When I was a teenager I used to upset my father by telling him I thought it would be really glamorous to die young in a car crash. The stupid thing was, I believed it. The corollary of feeling immortal is that you have no real understanding of the finality of death. That’s why you can count on the fingers of one hand the number of 40-plus suicide bombers.
In My Brother, the Islamist (BBC3, Monday), a likeable Dorset tree surgeon called Robb Leech set out on a quest to discover why the blond, perfectly normal-seeming stepbrother Rich with whom he’d grown up in Weymouth had ended up as a member of the group Islam4UK. That’s the now-banned radical group led by the obnoxious Anjem Choudary which you see doing tasteful, multicultural things like burning the US flag outside the American embassy on the 9/11 anniversary and gathering in Luton to yell ‘babykillers’ at the Anglian regiment returning from a tour of duty in Iraq.
Though I’m sure it wasn’t his intention to use his stepbrother as a pretext for infiltrating this vile organisation, Robb nevertheless landed himself an apparent scoop. For the first time on television we got to see Islam4UK — or Al Muhajiroun or whatever they call themselves now — not just at work (shouting through megaphones; burning flags; upsetting passers-by) but also at what constitutes for them play.
The things that Islamists can do for fun are actually quite limited: if the Prophet didn’t do it, nor can you, so while you’re allowed archery and riding, pretty much everything else is haram (i.e., forbidden). In one of the most pathetic, but also slyly charming scenes, we saw Rich (or Salahuddin, as he now styles himself) and his beardie mates cruising the streets of London in the small hours during Ramadan in search not of sex, drugs or rock’n’roll but of a groovy extremist mosque in which to pray.
I say ‘slyly charming’ because what you could see very clearly beneath the menacing beards and scary black headscarves and Osama Bin Laden-style combat jackets were some lonely, confused but generally polite, affable young men, who’d found the camaraderie and sense of purpose which comes from being part of a gang. It’s just that instead of getting laid and getting wasted, as most sensible young people do, they’d sublimated these urges into a holy mission to impose the rule of Allah on the whole world.
What neither Robb nor the documentary could quite resolve was the gulf between the obvious personal decency of these young men and the totalitarian aggression and intolerance of their (overtly stated) cause. Robb was upset to discover, for example, that according to the terms of his religion Rich would now only shake his hand using his left hand (i.e., as Robb noted, the ‘one you use to wipe your arse’). Rich was chillingly matter-of-fact about this. As a true Muslim, a Kufar (non-believer) can never be your friend, nor can you treat him on equal terms: indeed, the only reason you should be nice to him is that it might open the way to your converting him.
In the final scene when Robb confronted Rich with this, he sounded more hurt than angry — and, indeed, subsequently expressed regret for having been so blunt. Personally, I wished he’d been blunter, just as I wished during the scene when the beardie gang came to proselytise on the streets of Weymouth (of all places) that the people we’d seen being carried off in police cars had been these Islamist troublemakers, rather than those members of the public who had seen fit to confront them.
With fundamentalist Islam, as with so many destructive elements in our modern culture such as the UK Uncut mob which trashed Fortnum & Mason, we so fetishise such notions as ‘minority rights’ and ‘freedom of speech’ that we’re prepared to allow tiny hate groups to ride roughshod over the interests of the law-abiding majority.
There was definitely more than a hint of this cultural surrender in this otherwise admirable documentary. Though you started off being impressed by the degree of access which the programme had been given to this extremist organisation, you ended up wondering whose interests were being served here. After all, isn’t it something of a propaganda coup for Choudary’s snarling poppy-burners to be presented on TV as a bunch of lovable lads whose idea of fun is devotion and prayer and presumably — though this wasn’t shown — rescuing stranded kittens from the tops of high trees.
This is the BBC, remember. The same BBC that was responsible for the execrable documentary vilifying Geert Wilders as ‘the most dangerous man in Europe’; the same BBC whose news teams’ most desperate concern after Islamist suicide bombings is the effect they might have in stoking ‘Islamophobia’. Had My Brother, the Islamist been one iota less sympathetic towards its subject matter, I’m sure it would never have passed the BBC Surrender Monkey test to which all BBC productions are submitted; and as a consequence it would never have been made.