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Monday, July 07, 2008 

Responding to accusations of Islamophobia with Islamophobia.

Trevor Kavanagh, the Sun's ex-political editor, and still largely the real ideological power behind the paper due to his closeness to Murdoch, doesn't usually devote his weekly column to Muslims or Islam, preferring to spout the same right-wing rhetoric which has flavoured his pieces for years. Today however he dedicates his column to Muslims and Islam, with it headlined "Islamophobia... or cold, hard truth?"

His reasons for doing so are not immediately clear, or wouldn't be if the only news source you subjected yourself to was the Sun. The clues are however there:

This time, he [Peter Oborne] is making the argument that the British media is anti-Muslim.

He cites invented incidents which portray Muslims in a bad light and incite attacks fuelled by religious or race hatred.


The accusation that the media — with a few badly researched or unchecked stories — is fomenting race hatred is in itself a trivialisation.

Kavanagh doesn't feel inclined to inform his readers that these invented incidents and badly researched or unchecked stories, which can and do foment race hatred, appeared in his own newspaper. The Sun in fact is the newspaper most featured in the pamphlet published along with Peter Oborne's Dispatches documentary, entitled Muslims Under Siege (PDF). Not only does it draw further attention to the story of the Muslim bus driver who allegedly ordered his passengers off so he could pray, a story we now know to be completely untrue and one which the bus driver is taking legal action over, with the story removed from the paper's website, it dedicates the entirety of its first chapter to another well-known completely untrue story about Muslims which featured here and in the Sun: the myth of the "Windsor Muslim yobs." Even now one of the Sun hacks responsible for the piece, Jamie Pyatt, denies that it was wrong: rather the police were being "politically correct" for not admitting that Muslims had been responsible. That there was no evidence whatsoever to even suggest Muslims had been near to the house that had been vandalised, and that those who actually lived in the road were the more likely "yobs" to have vandalised the house the soldiers had looked at because they felt that they might lower the tone and at the same time lower house prices cannot be allowed to get in the way of a brilliant Sun scoop, even if it is one that potentially inspires hate against Muslims as a whole.

Even those two articles are not the only ones which the pamphlet flags up; it also mentions another untrue story about Muslim medical students in Leicester supposedly refusing to comply with new regulations requiring staff to wash up to the elbow and therefore putting patients at risk of infection. As there sometimes is with such stories, there was the very slightest kernel of truth to it: one student had asked about the new regulations, not even objected to them, and from this swirled the eventual Sun story. Some other Muslim students had also expressed reservations about being bare below the elbow, but not one of them had actually refused to comply with the regulation, and as the pamphlet makes clear, after following Muslim students around the hospital while they worked, all were doing as they were required.

It's clear then what Kavanagh is really responding to: Oborne and his team so much as daring to question the Sun's brilliant public-service journalism. He can't however sow doubt in the average Sun reader's mind that its own stories lack credibility and in some cases have been completely untrue. Instead then he attacks Oborne in a typically roundabout way. He doesn't actually at any point demure from the fact that the media is anti-Muslim; he instead attempts to justify why some are Islamophobic.

What this amounts to in actuality is a list of generalisations, a couple of quotes and the most shallow allusions to what life is like for women in Middle East majority Muslim countries:

Hmmm. Well, what about my criticism of Muslim immigrants for their self-imposed isolation and reluctance to integrate? Wasn’t the same true for some Orthodox Jewish communities?

Maybe, I replied. But Jews — who are themselves increasingly the target for hate attacks — are not trying to bomb Britain.

Neither of course are 99.99% of British Muslims, and those that are abide by a twisted perversion of Islam that is being increasingly opposed by British Muslims themselves, but to say that might not justify the Islamophobia which Kavanagh thinks is perfectly OK. That Muslim immigrants have also historically not isolated themselves, rather that those around those where they have settled have "fled", is also not worth mentioning. Integration and isolation are two-way streets, and both communities have further steps they should take. Multiculturalism hasn't failed, there simply hasn't been enough of it.

In the past, I have also questioned the “provocative” trend by British-born Muslims to start wearing tribal costume and the hijab.

It's a good thing that Kavanagh places "provocative" in quotation marks, as hardly anyone can seriously argue that either is truly "provocative". Very few Muslims wear "tribal custume" apart from on Fridays when some do on the traditional day of prayer, and while the hijab is an issue of dispute within Islamic theology and is influenced more by cultural rather than religious issues, the headscarf, as much as even I dislike it, is a fact of the religion. If Kavanagh had called the niqab provocative then he might have something approaching a point, but again, only tiny numbers wear it, and there still has been little proof provided that those who do choose to wear it are doing so because their family or husbands demand it.

And I touched on the appalling fact that many women are treated as chattels.

All this, Peter Oborne concluded, amounted to “Islamophobia”.

Is he right? Does severe criticism of a creed or its teachings justify the accusation of hate?

Or is that just a way of shutting down the debate, just as critics of the EU are branded Europhobes?

It's instructive that Kavanagh invokes the EU, his other favoured hate target. It'd be nice if Kavanagh provided some examples of where critics of it are branded Europhobes however, outside the columns of Polly Toynbee, as almost always critics of the EU are referred to as Eurosceptics. The reality of course here though is that there isn't a debate, and there can't be one when the debate is so coloured by the very journalistic stories as those pointed out above, and especially when as the study by Cardiff University found, only 5% of stories involving Muslims discuss their own problems, and when only 2% make clear that Muslims support dominant moral values. Kavanagh also confuses Islamophobia with the definition that those accused of it hate Muslims; rather, it also infers that those accused of it are spreading fear of Muslims and also fear them. This is most applicable with the insane idea that Islamists are somehow plotting to take over Europe or will be within a century the majority in Europe: it spreads fear, and those that spread that fear often do hate Muslims.

Here then come the quotes:

In the wake of 9/11, the Muslim head of Al Arabiya TV, Abdul Rahman al Rashed, said: “Not all Muslims are terrorists but, with deep regret, we must admit that almost all terrorists are Muslims.”

Is he an Islamophobe?

No, he's just making a trite and ahistorical comment. Only recently have Islamic terrorists motivated by a millenarian Salafist ideology come to the forefront of current worldwide terrorism; beforehand Muslims may well have been terrorists, such as the PLO, but their religion was second to their nationality. It was the nominally Marxist Tamil Tigers that populised suicide bombings, which Hizbullah, then Hamas and Islamic Jihad and then finally al-Qaida co-opted. Terrorism goes back through the ages, and is also not just a tactic by individuals or groups, but can also be used by nation states, whether against their own populations or other countries.

Try watching Syrian-born Dr Wafa Sultan on YouTube as she challenges a furious cleric to name a single Jew or Buddhist suicide bomber.

“Only the Muslims defend their beliefs by killing people, burning churches and bombing embassies,” she storms.

Is she Islamophobic? Or simply spelling out the facts?

Simon C on the comments on Lenin's helpfully provides a number of links to others who habitually take it upon themselves to burn churches. The British colonial headquarters in Palestine was also for instance bombed in 1946 by the Irgun, a Jewish militant group.

Now we have the generalisations:

Muslim men are entitled to beat their wives and take more than one wife. Women are automatically suspect, banned in some communities from showing their faces or limbs because they are sexually tempting — to men. Visit an Arab country, or watch TV shows about them, and you will see plenty of men and boys.

Women appear rarely and, when they do, are covered head to toe. The rest are under virtual house arrest, living behind closed doors in ignorance and isolation.

We cannot interfere in the way other countries order their societies.

But such barbaric treatment of women has been imported and thrives here.

Kavanagh is producing the most extreme examples from the most extreme states, such as Saudi Arabia, and providing them as reasons for why Islamophobia is acceptable. That this is an attempt to smear Muslims as all the same, and ignores the vast cultural differences between such Muslim majority countries as Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Iran and Pakistan to name but a few, not to mention the differences between the different strands of Islamic thinking, whether it be Sunni, Shia or Sufi, again matters little. The irony is that the states which tend to be the most extreme are the ones which his newspaper, through its allegiance to America, helps to prop up. This is without pointing out that the Sun and female emancipation are far from being synonymous, unless you associate female emancipation with the freedom for women to get their tits out for the lads. Kavanagh realises that he can't claim the same happens here however, so he's forced to somewhat scale back his claims:

Forced marriages are common. Honour killings and beatings are far from rare. Women are refused education or a chance to learn English.

Yet again, that this is little to do with Islam itself and is much more influenced by cultural background is not mentioned. The idea that British Muslim women who have grown up here are refused education or a chance to learn English is completely risible, and for those who emigrated here is simply not backed up by even the slightest of evidence. Forced marriages and honour killings are a challenge which need to be tackled, but blaming Islam rather than the individuals themselves out carry them out is a typical hate tactic.

I receive emails from women Muslims crying out for help. One, Gina Khan, has written eloquently in The Sun about oppression of women in a male-dominated society through arranged marriages, polygamy and the veil. Is she Islamophobic too?

Or is she a lonely voice on behalf of millions of women who are being ignored and gagged by a politically correct establishment which is too timid to face the truth?

No, she's speaking out strongly on the behalf of those who are facing horrendous ordeals because of the family they were born into. This though ignores the point which Oborne and the pamphlet are making: they're not arguing against legitimate criticism of Islam, especially over the points which Khan has raised, which most certainly need to be dealt with. They're concerned with the casual way in which Muslims are treated as either a threat of something to be feared, and the ignorant, abominable and completely untrue newspaper coverage which fuels this. For being concerned for some of the most vulnerable in society, they're accused by Kavanagh of being a politically correct establishment. That the Sun, Trevor Kavanagh and Rupert Murdoch are also doyens of the establishment once again matters not one jot.

In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, Roy Greenslade writing in the Guardian noted with approval that the Sun dedicated a leader column to a statement of the obvious, but one with a decent point: "Islam is not an evil religion," and people "must not play into the hands of racist bigots." Today, 3 years on from the 7/7 attacks, the Sun not only publishes an article by its ex-political editor defending Islamophobia, it also publishes this:

THE family of evil 7/7 bomber Shehzad Tanweer held a party at the fanatic’s grave – on the third anniversary of the London terrorist outrage today.

The sick celebration has been branded an “insult” to July 7 victims and their relatives.

First of all, who cares, especially as this is supposedly taking place in Pakistan and not the UK? Secondly, what is the point of this article, other than to inspire similar revulsion and hate? On a day which ought to be dedicated not only to remembering but also to fighting against the intolerance which helps to lead to such attacks, it also publishes these comments:

I doubt it. Infidels don't count so why would they be remotely upset about the terrorist attack? Loyalty is to Allah, and it is unfortunate for them that a Muslim had to die in committing his heinous act. Tanweer was brought up in the UK with this education, and it is why there are plenty more Tanweers about. It is a mistake to ascribe Western moral values to the way of thinking that creates Tanweers and his ilk. Political correctness now prohibits thoughts that people are actually different in their views.

Most Muslims proclaim horror at all of these types of attrocity but they do sweet FA about it - time to get off your butts and get your houses in order & stop playing the percecuted victims.

if u know where the party is held why don't u just bomb them back

Who are these sick people? The UK has become a haven for scumbags like this, if anyone protests they will say that they are being discriminated against, stupid laws that help them and let this country head for the gutter.

surely it is time for the socalled good muslims to tart to condemn these fanatics. if they do not then they are all as bad theres no wonder that there is racial tension. I read today that a group in england had sent the brother of one of these bombers to pakistan so that relations could be better. I wonder if he went to this so called party - if so he should bebanned from returning here and if he has returned he should have his passport taken away as well as his benefits.

The Muslims under Siege pamphlet concludes with:

We think we should all feel a little bit ashamed about the way we treat Muslims in the media, in our politics, and on our streets. They are our fellow citizens, yet often we barely acknowledge them. We misrepresent them and in certain cases we persecute them. We do not treat Muslims with the tolerance, decency and fairness that we so often like to boast is the British way. We urgently need to change our public culture.

The above is the Sun's response to the need for that change.

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Brrrr. The Scum's stoking up something very nasty here, with Kavanagh providing 'left' cover.

I particularly liked (FSVO 'like') this comment:

"surely it is time for the socalled good muslims to tart to condemn these fanatics."

That's the thing with the will-you-condemn tactic - whatever 'they' say in response, it's never enough.

While I applaud much of what you write, and dislike the pernicious influence of the ‘Sun’ as much as you do, I think you have gone OTT here.

If Muslims get a bad press, and are becoming increasingly widely disliked, this is by no means due solely to the inaccuracies and exaggerations of ‘red top’ journalism. Surely Muslims themselves must bear some responsibility for the way in which they are perceived. Constant bleats of ‘victimisation’ coupled with incessant demands for more public space for their religious practices, such as sharia law and prayer rooms in workplaces, is scarcely calculated to allay public fears that they are determined to modify the traditional character of British society to their own benefit and the detriment of ‘non-believers’.

It is obviously the case that since 9/11, and the ensuing follies of American-led Western foreign policy, Muslims in the UK are even less inclined to integrate than they were previously. This is understandable, but it bodes ill for future social harmony.

The crucial question, which non-Muslim defenders of Islam never face up to, is whether the doctrines of Islam as a whole – and not just those of the ‘extremist’ Wahabbi sect tirelessly fuelled in the West by Saudi money – are compatible with democracy and an open society as we have hitherto understood it in Britain.

Even if you think the answer is ‘yes’, you have to admit that this is at least an open question which deserves open and reasoned debate. It is the determined refusal of ‘politically correct’ multiculturalsts who refuse to allow this debate to take place without attempting to dismiss it by vilifying everyone who disagrees with them as ‘racist’ which fuels the growing resentment which is an unearned bonus for the BNP.

I’m not phobic about Muslims as human beings – I know some very nice ones – but I am sceptical of the compatibility of Islam with Western democracy. If that makes me an ‘Islamophobe’ in your eyes, too bad.

I don't particularly "love" it, but I think she makes several points which may well be valid, and which need countering with solid evidence to the contrary rather than feeble sneers.

anti, I've gone into this with you before. There is of course a debate to had over whether Islam is compatible with Western democracy - but that certainly isn't the debate which Kavanagh and Mel are interested in having. Kavanagh doesn't so much as mention the subject, while Mel has already made her mind up long ago, and what's more, she simply wants to replace one sort of religiosity with another: hers.

Are so many Muslims also really making so many demands for separate prayer rooms and Sharia law, or is it the likes of Lord Phillips and Rowan Williams who are trying to bend over backwards to help and therefore giving the impression they are? The Muslim bus driver is the perfect example: someone apparently demanding space to practice his faith, and it turned out it was nonsense.

The truth is that the immigrants who came here and brought Islam with them have in the vast, vast majority accepted our system and our norms and values, as demonstrated by their taking part in elections. It's only now that a more virulent form of Islam has become something to be terrified of that the question of whether Muslims as a whole can be a part of a democratic country has been raised, and with it, a community as a whole is being stigmatised. Let's have that debate on whether Muslims can unite around a secular state, but let's not fall into the trap of believing that they can't simply because of what is practised elsewhere.

I am glad you agree that there is a debate to be had which by and large is not yet taking place. Alas, we cannot control the terms in which others such as Kavanagh and Phillips choose to discuss Muslims, but we should not let that deter us from saying what WE think.

I am not sure whether the Archbishop and the LCJ are solely motivated by a desire to "help" - to some extent they are prompted by apprehension, and I think that the former, at least, is seeking to shore up his own creaky religious outfit by currying favour with another, potentially more powerful, religious grouping.

As for whether the "vast, vast majority" of British Muslims have in fact accepted our system and our norms and values, it would need a lot more solid evidence than your mere assertion to convince me. All that their participation in voting proves is that they are canny enough to realise that it is a means of influencing politicians in their favour [especially the Labour Party]. And there is also the question of how far many Muslim votes - especially those of women - are a genuine expression of free personal choice.

As someone who was a child in the 1930s and grew up during the war, when 40,000 civilians were killed in a single year during the blitz, I am certainly not "terrified" of militant Islam, and view the largely botched efforts of our home-grown terrorists as pathetically puerile and the constantly drummed up public fear of them as idiotically craven.

The nub of the problem is that a frank debate has been muzzled by PC-inspired 'hate speech' laws and an ostrich-like stance on the part of much of the Left, who in their uncritical attitude to Islam remind me of the slavish Stalin worshippers of the mid-20th century.

Quite true about the Archbishop; I'm sure he and the others within the CoE see the "Muslim problem" as a way to shore themselves up and further promote their own creed. I completely agree over the hugely exaggerated nature of the threat, and have noted before the laughable idea that somehow it's down to the West's "weakness" that militant Islam is on the rise. It's rather the complete opposite, and Mel Phillips and the like wish to promote the idea that we're the victims and the underdogs in order to justify the disastrous foreign policy post 9/11.

I do however think your criticism of the left doesn't quite hold true: the left has habitually always tried to support/defend those that are either the current "enemy" or marginalised and unfairly victimised. Few of us have any illusions about the true, backwards nature of Islam as associated with all the other Abrahamic religions, but the venom with which they have been treated, especially since 7/7 is not only thoroughly unwarranted, it's also counter-productive. The problem is getting the balance right in helping them to integrate whilst also opposing the elements within Islam which led to the outrages in certain regimes in the Middle East. I still think Turkey might where this battle is either won or lost, where admirable respect for the secular state by those against the AKP seems to verge on pettiness in the ban on headscarves in universities etc. If moderate Islam can't succeed in a state where it has overwhelming support then it might well be time to re-evaulate just where we are going.

Phillips's latest column is really a condensed version of Londinstan. She builds up a lot of disparate occurences to justify her 'dhimmitude' thesis but is therefore quite easy to pick apart.


"Few of us have any illusions about the true, backwards nature of Islam as associated with all the other Abrahamic religions, but the venom with which they have been treated, especially since 7/7 is not only thoroughly unwarranted, it's also counter-productive. The problem is getting the balance right in helping them to integrate whilst also opposing the elements within Islam which led to the outrages in certain regimes in the Middle East."

Finely put.

* occurrences

What bothers me is that our policy [or lack of it] is almost entirely driven by irrational fear - compounded in some quarters with a desire to use the terrorist "threat" as an excuse to scrap hard-won civil liberties and render the entire population more subservient.

I agree about getting the balance right, but we're far from doing that as yet. I'm more pessimistic about Turkey than you are: there seems a real danger there of the Islamists snatching more power, and in that event I am less than enthused at the prospect of Turkey joining the EU.

Yeah that would sound quite interesting MAS. If you and your fellow blogs didn't happen to be from a cetain other religion. Surely you don't think we are that stupid. Stick to BNP sites perhaps? They seem to love you guys.

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