It’s not unusual to find sections of the British press displaying Islamophobic or racist sentiments - we all know about the Daily Express and its long-standing vendetta against immigrants, and at the other end of the scale Polly Toynbee in the Guardian with her hostility to all religion, at least when it comes in contact with the state. Recently though, the Daily Telegraph has been playing host to a far more extreme anti-Muslim bigot calling himself Will Cummins, and some of the letters in reply to him have been worse still. It’s real foaming-at-the-mouth stuff.
First of all, who is this Will Cummins? The closest thing anyone has come to an identification is a suggestion that he is one Harry Cummins who works for the British Council. It’s doubtful, however, that they are the same person; he is described by Mark Law, the comment editor of the Telegraph, as “a former teacher whose opinion pieces have not been published before [and] wishes to remain anonymous”. In other words, he’s a complete nobody with an axe to grind. One could understand this newspaper publishing this sort of material if it came from someone who has made some sort of contribution to society or if he is an “expert” of some sort, but “Will Cummins” has had four articles published in the Telegraph, all in July 2004, and they are all Islam-bashing.
His first piece (Dr Williams, beware of false prophets, 4th July) makes the outrageous suggestion that “Christians are the original inhabitants and rightful owners of almost every Muslim land”, and that Muslims forced Islam on all of the lands of Islam. If this were so, why do Christians remain in the Levant, Egypt, Iraq, Turkey and even Iran? The Muslims conquered Cyprus very early on, but that country is still predominantly Christian. They also ruled India for centuries, and that is still predominantly Hindu. In fact, one of the Mughal rulers attempted to build bridges with the local Hindus by propagating a syncretic religion. The fact is that all of these lands consist predominantly of the descendents of converts, not of the Arab armies, and these are the Muslims who are attacked in Cummins’ articles. More bizarrely, he numbers Hindus among the indigenous non-Muslims who were “reduced to the status of third-class citizens in their own countries, their fate to this day”. In reality, it is Hindus who have carried out pogroms in places like Gujarat, and their extremists have attempted to whip up trouble elsewhere. They are in no need of anyone’s sympathy.
(Chris Doyle, of the Council for Arab-British Understanding, points out (11th July) that his contention that Christians were there first brings to mind notions of the worshippers of various ancient idols taking control of the near east and our own country being overrun by Druids. Christians would have hardly anything.)
His second piece, We must be allowed to criticise Islam (11th July), alleges that Shaikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi has endorsed “Jew lynching and wife beating” and “the murder of homosexuals”. Well, the term “lynching” was invented in the USA to cover murder by mobs, usually by hanging. We believe in fighting the enemy and in the death penalty for certain acts, neither of which bear any resemblance to lynching. I have already discussed the issue of “wife beating” before (see here). As for homosexuals, merely being gay is not enough to attact any penalty - what is punished is sodomy.
This piece brought out one real crazy by the name of Robert Baehr of Haselbury Plucknett in Somerset. He called our Prophet (sall’ Allahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) the Antichrist. The 4th-century bishop Cyril of Jerusalem identified the Antichrist as someone who would come as “the concluding events of the world draw nigh”, not thousands of years before that; who would decieve the Jews by lying miracles, while our Prophet (sall’ Allahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) saw only very few Jews convert to Islam; who would reign for three years and six months, and then be overthrown by the return of Jesus (peace be upon him). By Baehr’s reckoning, the Second Coming has already happened and the world should be no more; in reality, the Prophet’s (sall’ Allahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) mission lasted about twenty years. Some of what I quoted conflicts with Islamic teaching (such as the exact length of time the Antichrist will be on Earth), but this is what a real Christian theologian says about the Antichrist, and it bears no resemblance to the Prophet (sall’ Allahu ‘alaihi wa sallam).
Baehr further alleges that “Jesus stood between the fallen woman and the lynch-mob, whereas Mohammed would have been the first to cast a stone”. In fact, the passage is disputed, and some early manuscripts don’t contain it at all (see the footnotes to the Good News Bible); Jesus (peace be upon him) may have been using his authority as a Prophet and Messenger of God in the case of this one woman. Our Prophet (sall’ Allahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) had a woman’s hand cut off for stealing, and this woman was a member of one of the more powerful tribes of Makkah, the Makhzoum, and rebuked one of the Companions for trying to intercede for her.
Cummins had a third article published on the 18th of July: The Tories must confront Islam instead of kowtowing to it, encouraging the Tory party to stop appealing for the Muslim vote and become “hostile” to Islam, which raises the question of what sort of hostility he advocates. Perhaps he would like the nonsensical rantings of Nick “well-directed boots and fists” Griffin shown on the BBC programme a few weeks ago to become commonplace at party conferences? Or perhaps promises to force pork down the throats of Muslim schoolchildren, as in some districts in France, or bans on hijab in schools or even universities? The piece is also libellous, describing the Muslim Public Affairs Council UK as “one of our more extreme political groups” (in fact, it’s a group which encourages Muslims to vote for MPs sympathetic to Muslim issues - the extremists tell Muslims it’s against Islam to vote at all), and making an obscure reference to “the local Janjaweed”, with no indication as to who exactly he meant. The Janjaweed are an Arab tribal militia who attack blacks in Sudan, including Muslims. No group anything like this exists anywhere in the UK.
Towards the end of the piece, he plays up the possibility of “an Islamist nuclear, conventional or biological strike on Britain”, claiming that Ken Livingstone and John Stevens, the Metropolitan [London] Police Commissioner, have said this is inevitable. The fact is that Britain has never been the victim of an Islamist terrorist attack unrelated to Iran, and it has been more than two years since the Sept 2001 hijackings, and we are still waiting for the “inevitable” attack, despite the UK’s heavy involvement in American operations in two Muslim countries. So far, the only people who have used “dirty” (radioactive) weapons are the western armies in Iraq and Afghanistan; all the terrorism we have seen here since the end of the IRA’s campaign are three bombings committed by David Copeland, a lone Nazi who likes killing people. This does not mean that due vigilance should not be exercised, but it does suggest that the constant talk of the terrorist threat is irresponsible scaremongering with ulterior political motives. He also talks of a “Nazi-Soviet pact” between the left and Muslims, which is one of many examples of his tendency to use the most offensive comparisons available. Muslims chiefly demand the right of our girls to dress in a manner appropriate in their religion in schools paid for out of their parents’ tax money, to not have destructive actions in the Muslim world carried out with our tax money, and to have Muslim schools, which is not unreasonable given that the Church of England and the Catholic church have had their schools for decades or centuries. As for the “enormous popular groundswell against Islam”, this is entirely in his imagination, and there could not be one without an enormous propaganda campaign.
His last piece to date (as far as I know), Muslims are a threat to our way of life (25th July), he attacks another writer in the Telegraph, Jenny McCartney, who had attacked his scaremongering in earlier issues. In response to her concern about attacks on law-abiding Muslims following a terrorist attack here, he writes, “it’s good to know that, as the rest of us hug our bottles of Evian in the irradiated ruins, mourning thousands of dead, Jenny will be lying awake at night worrying that someone might drop a dog poo through the letterbox of her local balti house”. He may not remember, but in the aftermath of every major terrorist attack in the USA, Muslims were attacked in the streets - some were stabbed, and there have been shootings of Sikhs who were mistaken for Muslims. Bear in mind that one of these was carried out by white anti-government extremists. He takes McCartney to task for comparing British Muslims to Jews in the Third Reich rather than to Nazis; later on, he compares us to Zionist invaders and non-Muslim Britons to Palestinians, after calling it “Muslim folklore” that Palestinians were natives dispossessed by the Zionists.
The fact is that a far greater threat to public order in this country comes from the likes of Will Cummins and Nick Griffin (much as “Cummins” professes to dislike Griffin) than from any Muslim group. Most Muslims, actually, dread any international “Islamic” terrorist attack here. We have as much chance as anyone else of being caught in the attack itself, and we are likely then to suffer the public hostility resulting from it. The UK’s recent history has generally been tolerant of minorities, and the government has resisted public opinion in their defence. Mainland Europe has a long history of being suspicious of minorities, be they Roma, Jews or Muslims. They seem not to have learned from what that led to in the 1940s. On the other hand, rabble-rousers have in the past been the cause of disorder aimed at minority groups, notably anti-Catholic agitators in the north-west in the 19th century, some of whom were killed in the riots they incited. The British media have a strange relationship with racism - on one hand, using some racial epithets is unacceptable, but some racial groups are still fair game: AA Gill was allowed to get away with a series of dreadful anti-Welsh articles for quite some time, while one of the tabloids printed a screed about how the “Frogs” (French) treat their elderly in the wake of the heatwave of a few years ago. Words like nigger, Paki, wog and Yid are deemed unacceptable, while Taffy, Frog, and “the Hun” still rear their head every so often, and if you hide your prejudices behind talk of “bogus asylum seekers” and “militant Islam”, you can get away with it. We Muslims do complain about attacks on ourselves and our religion. Cummins alleges that “Islam”, like an obscure villain in a Roman Polanski film, doesn’t want its name in the papers (except on its own terms). The fact is that Jews do not put up with people maligning them or their religion, and groups like MPAC do not see why we should either.
Right now, there is no reason for any violence between Muslims and non-Muslims in the UK. If there is any, it is likely to be the result of the efforts of troublemakers like Cummins. If the Tories really want a repeat of the Brixton riots, or something worse, they might take Cummins’ suggestion seriously.
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