Yesterday’s Guardian G2 carried a lead story claiming that “In Britain, there is now a cycle of Islamic scare stories so regular that it is almost comforting, like the changing of the seasons. Sadly, this rotation is not as natural, or as benign, although it is beginning to feel just as inevitable.”
The piece, by one Nesrine Malik, goes on to cite stories about gender segregation “in UK universities and Muslim schools”, complaints about Channel 4’s Ramadan coverage, “the niqab debate” the media coverage of “Muslim grooming gangs”, sharia courts and what the author describes as “the … “parallel Islamic law” scare story”, a report (source unspecified) that Lloyds TSB had reduced or eliminated overdraft fees on its Islamic bank accounts, and the present row over halal meat in supermarkets and fast food chains.
Malik lists these stories together, she promises, with “the facts that discredit them” … but, as anyone who reads the piece for themselves will soon discover, she doesn’t provide those facts. In most cases she doesn’t even cite any specific examples or sources.
The section on the sharia law “scare story”, for instance, does not refute or deny the fact that sharia courts operate in the UK, or that the Law Society recently drew up guidelines for sharia wills. The “facts that discredit” this “scare story” turn out to be the following statement from the author:
“On closer inspection, it is clear sharia courts only have jurisdiction on civil matters and everyone must opt in to a sharia court. They only have an advisory capacity and address mainly property and civil matters, and rulings are then only enforceable by civil courts.”
That apologia begs many more questions than it answers. Note that it doesn’t deny that sharia courts operate in the UK, but seems to suggest that it’s OK because they “mainly” have jurisdiction on “property and financial matters.” Which is really no answer to the alleged “scare story” at all, is it? The author also fails to mention that the campaign against sharia law is not a right-wing or racist initiative, but is, in fact, led by the left-wingers and feminists (many of them of Muslim origin) of the One Law For All campaign.
The author complains about how these stories amount to a “constant blurring of facts”, but her own piece is a classic example of just such “blurring”: she conflates the serious concerns (expressed by parents, teachers and MPs) about ultra-conservative Islam/Islamism being promoted in Birmingham non-faith state schools (not “Muslim schools”) and legitimate concerns about gender segregation guidelines issued (though later withdrawn) by Universities UK, with much more contentious issues like grooming gangs and halal food – issues that have in some instances been exploited by racists.
The clear intention of this shoddy, dishonest and poorly-researched (almost no sources are given, for instance) article, is that any and all concern about Islamism (ie political Islam) and/or ultra-conservative Islamic activity, must be racist scare-mongering. Malik should try telling that to Khalid Mahmood, the Birmingham Labour MP, and the teachers who have expressed concerns about what’s going on in some schools, or to the left-wing feminists of One Law For All.
But Nesrine Malik has form when it comes to this sort of thing. Back in 2008 Max Dunbar (then a regular Shirazer) did an excellent “fisking” of her that is worth revisiting in the light of her latest Guardian piece. Dunbar’s 2008 conclusion applies just as well today:
“I used to get outraged about people like Nesrine Malik. Here we have an independent woman working in finance in secular London, telling women in the developing world that theocracy really isn’t so bad as they make out. Isn’t this an imperialist attitude?
“But in the end, the appropriate response isn’t outrage: it’s a dark and riotous laughter at the arrant stupidity of it all.”