12 January 2015
Last updated at 19:04
An American terrorism commentator has apologised for describing Birmingham as a “Muslim-only city” where non-Muslims “don’t go” during a Fox News interview.
Steven Emerson told the channel that in London “Muslim religious police” beat “anyone who doesn’t dress according to Muslim, religious Muslim attire”.
He later issued an apology for his “terrible error”.
His comments have come in for ridicule, with the hashtag #FoxNewsFacts trending on Twitter.
Mr Emerson, who founded a group called The Investigative Project on Terrorism, was giving his perspective on the terror attacks in France to Fox presenter Jeanine Pirro.
‘Check your facts’
Birmingham City Council said Mr Emerson’s “curious” comments had no foundation, and welcomed his apology, while Birmingham Edgbaston MP Gisela Stuart described the remarks as “stupid”.
On social media, Mr Emerson has been the butt of jokes, while he has been accused of “speaking nonsense” by people posting on his investigative website.
One Twitter user said: “As someone born and raised in Birmingham, I must admit there was a pressure to read the Kerrang.”
“I was supposed to go to Birmingham last week but I forgot my passport,” said another.
The Guardian’s Simon Ricketts on #FoxNewsFacts
I was at home and the video of the Fox News “expert” Steve Emerson had popped up on my Twitter feed and people were rightly expressing their disbelief at what he had said.
I thought it might be funny to counteract the anger with silliness, so I wrote a tweet and stuck the hashtag (#FoxNewsFacts) on it.
Sometimes the best response to such nonsense is satire and mockery, rather than anger and outrage.
Immediately, that proved successful and the people of Twitter did what they do best at times – took an idea and ran with it.
Speaking on Radio 4’s PM programme, Mr Emerson said: “I don’t want people to use this to claim there’s no such thing as radical Islam.”
He said he “absolutely” stood by comments about “vigilante Muslim groups” in some parts of London.
Mr Emerson said he had been “living under a death threat” since an assassination attempt in the mid 1990s.
In terms of Birmingham, however, he admitted that he had “made an egregious error here in not doing my homework”, adding: “I deserve what I got.”
He said he had relied on sources he had used in the past, but accepted “responsibility” for his comments and did not know how his reputation would be affected in the long term.
Mr Emerson said he also wanted to apologise to “all the residents of Birmingham”.
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Kings Heath resident Penny Hughes, 27, said she really missed the city when she moved away.
“I moved to Leamington Spa for work which was completely different but I wanted to come back, so I did two or three years later.
“I grew up in Handsworth which was a very Asian and multicultural area.”
Shabir Vanat runs a shop in Kings Heath
Shabir Vanat, a 61-year-old Muslim who left Uganda for Birmingham almost 40 years ago, described it as “a very cosmopolitan city”.
He said: “I’ve been in this shop for 29 years and I’ve never had one single problem – I am a big fan of Birmingham.”
Responding to the controversy, Birmingham City Councillor James McKay said: “We are amazingly diverse, and that’s one of the things that makes us brilliant – all this fuss is a reminder of how it’s always best to check your facts before getting into a debate.
“Maybe Fox News could come and visit some time, and see for themselves what a great city we have here?”
Edgbaston MP Ms Stuart said Mr Emerson’s comments had “no redeeming features”.
“I checked whether this was some kind of early April Fool spoof, and then I thought he was talking about Birmingham, Alabama, but then I realised he was just utterly and completely wrong,” the Labour MP said.
- The city’s population estimated at 1,073,045
- Christian: 494,358
- Muslim: 234,411
- Sikh: 32,376
- Hindu: 22,362
- Buddhist: 4,780
- Jewish: 2,205
- Other: 5,646
- No religion: 206,821
- Religion not stated: 70,086
Source: Census 2011
As well as earlier apologising for his remarks, Mr Emerson has offered to make a donation to Birmingham Children’s Hospital.
“I have clearly made a terrible error for which I am deeply sorry,” said Mr Emerson, a witness called to testify to at least one Congressional committee.
“I do not intend to justify or mitigate my mistake by stating that I had relied on other sources because I should have been much more careful.
Scott Lucas, professor of American Studies at the University of Birmingham, said Mr Emerson’s comments, however inaccurate, would appeal to some in the US.
“He speaks in sound bites that some people want to hear,” he said.
“Some people want to hear it’s us versus them, it’s America versus the rest of the world, that it’s white Americans versus – let’s be honest – those who aren’t white and those who profess a different faith.
“Unfortunately, if you tap into that you will be in demand for certain media outlets who give you your 15 seconds of infamy.”
More than 1,000 people have signed an online petition calling for Mr Emerson to make an “on-air apology to the people of Birmingham UK for saying non-Muslims cannot enter our beloved multi-cultural city”.
Maryam Snape, who started the petition, said: “The fact of the matter is the American people saw this story and they are still going to believe it is the truth until he puts it right.”
BBC Asian Network – reaction
Callers to BBC Asian Network’s Nihal Show gave their reaction to the controversy.
One man sent a text to the show saying as a Sikh he felt certain areas of the city were intimidating for non-Muslims.
Another caller said there were other areas where Muslims would feel intimidated and perhaps worry about being attacked.
Most callers, however, criticised Mr Emerson’s claims, which were described as “dangerous” and “absurd” and having the potential to harm community relations.
The Birmingham-born creator of BBC 1 sitcom Citizen Khan Adil Ray said Mr Emerson’s comment was completely baseless and he was “instilling fear” in people.
But he said people had responded in the best way possible.
“It’s a great sign that in Birmingham we don’t take ourselves too seriously and it’s the best way to react with contempt and with satire and humour.”