Blood Diamonds and the BBC – Journalist Ishmahil Blagrove talks about his documentary and his experience with the corporation

Is the BBC as impartial, free and fair as they claim. I choose to disagree! 

Guest post by Ishmahil Blagrove

After I initiated an inquiry into the way in which the BBC distorted my documentary “Blood Diamonds (2001)”, deceitfully reneged on a signed contract and jeopardised the lives of several contacts on the ground, the BBC’s internal investigation overseen by Mark Damazer, ruled in their own favour against the overwhelming physical evidence and witnesses that I had. Before initiating the inquiry they attempted to bribe me into accepting the distorted narrative of the story, “Don’t worry Ishmahil, there will be more work for you.” When I insisted that I wanted to stick to my contract, someone came and told me “If you rock the boat, as a freelancer you will be black listed”. I still have all the evidence and correspondences with the BBC and perhaps one day I will post it up. I had to decide if I wanted future employment or to stick with my values and principles – I chose to stick with my principles. I have no confidence in the BBC or their impartiality in conducting or commissioning such investigations. THEY ARE CORRUPT!

When the BBC approached me and asked if I could get into the rebel controlled territories during the war to expose slave labour in the diamond mines controlled by the RUF, I agreed on the basis that we would explain how the war started. The war began as a result of a lack of resources and government spending in the East of the country, hospitals, schools etc…

The BBC agreed that we would be able to fuse the two stories, explain the history of the war and that diamonds were being used to fund the conflict. The BBC were obsessed, as were most of the Western media with this patronising view that the people were simply fighting over diamonds. In every conflict protagonists will use the resources at their disposal to acquire weapons, but the Western media were only obsessed with diamonds. The rebels sold cocoa, timber or what have you, but “Blood Cocoa” or “Blood Timber” just wasn’t as catchy as “BLOOD DIAMONDS”.

The BBC cameraman who accompanied me at times refused to film certain scenes, such as when we were coming out of the rebel held territory of Tongo and bumped into a patrol of British soldiers hundreds of miles away from their zone and in an area where they had no mandate to be. We had heard rumours that the British had been training the CDF (a militia) in contravention of the Abujah Agreement which insisted that both sides desisted from fighting. I told him film! He ran into the bush made a satellite phone call back to the BBC and then came back and said, I’m told we need to get more diamond stuff first.

The BBC continually frustrated me. On another occasion one of my informants at the UN called me and said that 4 CDF fighters had been killed and beheaded by the Rebels and that I should get to the region because they had British made weapons (I’m sure some of you may remember the arms to Sierra Leone scandal). The informant at the UN was a senior figure who was angry with the way in which the British had strolled into the arena of war and refused to come under the control of the UN and were using propaganda to steal the glory from the good works that the UN had done. My contact was an American, but i will not name her for her own protection. She offered to put on a helicopter and fly us to the scene where we could investigate the scene – of course the BBC objected.

I had known the former President, Captain Valentine Strasser who had been overthrown and was living on the fringe of Freetown. I visited him and convinced him to talk and to explain the deal behind using the mercenary company ‘Executive Outcome’ to prosecute the war and some of the other under table deals he had done with the Americans and the British – the BBC didn’t want it.

When I returned to the UK, the BBC said I should stay at home for a couple of weeks and write the story – When I returned back into the office, the BBC had deceitfully cut and arranged the material for the film they wanted and had excluded the material and direction I wanted to take the story. I was contracted as the Producer of the story and therefore it should have been my vision, however, when I began to raise objections the Editor of BBC Correspondent, Farah Durani, a dishonourable and dishonest woman who rose to the position of Deputy Editor solely on the basis of some minorities fast track scheme, came to me and said that my contract had been issued in error, that I was not the Producer of the programme, that I was simply the reporter. I asked her, “If I didn’t produce the programme, then who did? Did it produce itself out of thin air?” Such was the deceptive and dishonest nature of the BBC that caused me to take them to an inquiry. They put out the documentary omitted the credit of Producer. (I have never been able to tell this story, as at the time the internet was not as ubiquitous as it is now. There was no forum to explain how criminal and deceitful the BBC had been. I am glad for this opportunity to unburden myself. Anyone from the BBC who wishes to sue me for defamation, or perhaps FARAH DURANI, please feel free to contact me you bunch of fraudsters.)

Even now the British are seen as the ones who brought peace to Sierra Leone. The UN are rightfully criticised in the often dismal efforts at peace keeping, but in the final years of the Sierra Leone conflict they did an outstanding job. The United Nations Bangladeshi Forces of Battalion 7, were the first soldiers to get into the main rebel stronghold of Kono. The fact that the Bangladeshi’s were humble and came from a culture similar to many in the region who are muslim, made it easier for them to get along with the rebels. They had a laid back attitude and the rebels were often hanging out and chilling at the Bangladeshi’s outpost. They ate with their hands and slept outdoors in bivouacs. (The rebels continually praised the Bangladeshi’s and I know of several instances where the Bangladeshis under the command of a brave Colonel, whom I can’t remember his name but I do have it recorded in my notes of the time, they averted massacres of hundreds of people and put themselves in the middle of raging gun battles.) During peace talks the rebels insisted that they did not want any British soldiers or officials present, as they believed that the British were not impartial but were involved in training the government militia and encouraging the war.


Muslim woman turned away from her son’s parents evening

Muslim woman wearing niqabA Muslim women wearing the niqab has been turned away from her son’s parents evening because of security concerns.

Maroon Rafique was told by college staff that she could not come to the parents evening unless she removed her niqab. The 40-year-old from Manchester has visited the college on previous occasions and there never seemed to be a problem, but on this occasion she was stopped in the lobby. The College staff told her that her face veil was a security risk.   She was then forced to ring her husband who attended for her.

The media has jumped on this story but rather than see Maroon Rafique as the victim, the debate has yet again,moved to Muslims and integration.  No one seems to ask the real questions about how a few inches of cloth over someone’s face can be a threat to British society.

If a woman wishes to wear a niqab then surely it is her choice to do so. An educational institute that is supposed to be a bastion of free speech, diversity and acceptance, should not be turning away parents on the basis of how they chose to dress.

Unfortunately, there has been an increased number of these actions since the UK went to war in Afghanistan and Iraq.  The actions of the UK abroad are directly linked to the increase of racism and Islamaphobia in this country.  You cannot kill Muslims abroad whilst not attacking Muslims at home, whether it is in the form of targeting women for a few inches of cloth or expecting Muslims to adhere to an imaginary notion of Britishness invented by the elite.  What is clear to many is that talk of ‘security’ and ‘Britishness’ is just a veneer for xenophobia and scapegoating.  At a time of government cuts and recession politicians turn on the most vulnerable in society to distract people from the real issues.

Maroon has defended herself admirably; she phoned in live to the BBC Asian Network and came across as articulate and composed unlike the bigoted voices that opposed her.  Most of all it is clear that she is a mother that cares about her son’s education.  The college have said that they are looking into the concerns raised by Mrs Rafique, but it does not excuse the fact that they treated her in a degrading manner.

She is yet to receive a formal apology for her treatment at the hands of the college staff.

Muslim Youth Helpline Closes and CEO Stands Down Amid Police Leak Row

A helpline for Muslim youngsters has been suspended and its CEO has resigned amid a furious row over the apparent forwarding of confidential information to a police anti-terror unit.

Muslim Youth Helpline, which was established in 2004, has been put on ice by bosses after private emails were leaked onto a blog detailing the “disgusting” breach of confidentiality.

Muslim Youth Helpline volunteers say they are “shocked and disgusted” at the incident after details were posted on a blog called MYH Whistleblower and claim it came as part of a “personal vendetta” by the charity boss.

The charity’s former CEO, Akeela Ahmed had claimed those calling for her resignation were “racists”, “homophobes”, and “extremists”.

She allegedly worked with husband Nafeez Ahmed to contact officers in anti-extremism programme “Prevent” to further the complaint after initial attempts to involve police failed to gain traction.

In a private email to Chief Inspector James Spencer in Prevent, Nafeez wrote: “The police officers we have spoken to don’t appreciate the insidious dynamic of what is going on as an extremist attempt to, effectively, forcibly takeover one of this country’s leading progressive Muslim charities.”

The Chief inspector replied, “The fact that you have concerns with your knowledge and experience of these issues does make me genuinely concerned”, adding, “I have already contacted SO15 Counter Terrorism Command and provided details.”

Mr Ahmed, who heads think tank the Institute for Policy Research and Development (IPRD) made no attempt to deny the veracity of the leaked emails, saying: “These emails are confidential and have been unlawfully leaked.”

A statement from 30 signatories involved with the Muslim Youth Helpline published on the MYH Whistleblower blog on Saturday 9th June stated that they were: “Deeply disappointed and dismayed that in today’s current climate of fear and Islamaphobia that these two individuals would go to such an extent.

They claimed there were: “Horrified and shocked”, at the suggestion they were involved in extremist activities, claimed there was no evidence to support her suggestion and claimed it stemmed from an office related dispute. The names of the signatories were not published on the blog.

Solicitors for Mrs Ahmed said in a statement: “As is clear from its content, the blog is founded on confidential information and correspondence, including the report of criminal activity to the police. They also claimed that the confidential information was “obtained illegally, by the hacking of our client’s personal email account.”

One of the staff members that signed the original statement of grievance and statement responding to the leaks, Nasir Sayed said, “I am shocked and disgusted that Akeela did this,” he said he only found out about the leaked emails when they were posted on the blog, “innocent people have been accused of extremism without a shred of evidence against them,” he added.

The board of the Muslim Youth Helpline issued a statement on their website declaring that they had “Taken the unprecedented step of suspending their service whilst they investigated the issues behind the “unlawful campaign”, referring to the allegations of the hacked emails.

Chief Inspector James Spencer declined to comment and the police have yet to make a comment on the incident.

The first Muslim organisation to break the silence on the issue has been the Federation of Student Islamic Societies (Fosis) in an open letter from the President, Nabil Ahmed. He said, regarding the handing over of details to the police, “shocking and cannot be justified,” he went forward to ask for an apology to be issued to those whose names had been handed over to the police.

Fosis outlined criticisms and suggested changes for the Muslim Youth Helpline. They condemned the close relationship with the police along with the police themselves, asked for the resignation of the board and support for those whose names were passed on to the anti-terrorism police.

Muslims Celebrating the Diamond Jubilee?

The Queen’s diamond jubilee has exposed Muslims and Muslim organisations as being complicit in the collective amnesia around the crimes of the British Empire.

The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) sent out a press release stating that British Muslims are “deeply grateful” for the Queen’s long interest in her Muslim subjects. It must have been this interest that kept her silent during the two wars waged against the people of two Muslim countries: Iraq and Afghanistan.  It must be this interest that maintains the Queen’s silence with regards to the complicity of the British in Israel’s destruction of Palestine, or in the face of rising Islamophobic and Fascist groups such as the EDL.

Shockingly, this gratefulness is not reflected on the ground. From London to Birmingham to Manchester, the majority of Muslims have expressed little or no interest in the Queen’s jubilee. I heard of no Imam thanking the Queen or being “deeply grateful” to the Queen during their Friday sermons.  I have seen no street parties in Muslim areas of Birmingham celebrating Her Royal Highness’ 60th year on the throne.

There are a minority of Muslims that are falling over themselves to please the establishment and sign up to a colonial notion of tolerance and integration. Maybe the MCB and these other Muslims have forgotten about the stolen jewels on the Queen’s crown, the British flags that once flew over the lands of their forefathers planted by an occupying British army and how colonialism still lives on in the shape of the occupation of Afghanistan. Maybe they have also forgotten that the last time a diamond jubilee was celebrated by a British monarch, it was an excuse to consolidate British imperialism and the presence in India. Even if the MCB and their friends are blind to history surely they can find it objectionable that a £32 million party is been thrown for someone that lives off tax payers, whilst people across Britain are losing their jobs, facing pay cuts and watching their services disappear. And if they are all blind to this, then surely these Muslims cannot ignore the knighthood of Salman Rushdie, a slap in the face of every Muslim colonial servant that is celebrating this taxpayer funded decadence.

The only major media channel that seems to have shown some sort of context to the Queen’s diamond jubilee is Al Jazeera with a report about members of the West Indian community that first came here that want an apology from the Queen for their treatment.

I spoke to an imam of a Mosque in Birmingham and asked him about his opinion of these Muslim organisations that are celebrating the jubilee. He said simply, “they’ve lost the plot”.

These organisations would be better off, at the very least, demanding that the Queen cut back on her extravagant expenditure, advise her to return her stolen jewels like the Koh-i-noor diamond, for her to apologise for all the blood spilt by the British empire, the rape, the stolen land and resources as well as the decades of subjugation in the name of the crown.

Yet again, these so-called representative Muslim bodies and individuals have shown how out of touch they are with the vast majority of ordinary Muslims on Britain’s streets.  These organisations and individuals prefer to kiss the hand that beats them in the hope of finding a seat at the elitist table asking for government handouts and seeking recognition for themselves. These self-serving interests are worth nothing in their eyes without the rubber-stamped approval of Her Majesty.