Nesrine Malik’s ‘constant blurring of facts’ on Muslims and Islamism

May 14, 2014 at 7:17 am (apologists and collaborators, conspiracy theories, Guardian, Islam, islamism, Jim D, media, Racism, religion, religious right, secularism)

Muslims ate my hamster front page

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.”


  1. s4r4hbrown said,

    I had the same response. I do think some of these issues are comparatively trivial (e.g. finance and halal) and even serious ones can be reported in a distorted or inflammatory way. But she doesn’t acknowledge or explain why people have justified concerns over some of these issues.

  2. Nesrine Malik’s ‘constant blurring of facts’ on Muslims and Islamism | OzHouse said,

    […] May 14 2014 by admin […]

  3. Rosie said,

    The ExMuslims Forum has issues with the article and asks why doesn’t the Guardian publish them? A good question.

    “The Guardian should actually be leading the fight against sharia courts in Britain. If the Left took ownership of these issues, the Right wouldn’t be able to exploit them for their nationalist aims.

    The picture you use to illustrate the part on sharia courts is Haitham al Haddad. He is on the sharia council. He believes, and states openly, that apostates from Islam deserve to be killed in an ‘ideal’ Islamic dispensation, that ‘fornicating’ women deserve to be killed by stoning, he has said that wife beating is permitted in certain circumstances, he has preached hatred of Jews and Christians. He has even supported Female Genital Mutilation.
    If its true that some parts of the media exaggerate issues, its also true that some parts of the Left downplay issues for reasons of cultural and moral relativism, and wish to silence those who try to fight Islamist bigotry, persecution of Exmuslims and other things.

    A great companion piece to this article, would be about how the Left and many liberals should take ownership of issues like sharia courts and Islamism, to oppose them through the prism of universal values of secularism, equality, free conscience, and thereby not only confront reactionary ideas and ideologies, but to neuter the ability of the right to exploit them for their own aims.”

    That’s a very good comment but of course the Guardian has turned itself into an apology for reactionism.

    Nesrine Malik had another crappy piece about being an atheist in a Muslim society, which was represented as pluralism but in fact boiled down to, “if you are an atheist, keep your trap shut.” Ex-Muslims replied:-

    ” I don’t doubt Nesrine Malik’s genuine concern for freedom of conscience and her sympathy for Exmuslims, whether in Islamic countries or in the West, where Exmuslims experience silencing pressures and coercion.
    But if you want to understand the issues we face, you should not view the issue through the prism of what western atheists think, in order to make a point about how there is ‘more than one model’ of disbelief in the Islamic world, as if its just another thing to be used in a critique of Western views of the Islamic world. And as if that model is some kind of form of pluralism, rather than a subterfuge and silencing caused by fear.”

    The ExMuslims Forum are courteous and clear-headed and are dealing with real issues which are of literal life and death importance for atheist muslims. I don’t think the Guardian has given them or their like a platform.

  4. s4r4hbrown said,

    Yes, I agree with pretty much all of that from CEMB forum.

  5. Southpawpunch (@Southpawpunch) said,

    You can’t see the wood for the trees.

    Do you know that the CoE continues to have Church Courts that hears matters such as allegations of ‘immoral acts’ by the clergy, or defamation (these courts also heard divorce and wills until 1858). If you have not heard of them – why is that? Because such will never been the focus of a Daily Mail article. You are but choosing to swim in their polluted Muslimparanoic sea.

    Do you ever see Daily Mail articles about Sikh or Hindu religious practice – there are several things there that could generate Mail headlines? Why would that be, I wonder? If India ever fights the West (in my dreams it takes up again the sub-continental fight against the Raj, and attacks the Americans when they bomb Pakistan again because the Pakistani government have let many such attacks happen without response) expect many anti-Hindu, Sikh (Jain, Parsi etc) stories to appear.

    We all think all religious courts should be cast aside but that is easier said than done. You could say to a Orthodox Jewish woman – ‘So what if the religious court says you can’t get divorced without your husband’s agreement, you are divorced in the Civil Court so just ignore what they say. What are you going on about?’ She may agree or more likely reply that ‘As a believer and someone who does not want to be seen as cast outside, I am a ‘chained ‘ women until such time as I get a religious divorce.’ You can’t force secularism on someone who does not want to be secular.

    I would be great if all the religious either cast aside their superstitions tomorrow, or at least seized control of their own religious organisations to make them more democratic and open, but that’s not happening soon. So why should not someone chose to have their ‘real’ wedding on a Lahore rooftop, in the presence of a mullah and family the ‘legal’ one in Manchester Registry Office. I went to both, and the Lahore wedding was much more of a real one than the 5 mins perfunctory paper-signing (with only 4 of us there) in Manchester. Do you see campaigning against CoE Church weddings – where maybe a majority of people in Britain get legally wed (although, oddly, few believing in the religion) and without the need to visit a secular Registry Office as well.

    A clear example of the foul undertone of much Muslimparanoic conduct is the case of Anne Marie Waters. She sought selection as Labour candidate in Brighton Pavilion, is the spokesperson of Sharia Watch UK, is/was a council member of the National Secular Society and is now, UKIP candidate for Basildon and Billericay. I don’t agree with Andy Newman about much but he was dead right in campaigning against her (when she was trying to be the Labour candidate) and pointing out how it is but a left ‘gloss’ of being for women’s rights and the rest but really being a small-minded intolerant person who was against the rights of a woman who wants to wear a burka and who has a foolish view of the innate supervisory of Western culture. You are following her path, if still leagues behind.

    It is quite astonishing you cannot see Muslims are a prime target of the state and that we should be in solidarity with them in the same way we would be in solidarity with gays in the time of some widespread campaign against homosexuality. For religious toleration.

  6. s4r4hbrown said,

    I think I agree in that I am personally not completely opposed to Sharia courts, but to some practices and individuals connected with them. If they could be adjusted so that they were no more negative than the British Beth Din, that would be an improvement. Up to a point I agree with you about Anne Marie Waters, although I expect I might agree with her over some issues where you wouldn’t. I posted about her recently here.

  7. Jim Denham said,

    For the record, I’m opposed to any and all religious/ethnic/cultural “alternative” courts. I suspect sharia courts attract more attention than, say, Jewish (‘Beth Din’) ones, because (a) they seem to be growing in influence, (b) the discrimination against women in sharia is so blatant, and (c) The Beth Din courts appear to be closer to a form of civil arbitration, and not an attempt to impose an alternative courts system upon a section of the population (though that doesn’t stop me opposing them).

    On the question of the niqab, and the methodology of Malik’s article, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown has an excellent letter in today’s Graun:

    Nesrine Malik, in a spirited defence of demonised Muslims (The Muslims are here!, G2, 13 May), says there has not been a single incident where the niqab debate was instigated by Muslim women themselves. I am a Muslim woman and have instigated several such public debates. Or am I not considered Muslim because I refuse to wear coverings which define females as dangerous and even evil? Millions of us around the world are speaking out in this new dark age of extreme conformity, unquestioning practice and Saudi takeover of Islam. Sharia laws and hideous exploitation of young girls are also real problems, not just panics whipped up by some newspapers and radio stations. White liberals and Muslim apologists are aiding and abetting these forces of obscurantism. Shame.
    Yasmin Alibhai-Brown

    P.S: as for Southpaw’s comment: “It is quite astonishing you cannot see Muslims are a prime target of the state and that we should be in solidarity with them in the same way we would be in solidarity with gays in the time of some widespread campaign against homosexuality. For religious toleration” …

    We support *all* Muslims against racist attack, and we support women, secularists, socialists, gays and other minorities *within* the Muslim “community” against the conservative bigots who Southpaw seems to support (or, at least, thinks shouldn’t be criticised). But that’s A-B-C stuff for socialists … or at least, it should be.

  8. Southpawpunch (@Southpawpunch) said,

    We are all opposed to religious courts. They exist, so the point is what do socialists think should be done with them?

    I think they should be tolerated but we should also look forward (and encourage) the relentless secularisation that will eventually make them used by few (I am guessing that this is/has happened with Beth Din).

    What would your opposition to religious courts mean? Banning them or even suppressing them? But that would not work in the same way that both Catholic priests or Protestant priests continued their work despite severe repression in Tudor England and the attendant abuse suffered by their co-religionists as part of this witch-hunt.People still followed their religion.

    Do I take it that your opposition to alternative courts also includes things like the FA (I have often wondered how footballers [uniquely?] can be ‘fined’ so many weeks wages and I am surprised other employers do not try this approach to labour discipline), golf club committees or even Trot Control Commissions?

    Because none are more legitimate than the others. All, including the UK state and its courts, are just an outcome of social relations. It could be argued that magistrates (who rarely do anything other than agree with the cops) are more reactionary than a liberal rabbi or priest who sits on a religious court. I think it’s this muddled thinking that drags some socialists into the narrative of our rulers

    The road to hell is paved with good intentions. A couple of press stories from today to consider and which I think clearly shows that this site’s commitment to the sound ideas of being for secularism and against obscurationism are too easily bent to become for Islamaphobia – and which were both predicted in my comments when both these stories were covered here.

    (Boko Haram) The Times “RAF ready to send in drones to scour bush…US drones are believed to be in the air already, with the team developing a base in nearby Niger.”

    The Guardian: “Pupils and teachers at the Birmingham education success story (Park View Academy) investigated over alleged Islamist plot say claims are ‘ludicrous'”

    PS: Nowhere do I support “conservative bigots”, Muslim or otherwise.

    • Jim Denham said,

      Just on the Guardian story, for now: the Graun, in line with its general approach to Islamism, has consistently suggested that the Birmingham schools allegations are false, ignoring the evidence produced by Birmingham teachers, parents, councillors and MPs (including over 200 complaints to the Council).Today’s “report” is a shoddy piece of work, pe-empting the outcome of the Ofsted reports and the City Council enquiry, and (by the author’s own admission), based upon “the evidence of a single day (at Park View School) and chaperoned by school officials.”

      Hardly serious investigative journalism: more like a PR job arranged with the Graun by the school’s Islamist Chair of Governors, Tahir Alsam.

      • distanceleft said,

        The Graun has become a travesty of a newspaper, and not just for its Islamic apologetics either, it’s articles like this that make a serious dialogue between people difficult especially when both sides had concerns and live in the same country.

    • Jim Denham said,

      “What would your opposition to religious courts mean? Banning them or even suppressing them?”

      Ehrr: just in case I haven’t made myself clear (heavy sarcasm):

      Opposing them.


      • Southpawpunch (@Southpawpunch) said,

        = I don’t know, but I’ll bluster.

        Oppose = we want state to:

        1. Say wrong. A few high street lawyers may stop working with
        2. Ban
        3. Ban and regularly seek out to force closure (suppress)

        Socialists would support 1. I’d imagine SS would support 3, 2 or even wish for a 4.

  9. Hypatia said,

    Yes I find Nesrine Malik’s writing troubling as well.
    It’s like she just plain doesn’t bother to look for the counter arguments or evidence to the contrary of what she’s decided she is saying. She has her view and that’s all she’s prepared to say or hear. It’s stunted, biased and unfair.
    Someone mentioned Yasmin Alibhai Brown who I find argues fairly and even handedly, Nesrine ought to take a leaf out of Yasmin’s book.
    If the coffee shop got Nesrine’s order wrong she’d make it something colonialist & islamophobic.

  10. Alnus Glutinosa said,

    I dislike the way Nesrine brands ‘western’ coverage or support of an issue to be ‘white saviour complex’.
    Between declaring lack of interest to be racism and active interest to be ‘white saviour complex’……where is one supposed to stand if one happens to be white with conscience?
    This depressing cynicism is surely counterproductive to creating change? It’s also trampling on the work campaigners are doing to try and get coverage & change.

    I deplore FGM because it’s violent sexual child abuse but I’ve seen support for anti-FGM campaigns branded ‘white saviour complex’.
    It’s the same with deploring the kidnapping, forcible conversion, enslavement & rape of the poor Nigerian School children – white saviour complex.

    Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

  11. ortega said,

    Or am I not considered Muslim because I refuse to wear coverings which define females as dangerous and even evil?

    No, you’re not considered muslim (by Sunni majority of Uk muslims) because you believe the Aga Khan is God’s messenger on earth.

    YAB’s attempts to speak on “muslim” issues are totally absurd when her sect are not even considered muslim by Sunnis or even most other Shi’ites. She doesn’t even seem to be cognisant of this fact.

  12. Jim Denham said,

    Sarah AB, at Harry’s Place::

    Chair of Governors at Park View School Tahir Alam, speaking on the Today programme yesterday morning, tried to present his own views and writings in a softened light. (Listen here from about 2:10:40.)

    However the 2007 document which he co-authored, a guide to supporting Muslim children in schools, does not quite match with his assertions. For a full account of this document see Andrew Gilligan’s article here.

    The guide implicitly prescribes a certain dress code for Muslim students, implying that ‘no true Muslim’ would choose to dress otherwise.

    In public boys should always be covered between the navel and knee and girls should be covered except for their hands and faces, a concept known as ‘hijab’.

    Other cautions relate to art, drama and music.

    Whereas schools are encouraged to celebrate the interests and festivals of Muslims, they are advised to avoid events which may make Muslim children feel excluded.

    There are a number of other important occasions in the Islamic calendar which schools can recognise through assembly themes. They include the Islamic New Year (Hijrah), Night of Power (Lailatul Qadr), Birthday of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and the day of Ashurah.9

    Social events and celebrations

    When organising either celebration or social events it is important for schools to consider the appropriateness of certain events, such as school balls/discos, fashion shows that might inadvertently exclude pupils and parents from the Islamic faith background.

    Although Alam’s involvement with this guidance is not itself definitive proof that any particular allegation is justified, its very conservative and prescriptive tone does seem to shift the balance of probabilities on some counts.

    Almost more concerning than the document was the evasive way he handled questions about it. His answers might make a casual reader think that the guidance simply describes views some Muslims might hold, for the benefit of teachers wishing to make reasonable accommodation. In fact, although it does acknowledge some areas on which Muslims may disagree, a pretty conservative interpretation of the religion is presented as the minimum and the default. Alam denied that it should be seen as a ‘prescription document’. It may not be a ‘prescription document’ for schools but it is, in effect, a ‘prescription document’ for Muslims.

    This made it more difficult to accept his answers on other topics unquestioningly. When asked if a gender segregated sports day was planned he deflected the question by responding that they hadn’t had them yet. He said the school had no policy of segregation – but that statement is perfectly compatible with some teacher directed segregation having taken place.

  13. Jim Denham said,

    BTL comment at the Graun’s CIF:

    Leopold1904 Nicetime

    12 May 2014 9:35pm



    Nesrine makes some amusing points, but yes it is a very trivial piece that benefits no one. The Guardian used to be better at covering the complexities of British Islam and not afraid to depict the reality of hate preachers in the mosques as in this piece by Hanif Kureishi –

    The mosques I visited, in Whitechapel and Shepherd’s Bush, were nothing like any church I’d attended. The scenes, to me, were extraordinary, and I was eager to capture them in my novel. There would be passionate orators haranguing a group of people sitting on the floor. One demagogue would replace another, of course, but the “preaching” went on continuously, as listeners of all races came and went.

    I doubt whether you’d see anything like this now, but there would be diatribes against the west, Jews and – their favourite subject – homosexuals. In my naivety I wondered whether, at the end of his speech, the speaker might take questions or engage in some sort of dialogue with his audience. But there was nothing like this. Most of the audience for this sort of thing was, I noticed, under 30 years old. I had the good sense to see what good material this was, and took notes, until one afternoon I was recognised, and four strong men picked me up and carried me out on to the street, telling me never to return.

    But that was in 2005 – we are now in 2014, and though I am sure Kureishi is right – the mainstream mosques are more cautious about giving space to fanatics – it is a subject the Guardian has crapped out of tackling. In any case, as Peter Tatchell and others have documented, the dribblers now hunt mainly in academic institutions, invited in by Islamic societies.

  14. Babs said,

    I don’t think many Socialists realise how dangerous Islamism is. It’s not just men discriminating against women or gays but just the whole culture they are trying to create in Muslim areas.

    I’ve visited Mosques, Churches and Synagogues and let me tell you the level of debate and discussions is very restrictive in the Muslim community. There are a lot of things considered ‘haram’ (unlawful) and because talking about it is haram it cannot be discussed and so stifling debate. If you did try as a Muslim to talk about these things you’d probably be asked to leave at best.

    There are no significant ‘reform’ Islam followers like you have in Judaism, it’s just different versions of Orthodox Islam. In fact with Islam it seems to be getting more puritanical in some ways. For example in Saudi Arabia which is a majority Salafist/Wahabi Sunni Muslim country, the authorities are building hotels and shopping malls over ancient Islamic sites such as tombs because according to their puritanical version of Islam tombs encourage idol worship. Even Muhammad’s tomb is not safe from destruction. Saudi Arabia funds (or at least used to) the building of mosques around the world (including here in the UK) and has been doing for decades. Saudi funded mosques tend to employ Wahabi Muslim clerics who preach their puritanical and barbaric version of Islam.

    I’ve noticed a lot of socialists tend to be skeptical of what I say but I’ve seen this first hand. I’ve seen Muslims becoming more religious over the last couple of decades including in a political way. The other point to mention is a lot of Muslim countries are quite authoritarian and culturally quite different with regards to human rights for all. Naturally they have brought these norms and values with them and teach their children the same thing. With the advent of Satellite TV, many older Muslims watch TV channels from their country of birth and on those channels there are no science documentaries or debates about religion etc but there are Q&A sessions with Muslim clerics. Go figure.

  15. Jamie said,

    Nesrine Malik is an idiot. I first heard of her in an NPR interview, and she sounded very pretentious, and also blames the negative comments in her posted articles on sexism. ACTUALLY, Ms. Malik, it’s because EVERYTHING YOUR SPEW IS UTTERLY CONTROVERSIAL. You are going to get many negative comments when you say things like Charlie Hebdo deserved to be attacked. What a dumbass.

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