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Friday, June 27, 2008 


Generally, if a story's on the front page of the Daily Express, you can guarantee that the slant they've given it isn't warranted. Whether it's blaming Gordon Brown for something he hasn't done, scaremongering about how we're not going to be able to afford anything shortly due to run-away inflation, or its favourite subject now that Diana has finally been shuffled off the front page, how terrible Muslims are.

Today is no exception. Screaming in bold type, the front page informs us that "SNIFFER DOGS OFFEND MUSLIMS". Tom Whitehead, the Express's Home Affairs correspondent, sets the scene:

POLICE sniffer dogs trained to spot terrorists at railway stations may no longer come into contact with Muslim passengers – after complaints that it is against the suspects’ religion.
A report for the Transport Department has raised the prospect that the animals should only touch passengers’ luggage because it is considered “more acceptable”.

The statement in the first paragraph is immediately withdrawn or proved wrong, a typical tabloid tactic, just four paragraphs later:

British Transport Police last night insisted it would still use sniffer dogs – which are trained to detect explosives – with any passengers regardless of faith, but handlers would remain aware of “cultural sensitivities”.

The Express is referring to a series of trials carried out by the Department of Transport on the suitability of various security measures proposed to be installed at railway and underground stations after 7/7. It took me a while to actually find the reports themselves, as they're nowhere to be found on the DoT's press releases page and are hidden away on the site itself, but I did eventually track them down. There were five trials in total, but the one we're interested in is the sniffer dogs one conducted in London and Brighton, which is here, with both the executive summary and the report in full.

To call this document tedious doesn't even begin to cover how dull the report is, which makes even watching paint dry look exciting by comparison. You have to hand it to the Express on that level - they've at least looked at, or looked at the executive summary, noted that Muslims expressed a couple of concerns, and then managed to get an entire story out of it. Out of the full document, which is brimming over with the views of dozens of people who took part in the trials, here are the few Muslims who expressed specific concerns:

Respondents described how if a Muslim had performed Wudu, then it would not be permissible for them to have direct contact with a dog as this would invalidate the Wudu: ‘… we have what we call Wudu, where we’re just washed and clean for pray, and if a dog sniffs [or] comes near us and touches us … we have to do it again … we try to avoid them [dogs] mostly …

I don’t mind dogs in the park or walking near me, but sniffer dogs, I don’t think that’s right, on the station, the way they use it … I think it’s unacceptable.’

(Interview 11: Male, Asian, 45-59 years old, Muslim, Brighton, had not observed trial)

‘… we are not supposed to have dogs, it is against our religion. It is the culture - it is traditional … at home we are not supposed to have dogs. It is like, when you pray, if you touch a dog your prayer will never happen. It is bad. You are not supposed to touch a dog.’

(Interview 13: Male, Asian, 18-24 years old, Muslim, Brighton, had not observed trial)

By way of emphasising this point, it was mentioned that it was not typical for Muslim families to keep dogs as pets. This lack of contact with dogs seemed to add to Muslim respondents’ fear and worry in relation to the use of sniffer dogs:

‘I am a bit frightened … about dogs, but not all dogs. Small dogs are not a problem. But I am not accustomed to caring for a dog … in my country it is not normal to rear a dog in the house … dogs are not acceptable to be in the house.’
(Interview 03: Male, Middle Eastern, 35-59 years old, Muslim, London)

However, there were Muslim respondents who described how it would generally be acceptable for a sniffer dog to examine their luggage, as long as the dog did not touch them. Therefore the way in which the sniffer dogs were used in London would perhaps be more acceptable to Muslims than how they operated in Brighton, due to the greater likelihood for the dogs to make direct contact with people in Brighton, as opposed to solely luggage.

However, there were Muslim respondents who would be unconcerned if they came into contact with a sniffer dog as they described how they did not follow Islam strictly. This was particularly so for men under the age of 45.

And, err, that's it. The report itself doesn't come to any conclusions on whether because of these concerns that sniffer dogs shouldn't be used around Muslims, it only suggests that they might be more comfortable with them only sniffing their luggage.

In fact, the whole Express story is bollocks, because as the Transport minister Tom Harris made clear in his accompanying statement, based on the reports the government has decided that both bag-screening machines and sniffer dogs will be installed at a "handful" of rail and underground stations from now on. Typically, the view of the first two men who objected are also not necessarily representative - I know of a number of Muslim families who do have dogs to begin with - and their main concern was not that dogs sniffing them was against their religion completely, but concerned in case they had washed in preparation of praying. As some doubtless travel on the underground to get to the mosque to pray, this is understandable.

Back to the Express:

In the Muslim faith, dogs are deemed to be spiritually “unclean”. But banning them from touching passengers would severely restrict their ability to do their job.

Except they're not going to be banned from touching passengers. This article does however give that impression while not claiming directly that they are to be banned.

Critics said the complaints were just the latest example of minority religions trying to force their rules and morals on British society.

Tory MP Philip Davies said: “As far as I am concerned, everyone should be treated equally in the face of the law and we cannot have people of different religious groups laying the law down. I hope the police will go about their business as they would do normally.”

How on earth is seeking the views of Muslims on sniffer dogs and two individuals objecting possibly "minority religions trying to force their rules and morals on British society"? Again, this is a classic tabloid ploy: say "critics" when critics equal the hack himself and then quote someone who's been phoned up and only has the slightest idea of what he's commenting on, and wham, have we got a front page for you!

The article does in fact go on to make most of this clear, quotes someone from the Islamic Human Rights Commission (a laughable organisation) and then a spokesman and Tom Harris himself, all of whom make clear this isn't a problem, but the article's main point has been made with just the first few paragraphs and the banner headline. As someone on Mail Watch comments, he later overheard two colleagues remarking "now they can’t use sniffer dogs on Muslims." Job's a good 'un.

Seeing as we're here, we might as well also carry some of the comments on the story to get a flavour of the sort of thoughts it's inspired:

So it is culturally unacceptable to Muslims to have sniffer dogs get too close? I think that it is culturally and criminally wrong to carry bombs on the Underground and murder 52 human beings and destroy the lives of hundreds of others. What comes first in any sane society; the safety of its citizens to go about their normal lives, or the cultural sensibilities of those who would kill them? I notice that sniffer dogs are quite acceptable to Muslims when they are being used to detect people trapped in building rubble following earthquakes!

welcome to the new Britain....Muslimatannia...no longer Gran Britannia.
My dog is seriously offended on HIS religious grounds! HOw dare they say this creature of God is unclean. He insists on a bath everyday! Doggy perfume and brushes his teeth and well...he has lots of little girlie doggie dates.

Seriously though.....this whole muslim demand thing is becoming a very unfunny joke.
So sorry to hear they maybe offended. Our country and our safety comes first. At least it should be the first priority. If they don't like the rules they have the freedom to leave. Heathrow is situated on M4 so hurry now and don't slam the door on the way out. Bye now!!!

Muslims represent 3% of the UK's population yet with their constant demands act more like 90%. Time for them to put up or shut up, there are plenty of countries around who practice their faith though they might find their freedoms curtailed when they get there.

... for a crack down! Are police and goverment gone insane! If muslims object to any laws and practises LEAVE Britain NOW! Or maybe not? Because where you are from there is no such a freedom and you can't object and complain about nothing! BAN women wearing face covers, DEPORT anyone who practisise hatred of non muslims or any other religion! WAKE UP BRITAIN! PS. I don't hate anyone but this is going to far now and will get worse if not dealt with. That includes all other religions which are trying to impose their wievs and practises by force!

his was once a great country that had the freedom of speech,luckily we still have one great freedom left ....the right to LEAVE,so if you don't like our way of life then a.go home and b.tell your muslim brothers not to bother coming here in the future.
you people are slowly turning the people of this great country against you,your own doing.

You get the idea.

In an odd way, you almost have to admire the forces at work here. It would have been easier, like the other papers and the BBC, to simply report the minister's statement and some of the executive summary of the trials and not mention the irrelevant point that a couple of Muslims who had been consulted raised some legitimate issues which have made no real difference to the end result. Instead, the Express took the laudable decision to reject the simple option, and attack a minority simply because it would make for a good story. The truth doesn't enter into it. Possible incitement to racial or religious hatred? Who really cares?

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I thought the McCanns "are devout Catholics"...


There should really be an alternative Snopes for archiving such sluices of the gutter press.

I am Muslim and this story is complete bollocks on more than one level but I shall deal with the one I feel is most stupid.

The “Muslim” quoted in the article is talking out of his backside as dogs are not “against our religion”. I would imagine the man in question is from the sub-continent as many of these people are unable to distinguish between their own culture (which is where the irrational fear of dogs comes from) and the religion of Islam.

The *only* laws pertaining to dogs are:

1) If dog saliva is on our clothes then we have to change the article of clothing before we pray.
2) If dog saliva is on our skin then we have to wash the area of skin before we pray.
2) If there are dog hairs on our clothes we have to brush off the hairs before we pray.

If either of those are true but we are unaware of the “contamination” then we can still pray.

As I stated, both of these laws relate *only* to prayers, not to everyday tasks and they are hardly what one would call major inconveniences as we have to wear clean clothes and wash before we pray anyway.

Being sniffed by a police dog is not an issue for Muslims who bother to learn about their faith. Admittedly this unfortunately seems to be a small number of us.

Thanks for that. I was pretty certain that was the case and did allude to it, but that puts it far more succinctly.

Sufishia: good comment. This appears to be a general class of story - akin to the issues of alcohol hand cleansers in hospitals and doctors touching patients of the opposite sex - where if you go to authoritative Islamic sources, you find it's no problem. Working dogs are fine; alcohol is only haram if used as an intoxicant; and medical necessity over-rides gender issues. These yarns appear to come from two directions: grass-roots beliefs stemming from, as you say, regional taboos that aren't formally part of Islam; and people being ultra- strict to make some kind of radical point. Either way, it gives a false picture of mainstream Muslim belief that the tabloids feed on.

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