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BBC OneDirty War
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Last Updated: Tuesday, 28 September, 2004, 09:39 GMT 10:39 UK
Reaction: Muslim Council of Britain
By Inayat Bunglawala
Secretary of the Media Committee, MCB

With the frequent warnings from our most senior politicians and police officials about the possibility of a terrorist attack on the UK mainland from al-Qaeda inspired terrorists, many have come to stoically regard this as an inevitable eventuality.

Panic sets in as crowds in Dirty War try to leave the City of London

Dirty War takes these warnings seriously and legitimately examines just how prepared our emergency services would be in the event of the detonation of a radiological bomb outside Liverpool Street station in London.

The storyline involves the importation to the UK of ingredients for such a bomb from Istanbul.

Public perception

The programme makers must have known that they were entering controversial territory.

Many British Muslims are quite understandably deeply unhappy with the way they have often been portrayed in the media.

They feel some statements in newspapers are clearly designed to be inciteful and to encourage a hatred of Muslims.

Certainly, the drip-drip effect of the high profile anti-terror raids have served to convince many Britons that there are indeed numerous cells of "Muslim" terrorists on the loose in this country.

The facts are that since 9/11, 609 people have been arrested under the anti-terror legislation - of whom only 15 have been convicted to date - and most of these were actually non-Muslims.


Actress who played a Muslim police officer in Dirty War
Islam is categorically not about destruction and the killing of innocents
Muslim police officer in Dirty War

The programme makers had clearly tried to balance out the portrayal of suicidal terrorists with more positive Muslim characters.

In one scene, an elderly Muslim lady tips off the police after becoming rightly suspicious about the behaviour of her newly-arrived neighbours who she sees unloading barrels from a van in the middle of the night.

The lead policewoman is a young, hardworking, multilingual Muslim who gives a firm riposte to the arguments of a terrorist during interrogation.

"Islam is categorically not about destruction and the killing of innocents," she retorts.

Public alert

The portrayal of the aftermath of the bomb's detonation is revealing.

The scepticism of members of the emergency services expressed earlier to a government minister about the availability of suitable equipment and their level of training, is quickly proved to be well-founded.

There is ensuing confusion and increasing agitation among the public, who are confined by the police to cordoned-off areas in order to be decontaminated.

Several are shown to be drinking water unaware that they could be contaminating themselves even further.

The viewer is made aware that we should also refrain from touching our eyes or mouth in the immediate aftermath of a radiological attack.

Language of terrorism

A major weakness was the lack of identifiable Muslims among the victims of the terrorist attack.

Crowd scene from the film
Muslims are not seen in the crowd

We are informed at the end of the drama that 206 people died as a result of the bomb's detonation in a city whose population is 9% Muslim (700,000 Muslims live in London according to the 2001 Census).

It was important to have pointed out that the innocent victims of a major terrorist strike - which by its nature is indiscriminate in who it kills and injures - in London would almost certainly include Muslims.

The reference in the drama to "Islamist terrorists" was also objectionable and unhelpful.

It would have been far better to have simply described them as al-Qaeda inspired terrorists.

At a time when ordinary Muslims are struggling to disassociate themselves and their faith from the actions of terrorists, it is unlikely many viewers will have appreciated the distinction made in the drama between "Islamic" and "Islamist".

The frequency with which the word "Islam" is used with "terrorism" creates an association which is risible to Muslims.

Overall though, Dirty War, tackled an important area in an informative and absorbing style.

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