A day out at a theme park or amusement park, usually with your family but sometimes with your school or a youth organisation, is a happy experience for millions of children throughout the world. Developed from the travelling and seasonal fairs of a previous age, theme parks dramatise the features of a relaxed society – people of all ages are there together, and so are people from all walks of life and all ethnicities, and there’s a vast choice of enjoyable and educational activities in which to share. You enjoy your own life, liberty and pursuit of happiness, and you’re relaxed and pleased that lots of other people are enjoying their lives and freedoms too. Everyone’s ’Us’, no one’s ‘Them’.
Recently the Muslim Research and Development Foundation (MRDF), based in East London, announced plans for a families day out at Legoland, the famous theme park near Windsor. What? A Muslim organisation wanting its children to enter and enjoy public space? In the eyes of the Daily Mail, that would never do. The Mail requested its columnist Richard Littlejohn to rubbish the whole idea. Littlejohn’s article was entitled ‘Jolly Jihadi Boy’s Outing to Legoland’ and appeared on 18 February. It was illustrated with large pictures of Abu Hamza and Omar Bakti Mohammed, allegedly respected and extolled by the MRDF, and it consisted of a spoof timetable for the day as a whole.
The timetable contained one vile Islamophobic trope or stereotype after another. In a nutshell, the day would consist essentially of instruction in the ways and methods of terrorism and would, for example, teach children how to disguise Semtex as Lego bricks and to chant in unison ‘Death to America, Death to Jews’. It would culminate in a fireworks display featuring remote-controlled planes made of Lego being flown into a scale model of the TwinTowers, similarly made of Lego. Interweaving with such glorifications of terrorism there would be times of prayer, to remind the children that terrorism has God’s blessing.
There are reports in the media today (27 February) that MRDF’s day at Legoland has been cancelled. A statement from Legoland explains that this follows from advice given by Thames Valley Police in the light of threatening phone calls, emails and social media posts. ‘These alone have led us to conclude that we can no longer guarantee the happy fun family event which was envisaged, or the safety of our guests and employees on that day,’ says the statement, ‘which is always our number one priority.’
There have been protests against the Mail’s outrageous behaviour, but so far these have been almost entirely from Muslims. Barely a whisper has yet been heard from opinion leaders in other faith communities, or from society more generally. But hopefully the voices of non-Muslims will be raised, and hopefully Legoland and Thames Valley Police will change their minds about caving in to the criminal phone-calls which have been made. But will the Mail apologise for the damage it has done and will it pledge not to do anything similar again? Judging by its coverage of the cancellation, no. It writes about the cancellation as if it has nothing at all to do with its own obnoxious and unethical behaviour.
For more information
Littlejohn’s vile article is at http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-2561686/LITTLEJOHN-Jolly-Jihadi-Boys-Outing-Legoland.html
Muslim responses to the article are outlined at http://tellmamauk.org/tag/richard-littlejohn/.
There’s an article by Roy Greenslade about the episode at http://www.theguardian.com/media/greenslade/2014/feb/21/islam-dailymail.
There’s coverage of Thames Valley Police’s claim it cannot guarantee people’s safety from Islamophobic extremists at, for example, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-berkshire-26351500.
The Mail’s own coverage of the cancellation, making no reference to its own part in inciting criminal phone calls, is at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-berkshire-26351500.
There are general discussions of Islamophobia in the media at http://www.insted.co.uk/islam.html.