US news pundit apologises over declaring Birmingham ‘no-go’ area for non-Muslims

Steven Emerson says comments about UK cities on Fox News a ‘terrible error’

Video grab taken from Fox News of Fox News host Jeanine Pirro with news commentator Steven Emerson, who has been forced to apologise after claiming Britain’s second city was a “no-go” zone for non-Muslims. Photograph: Fox News/PA Wire

Video grab taken from Fox News of Fox News host Jeanine Pirro with news commentator Steven Emerson, who has been forced to apologise after claiming Britain’s second city was a “no-go” zone for non-Muslims. Photograph: Fox News/PA Wire


An American news pundit who claimed Britain’s second city was a “no-go” zone for non-Muslims has been branded “a complete idiot” by David Cameron, with others accusing him of fear-mongering.

Steven Emerson was forced to apologise after he said “there are actual cities like Birmingham that are totally Muslim, where non-Muslims just simply don’t go in”, while appearing on the Fox News TV channel.

His comments were broadcast live on the network to households around the globe.

The prime minister told ITV News: “When I heard this, I choked on my porridge and I thought it must be April Fool’s Day. This guy is clearly a complete idiot.

“Now he has started with an apology, that’s not a bad start, but what he should do is 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 with a great and strong economy.”

Birmingham-born comedian Adil Ray, famed for creating BBC One alter-ego Citizen Khan, accused Mr Emerson of spreading fear through his ignorant comments.

Muslim Mr Ray added: “I think the response on Twitter is the best way to deal with it — deal with it contempt, and deal with it with humour.”

“It goes to show people in Birmingham have got a sense of humour”, he said, adding comedy was a unifying and “universal language”.

He praised the residents of Birmingham for taking to social media to pillory Mr Emerson, whose own website states he is an “internationally-recognised expert on terrorism and national security”.

Mr Emerson later apologised for his “terrible error” regarding “the beautiful city of Birmingham” and suggested the remarks had been down to “other sources”.

He also stated his intention to make a donation to Birmingham Children’s Hospital.

According to most recent census data from 2011, the city of more than one million residents has a Muslim population of about 234,000 (21.8 per cent).

But during the weekend broadcast, while discussing the recent terror attacks in Paris, Mr Emerson said: “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.”

Turning his opinions on the UK capital, he then told Fox News host Jeanine Pirro: “(In) parts of London there are actually Muslim religious police who beat and actually wound seriously anyone who doesn’t dress according to Muslim religious attire.”

Ms Pirro appeared to take Mr Emerson’s remarks at face value, making no attempt to correct him.

On Twitter the #FoxNewsFacts hashtag was used by bemused residents, who wasted no time in ridiculing the US news channel by posting images of the city landmarks including the Selfridges department store and the Library of Birmingham and querying if Fox News thought these were mosques.

Mr Ray said although humour had been the right response, it was important not to miss the potentially “serious ramifications” of Mr Emerson’s actions, claiming his comments could be “instilling fear in people and basically saying Muslims are a scary bunch of people”.

He said that in light of the recent Paris terror attacks, it was “scary” when opinion-makers like Mr Emerson were taking to the airwaves to make “divisive” comments.

“It is very scary and at a time like this, if we have learned one thing from events in Paris, it is that what we need to be doing is finding commonality amongst ourselves and not allowing these people to divide us,” he added.

Mr Ray also drew comparisons with the humorous ridiculing of Mr Emerson, and the often near-the-knuckle satire of French magazine Charlie Hebdo — one of the targets of last week’s shocking terror attacks.

He said: “It echoes what the whole issue was with the cartoons, and I’ve always said humour is a fantastic way of unifying people, bringing them together - comedy is a universal language.”

Mr Ray also praised “Brummies” for responding with a sense of humour, adding: “Birmingham is the future of Britain in many ways, we’re a proud city — the very core of Birmingham is that you can come to here from wherever you are and become a Brummie.

“We did that with (Nobel Peace Prize Winner) Malala Yousafzai — she came here from horrific events in Pakistan, and is made to feel very much a Brummie and that’s what Birmingham is about.”

Asked what his comic alter-ego Mr Khan might have made of Emerson’s comments, Mr Ray said: “Well I think Mr Khan would quite clearly say ‘he’s absolutely right — I only just came back from holiday in Pakistan, and somebody asked me how is Pakistan and I said just like Birmingham but with less Pakistanis’.”

On Sunday, he had tweeted: “Some new Birmingham districts: Five Prays, King Abdullah Standing and Prayer Hall Green. #FoxNewsFacts”

Comedian Sanjeev Bhaskar, star of sketch show Goodness Gracious Me, said: “During summer months, men w/ padding & helmets armed w/ bats and stumps regularly Mullah visitors in a field called Edgbaston #FoxNewsFacts”, adding: “The Archers, M6, M5 and UB40 are all weapons made in and around #Birmingham #FoxNewsFacts”.

Comedian Al Murray tweeted: “Ming the Merciless is named after the centre of Birmingham #foxnewsfacts”

And fellow comic David Schneider said: “Having imposed strict dietary laws on Birmingham, Jews and Muslims have now renamed it Birming #foxnewsfacts”

Former Guantanamo Bay detainee Moazzam Begg was also among those who went on Twitter to mock the comments.

He wrote: “‘Birmingham’ spelt backwards means ‘Islamic State’ in Swedish. (No it doesn’t but don’t let #foxnewsfacts get in the way of a good story).”

He later added: “Newly discovered #foxnewsfacts reveal that classic Three Musketeers was really about 3 Brummy Mujahids known to US author Alexander Dumbass.”

And Mr Begg later wrote: “US soldiers told me Britons reminded them of Mr Bean. I told them Americans reminded me of Dumb & Dumber.”

Birmingham City Council said it was clear Mr comments had “no foundation” and invited Fox News to the city to check its facts.

James McKay, the council’s cabinet member for social cohesion, equalities and community safety, said: “Maybe Fox News could come and visit some time, and see for themselves what a great city we have here?”

Mr Emerson said he had made an “egregious error in not doing my own homework”.

He told BBC Radio 4’s PM programme: “It hasn’t been pleasant but I deserve what I got.”

“As far as my statement about Birmingham, I was relying on information that was totally incorrect from sources that I had relied on in the past,” he said.

“I have been in contact with people in the United Kingdom as well as law enforcement and there are areas where law enforcement doesn’t go into in the United Kingdom.

“But, in terms of there being entire cities in the United Kingdom I was totally misled, misinformed.”

Mr Emerson said he stood by comments he made about no-go areas in parts of east London and said he did not want the incident to be used “to claim there is no such thing as radical Islam”.

“There have been numerous reports in British papers and American television about some of the vigilante Muslim groups in eastern parts of London,” he said.