications, the task
of promoting Muslim condemnation of terrorism also falls to local
authorities with high Muslim populations. Oldham, for example, is
already involved in race relations work following the summer riots -
since 11 September this has been increased. Muslim leaders' messages of
condemnation of terrorism have been published on council press releases
and the council also set up the area's first multi-faith forum.
Incidents such as the riots in Bradford and Oldham and the lack of a
constitution to enshrine religious freedom and equality has meant that
Britain's Muslim community has had a significant head start as effective
campaigners over Muslim groups in the US.