Television: Prime Time alarmism over Muslims

If Ireland wasn't in fear of Muslims at the beginning of Prime Time Investigates' ‘Suspicious Minds' documentary, it certainly was at the end. Dubious commentators, alarmist allegations and the flimsiest of evidence – not the stuff we are used to from the programme's erstwhile reliable research team


Towards the end of the Prime Time Investigates documentary, ‘Suspicious Minds', on Monday 18 December, results of an opinion poll were presented on how Muslims in Ireland viewed attitudes towards them at the present time. Nearly two thirds (61%) thought hostility towards Muslims had increased; nearly a third (30%) had personally experienced hostility and nearly a quarter (23%) thought Ireland was becoming Islamophobic.

Had a survey been done after the broadcast, it is likely that hostility towards the Islamic community would have been even more marked. The programme sprayed allegation upon allegation around like a machine gun, every now and again acknowledging that there was no substantive evidence, then going on to spew further allegation.

The purpose of the programme was stated at the outset: “We investigate Ireland's role in the Jihad in Iraq”. In fact, the programme ignored Iraq almost until the very end when – again without substantiation – it asserted that Irish nationals were taking part in the war there, or at least some with Irish passports had done so.

The immam who had been touted in a full documentary eight days previously in the Would you Believe slot – and whose credentials then were dubious – was wheeled out again to make more allegations about extremist Islamic fundamentalists. He said that they were embedded in the Muslim community here, endangering Irish society. He was allowed to broadcast such statements even though the programme itself presented credible evidence that this person was not to be believed – not that he was telling lies, but rather that he was being alarmist without cause.


Prime Time Investigates seemed not to believe its own evidence from the poll it had commissioned. Three-quarters of Muslims here feel fully integrated into Irish society and two thirds felt that Islam was compatible with the culture here. One third would prefer that Sharia law were introduced here, but is that surprising? Wouldn't committed Catholics like if the laws here reflected Catholic ethos more?

A lot was made out of a cleric's comment that he respected Osama bin Laden and that he didn't believe he was involved in the 9/11 atrocities in the US. The reporter, Barry O'Kelly, pursued a line of questioning that was entirely obtuse and, predictably, got nowhere, concentrating on the issue of respect for Osama rather than on whether the cleric approved of the 9/11 attack.

A few from what is known as the “intelligence” community in America were brought on to make claims about Muslims in Ireland that, almost certainly, they knew as much about as that “intelligence” community know about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

There was alarm that 28 per cent of Muslims here believe that violence is sometimes justified in the pursuit of political ends. What is surprising about this? What proportion of the US population holds that opinion too – surely something in the region of 80 per cent? And don't most of us believe there are occasions when such violence is justified – for instance as many of us believed was justified against apartheid?

There were clips from a debate at Trinity College when a few crackpot Muslim clerics were imported from London to create a stir, but why should we think there was any significance to that?

Finally there was focus on a single Muslim, a former journalist who, allegedly, had connections with suspected al Qaida operatives in Europe. Again no substantiation, aside from an alleged involvement by this person in an aid agency that the Americans say was a front for al Qaida. Barry O'Kelly got very excited at this stage. He asked, what is the basis for these extraordinary claims? “Well, much of the information is contained in a [named] security file. [The pronunciation was indistinct so I didn't catch the name.] I have seen it and it represents the fruits of years of investigation into [the man named] and reports contacts with known Jihadists in Europe and elsewhere.”

How did he know this information was based on “years” of investigation, by whom was this investigation conducted, why should we pay any attention to it and by whom were these supposed Jihadists known? We weren't told.

This was a bad piece of journalism, conducted by a team that has done excellent work over the last year or so and especially recently with the exposés of the appalling state of the mental-health services for young people and the rip-offs in the estate agency business.