That’s three times now: three times this week that the Daily Mail has been forced to issue a retraction over inaccuracies in its reporting of British Muslims.
And I hate to spoil it for you, but these were not nice confected stories about British Muslims of the sort conducive to harmonious society. They were not reporting that Muslims favourite sitcom was the Vicar of Dibley, for instance. Nor were they were reporting that they secretly really want to own a dog.
No, what they mis-reported betrayed more of a Czarist secret police approach to life in a multiracial society.
Firstly, you will remember the family – the Mahmoods – that was stopped from boarding a plane to the United States to go on holiday to Disneyland. Katie Hopkins wrote that this was a mere pretext – for God knows what – and for good measure, in another article, followed this up by accusing one of the sons – Hamza – of creating a Facebook page promoting extremism. It turns out that he was not responsible for this. Hence the Daily Mail settling on £130,000 damages and meekly publishing an apology and retraction on the MailOnline at 12 in the morning on Sunday.
Similarly, another libellous allegation against a Muslim had to be retracted. Some time ago, the Daily Mail reported that the head of the NUS, Malia Bouattia, refused to condemn ISIS. The statement was retracted this week with a full apology.
Also retracted this week was the headline and accompanying story “Isolated British Mulims so cut off from rest of society they see the UK as 75% Islamic”. This was an egregious misreading of Dame Casey’s report into integration. It turns out that this was just one class of primary school children. The same point was made in the Daily Express and the Times, and duly retracted.
I am sensing something of an agenda here.
We have to be honest that there is a real, demonstrable problem with Islamophobia in this country post-Brexit. And I really hate the word. It is the left’s counterpart to the way the (non actually anti-Semitic) right conflate any and all criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism. Of course criticism of Islam is not de dicto Islamophobic. Go down the pub with me on a Friday night and you will soon get a sense of that (I’m also great at parties).
I would argue that there is a hardness to much anti-Islamic sentiment that cannot be solely attributed to ideological or intellectual distaste. It’s not the same as racism, granted, nor would I wish to make such a facile point. But I do not see how this precludes comparison between the two. What the Islamophobe shares in common with the racist is the same essentialism: the same shallow belief that what they observe cannot change and evolve as a part of the natural world or humanity like themselves, but is instead fixed, grey, immutable.
Christianity used to be the far more violent and intolerant of the religions in medieval times – just ask the Cathars or the conversos (hint: this is not possible). But it changed. Of course the tenets of Islam determine the parameters of its future development, and in many important ways these are different from Christianity, but it too can change.
I am deeply suspicious of this glib talk of “incompatible” cultures – or better/worse yet “clash of civilisations.” The very same was said of the Irish and their Catholicism well into the twentieth century. Now they are on “our” side.
And we can see similar transitions in our lifetime. It was considered unproblematic in the 1970s to talk of an Iberian culture, as distinct from an Anglo-Saxon culture, that was “authoritarian, patrimonial, Catholic, stratified, corporate and semi-feudal to the core”. It seems comical now. Now who is to say that Iberia did not develop in spite of this, but the fact is that the significance of its culture was grossly overstated. Culture is not fixed.
The people who blare the most about the cultural legacy of the west betray a lack of faith in one of the most distinguishing features of “the West”: our humanist and Enlightenment roots. Things like the power of reason to overcome superstition and brutality, individualism, the perfectibility of man, and the existence of universal values and truth, mean nothing. They do not look at a Muslim as a fellow autonomous man invested with the germ of human creativity, but as something belonging to an entirely different subjective and moral universe.
And is it any surprise we think like this when we have a media which frankly shit stirs and plays up our worst fears?