A London imam has sued the BBC for libel over a broadcast which he
claims meant he was a member of a “rogue’s gallery of extremists”.
Shakeel Begg, chief imam at Lewisham Islamic Centre, is suing about a
short segment of an interview on the Sunday Politics show in November
2013 featuring presenter Andrew Neil and Farooq Murad, who was at that
time head of the Muslim Council of Britain.
Neil identified the East London Mosque in Whitechapel as a venue for
a number of extremist speakers, and speakers who espoused extremist
positions, and said that Begg had spoken there that year and hailed
jihad as “the greatest of deeds”.
Three other unnamed speakers were referred to and their distinct
extremist positions identified, but there was no suggestion that Begg
had espoused their views.
Begg claims the words meant that he was a member of a “rogue’s
gallery of extremists” who actively encouraged the hatred of, violence
towards and murder of non-Muslims.
He also claims they meant he promoted and encouraged religious violence
by telling Muslims that violence in support of Islam would constitute a
man’s greatest deed.
Begg’s counsel, William Bennett, told Mr Justice Haddon-Cave at the
High Court yesterday that it was very damaging for such an allegation to
be broadcast by an authoritative broadcaster such as the BBC.
Begg was committed to tackling extremism and actively worked for the
Muslim community to engage with non-Muslims, he said, adding: “If he
really did support these positions, then he would be out there making
his position clear as he speaks in public frequently.”
Andrew Caldecott QC, for the BBC, which denies defamation and pleads
truth, said: “The basis for calling the claimant an extremist is short and simple: He has preached jihad as the greatest of deeds which in this context clearly means violence in the name of Islam.
“We say the meaning is clear beyond any reasonable doubt that Mr Begg
has taken the extremist position in preaching that jihad in the sense of
violence in the name of Islam is the greatest of deeds.
“That’s what it says. That’s what it means. Either he has preached that
or he has not.”
Caldecott referred to a number of speeches given by Begg and said
that his interfaith work in the community and evidence to his character
was peripheral to the import of what he had preached to his fellow
The trial is expected to last four days.