There are two Birminghams.
One is the city many of us know well. The other is a nightmare world where civilization is collapsing thanks to invading Muslims.
The second city isn’t real, of course. But it exists in the reports of right-wing news websites, which are influential in the United States.
The most significant of these, and the one most obsessed with Birmingham, is the Breitbart News Network.
This is linked to the “alt-right” movement in America, and supported Donald Trump’s campaign to become US President.
The admiration goes both ways, as Trump hired Breitbart executive chairman Steve Bannon to lead his election campaign, and later made him White House Chief Strategist. Bannon left that post after seven months.
Breitbart is the 68th most-read website in America, according to analytics firm Alexa.
That’s not just the ranking among news websites. It includes sites such as Google.com, Facebook.com and Youtube.com. So if you’re in 68th place then you’re being read by a lot of people.
Times columnist Hugo Rifkind has reported that American far-right websites present Birmingham as “a lawless hell, long abandoned by white people”.
So I took a look at what Americans are reading about us, and it isn’t pretty.
A Breitbart report from March this year warns: “Birmingham, one of Britain’s great industrial cities during the country’s heyday, has undergone large-scale immigration in recent decades, particularly from the Islamic world.”
It claims that “Muslims formerly based in France” are coming to Birmingham to avoid that country’s ban on full face-veiling.
In Birmingham, according to Breitbart, it’s “easy to have managers at work fired for ‘racism’.”
The site quoted an unnamed “English convert to Islam” who claimed “state schools in the city ‘encourage the practice of rigorous Islam’.”
A report from August claimed to have uncovered “more evidence of the emerging No Go Zones.”
This referred to graffiti reading “No Whites Allowed After 8pm” which appeared on the side of a building Alum Rock.
The story came originally from the Birmingham Mail, and Breitbart reported that the paper quoted local councillor Ali Khan as saying that similar messages had been seen before.
Breitbart made no reference, however, to the rest of Cllr Khan’s comments.
The Birmingham Mail reported that he condemned the poster and made it clear the sentiments were not supported by the local community, saying: “It is unacceptable to have such divisive signs in a diverse community like Washwood Heath which embraces people of all colour and walks of life.”
Breitbart’s story warned of “EU-based Islamists taking advantage of the bloc’s Free Movement immigration regime to resettle in Britain — seen as a soft touch — after countries like France began implementing anti-extremism measures, such as prohibiting full veils in public.”
And in May 2017, Breitbart claimed that Birmingham had become a haven for Salafists, a branch of Islam which can be puritanical in its approach.
It told readers: “A growing number of radical Muslims are flocking to move from France to Britain, where generous welfare payments, lack of scrutiny from the authorities, and the ease with which families can practice strict Islam have earned the UK a reputation as a halal paradise for Salafists who are unable to secure visas for Saudi Arabia.
“French newspaper L’Obs reports that Small Heath, a neighbourhood of Birmingham where 95 per cent of residents practise Islam, is one of the most popular spots for French Muslims seeking a new home where women can wear the full face veil. The garment has been banned since 2010 in France.”
Other websites continue the theme, although they don’t focus on Birmingham so heavily.
The Washington-based Daily Caller, for example, quoted what it called an “intel source”, who claimed: “There are a lot of Muslim strongholds in the UK from London and Luton to Birmingham, Burnley and Blackburn.” The source apparently added: “Right now, through weak policies, we have allowed the fundamentalists to spoil it for the majority.”
Birmingham is certainly a diverse city. But it’s far from being taken over by Muslims.
The 2011 census found that Muslims make up about a quarter of the city’s population of just over a million.
Christians made up half the population, There were twice as many Christians as Muslims.
More to the point, Muslims are not creating “no-go areas” for non-Muslims. There might be pubs where it’s a bad idea to admit you don’t support Villa, but you can admit to being a Christian anywhere you like.
Brummie Muslims don’t have access to “generous welfare payments” any more than the rest of us.
And as for “lack of scrutiny from the authorities”, that will come as news to schools with large Muslim pupil populations that have come under scrutiny from Ofsted, or people aware of the work of Prevent, the government’s anti-extremism programme.
Why highlight Breitbart’s reports at all? Well, this is how some people in the US see our city. They believe this nonsense.