Fox News host and former US district attorney Jeanine Pirro sat in stunned silence as journalist Steve Emerson made inflammatory claims in response to the recent terrorist violence in France. Emerson, who was brought on Saturday’s program as an expert on Islamic extremism and terrorism, made the bombastic claim that certain areas in the United Kingdom are “Muslim only.”
“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,” Emerson claimed. He went on to say that the city of London has “Muslim religious police that actually beat and actually wound seriously anyone who doesn’t dress according to Muslim, religious Muslim attire.”
Emerson, author of American Jihad: The Terrorists Living Among Us and founder of the controversial nonprofit The Investigative Project on Terrorism, has since apologized for his statements. His apology did not come quick enough for Twitter users, who used the hashtag #FoxNewsFacts to poke fun of Emerson and Fox News. The tag trended worldwide as users from the United States and the United Kingdom mocked the incident:
— Umar Malik (@loverofMadina) January 12, 2015
— Pavilion Opinions (@pavilionopinion) January 11, 2015
— David Broadfield (@David_Link2) January 12, 2015
— By Any Means (@Mo_mohamud1) January 12, 2015
— shaikhspeare (@zallahk) January 12, 2015
Even British Prime Minister David Cameron commented on the gaffe, saying Emerson was “clearly a complete idiot.” He continued, “What [Emerson] should do is actually look at Birmingham and see what a fantastic example it is of bringing people together of different faiths, different backgrounds and actually building a world class brilliant city.”
It’s not all fun and jokes, says Madihha Ahussain, staff attorney at Muslim Advocates. “When we hear commentary like what Emerson said about the community in Birmingham, it has implications for Muslims all over the world. Even American Muslims.”
Ahussain was weary of the large platform Emerson was given to spread misinformation about Muslims. “When pundits with large followings fearmonger, it creates an environment where it’s okay to engage in hate. If you paint an entire community with a broad brush, you’re blaming everyone for the actions of the few. Muslims lose their individuality, and it leads to more hate.”
This is not the first incident in which Emerson has made inflammatory statements about Muslims. During a 2013 appearance on The Sean Hannity Show in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing, he falsely identified twenty-two-year-old, Abdulrahman Ali Alharbi as a suspect to the crime. Alharbi had only been questioned as a witness. After video of the actual bombers became public, he wrote that the two brothers were jihadist and not Chechen separatists, despite many high ranking officials, including the president, cautioning against jumping to such conclusions.
“It’s not fair to paint an entire community as the enemy and spread misinformation because you are afraid of the few,” said Ahussain.
For those looking to combat hate speech, Ahussain suggests active counter speech. She says “the best way to respond to hateful words is with more words that express truth.” She pointed to celebrities like Aziz Ansari and Ben Afleck who have used their status to publicly counter Islamaphobic speech. Ahussain encourages all to use their voice, and in 2014 Muslim Advocates released the report Click Here to End Hate, which discusses effective counter speech on social media.
Ahussain encourages dialogue within the Muslim community and with others. She says, “even in tragedy, a positive conversation can be maintained.”
According to the BBC, the city of Birmingham has a population of around 1,073,045 , with 494,358 declaring their religion Christian, 234,411 reporting Muslim, and 276,907 reporting no religion or Atheist.