Ben Marshall on Runnymede and Islamophobia

Technorati Tags: , , , ,

In this month’s New Humanist there’s a one-page article by Ben Marshall (a freelance journalist) on Islamophobia, in which the author “embraces his phobia”, defending it as “an entirely reasonable and honourable intellectual position”. The magazine is a bi-monthly, founded in 1885 as the Literary Review, and claims that it “has distinguished itself as a world leader in supporting and promoting humanism and rational inquiry and opposing religious dogma, irrationalism and bunkum wherever it is found”. A typical issue will feature ridicule of some aspect of religion - the present issue has a short piece about Malaysians discussing where to face in prayer when in space, for example. Marshall starts off by attacking those who try to defend Muslims from Islamophobia, including the Runnymede Trust (a race relations body which published a report on Islamophobia in 1997) and the blog Islamophobia Watch. He also makes it clear that he is generally anti-religious and, like a lot of secular humanists, lumps religion in with superstition.

Marshall alleges:

The effect of the anti-racist Trust’s adoption of the phrase, surely intended, was to conflate race with issues of spiritual belief. This has proved to be very useful to the sly liars of the BNP, who are also - for very different reasons - keen that we make no differentiation between skin colour and faith.

To “conflate race with issues of spiritual belief” does, of course, go against the secular humanist agenda, which is that race is something we can’t help, while religion is choice, and therefore not worthy of any special consideration (i.e. “why should be make allowance for these people - their stupid beliefs are their choice”). The reality is that even if Muslims in this country were to abandon their religion en masse, Allah ta’ala forbid, their colour would get in the way of being accepted by society, as it has with other non-white groups here and elsewhere. The Runnymede Trust’s decision to investigate Islamophobia, which arose out of an earlier investigation into anti-Semitism (A Very Light Sleeper), was legitimate because it is a form of group bigotry which generally coincides with racism, often falling on the shoulders of people who merely look like Muslims, but actually are not, and like other forms of bigotry, relies heavily on ignorance, for example confusing the ordinary Muslim going about his business with the terrorist plotting his next hit.

Next, he takes aim at Islamophobia Watch, calling it “a shady confederacy of Islamists, woolly-headed, well-meaning dunces and Marxists (including Ken Livingstone’s friends in the far-left groupuscule Socialist Action)”. In fact, Islamophobia Watch is a blog, the only contributions to which are made by Bob Pitt and Martin Sullivan. Bob Pitt is a Marxist and was editor of the Marxist online journal What Next?, while Martin Sullivan is described here in What Next? as “a member of the Labour Party” (he also contributed to WN). (It was set up by Eddie Truman, press officer for the Scottish Socialist Party group at the Scottish Parliament, who no longer posts but “does all the technical stuff”, according to Bob Pitt.) There are no Muslim contributors at all, much less “Islamists”. He then attacks their response to the Runnymede Report:

Islamophobia Watch … states on its website that “the [Runnymede] report is not without fault. In particular it advocates that Muslims, as a self-help measure, should be more accommodating towards the Jewish community.” So there you have it.

Well, on the page Marshall is actually quoting from, the authors are actually quoting the Islamic Human Rights Commission, and the passage actually reads as follows:

The report itself is not without fault. In particular it advocates that Muslims, as a self-help measure should be more accommodating towards the Jewish community regarding events in the Middle East. It suggests we should condemn every action taken that offends Jewish sensibilities in the Middle East, almost regardless of the rights and wrongs of each individual incident. The Runnymede Trust published a similar report on anti-Semitism in 1993, and no similar recommendation was made to the Jewish community.

So, we see that Marshall has used a selective quote, insinuating that Islamophobia Watch condoned anti-Semitism, when it really had nothing to do with this at all, and ignored altogether the issue of double standards which it raises. Indeed, the accusations that Muslims, or “Muslim leaders”, do not “condemn terrorism loudly enough” appear every time terrorism becomes an issue, as if these leaders are consulted by the terrorists before they carry out an attack: the purpose is to impugn the entire Muslim community for the actions of a tiny, unrepresentative and increasingly unpopular minority.

Marshall alleges that IW defines Islamophobia as “anti-Islamic racism”, which is simply wrong. The phrase used is “Anti Muslim Racism”. (And their definition can be found on this page, entitled “Islamophobia: A Definition”, which is drawn from the eight points of the Runnymede report.) Marshall compares this misquoted concept with claiming “that an antipathy to Nazism makes you anti-German”, a false comparison because Nazism is a political movement based on racism and extreme nationalism and not a religious group. Nazis are proven to be malevolent and their successors are known for their racism, their thuggery, their mendacity and their general criminality. This is not the case with Muslims, although there are a minority of criminals, delinquents and terrorists among us.

Armed with this pernicious garbage, Islamophobia Watch has set about impugning the intellectual and moral integrity of everyone from the Telegraph’s Mark Steyn on the right to, on the left, the Observer’s Nick Cohen and the Independent’s Johann Hari (who makes so many appearances on the site, it’s often easier to read his stuff there than on the Independent’s own archive).

The accusation about Johann Hari is simply wrong: a Google search (“johann hari” returns only four hits (and that’s when the very-similar omitted entries are shown). As Marshall would know if he read the Independent’s archive that often, most of it is paywalled, and it’s easier to read Johann Hari’s articles on his own website, called, oddly enough, A search for Mark Steyn returns ten, while Nick Cohen turns up 36, but then again it’s very easy to impugn the intellectual and moral integrity of someone who posits a member of a small Marxist sect with a virulent hostility to religion as a feminist without mentioning her affiliation (see this post).

I won’t bother repeating Marshall’s assessment of the Qur’an - after all, millions of people know it off by heart, in the original Arabic rather than the English translation Marshall has no doubt read bits of, and don’t consider it ridiculous. I do, however, take issue with his claim that “the idea that we should unquestioningly accept the moral guidance it offers up is as bizarre and risible as the notion that we might find spiritual salvation in the Matrix trilogy”; quite apart from the fact that the work he mentions makes no claim to divine origin, and that Islam is based not only on the Qur’an but also on the sayings of the Prophet (sall’ Allahu ‘alaihi wa sallam), the fact is that an entire civilisation is based on these teachings, and has been an extremely successful one. Given that the society which spawned his brand of bourgeois secular humanism is also known for its drunkenness and yob culture and other forms of social breakdown which are infamous even in Europe, his light derision of what has been normal in human civilisation for millenia, namely the sourcing of moral values from what are believed to be divinely-revealed or divinely-inspired texts, deserves only similar derision.

Marshall mentions Home Office statistics which demonstrate that Muslims “now possess fewer educational qualifications than any other group”, including Asians of Sikh and Hindu religion, which he suggests might “have something to do with Islam’s current hostility to free inquiry”. This is, however, only part of the story: the same statistics show that Muslims actually have a higher percentage of people (21%) with higher qualifications than Christians (18%); the average is 20%, although certainly lower than Buddhists, Hindus or Jews (bear in mind, there are a sizeable number of middle-class white Buddhists in this country). The disparities he cites may well be to do with Muslim children being taught in mediocre state schools in ghettoised Asian areas in northern industrial towns. Religious schools in fact tend to have a very high degree of academic achievement, despite teaching religious doctrine as fact (this was certainly the case in the Catholic schools I attended as a child), and it scarcely needs to be said that no major religion is much less hostile to “free inquiry” than Islam. All have beliefs which rationalists (and followers of other religions) would find irrational - if only belief in the unseen itself.

This, Marshall then alleges, “adds up to unemployment”, which is more than two and a half times as high as among whites and lower than among other Asians. The statistic may actually be less significant than it seems: unemployment is usually measured in terms of people claiming unemployment benefits such as the Job Seekers’ Allowance, not people who are actually not employed. The figure does not, for instance, include housewives; the classification used here is “never worked or long-term unemployed”, which appears to refer to actually not working, not necessarily to undesired unemployment, and include people such as housewives and carers.

So, he has failed to demonstrate that Islam itself is the cause of Muslims’ lack of educational achievement in this country, which undermines his argument that “until [Muslims] feel free to criticise and freely reinterpret the Koran, until they are free to mock and deride the Prophet without fear of retribution, the will lag behind the rest of us in every possible way”. I very much doubt that ridiculing of the Pope, much less of Jesus and the Virgin Mary (peace be upon them) are the order of the day in most Catholic schools, yet according to Ofsted (the Office for Standards in Education), 60% of them were judged to be outstanding or good overall (despite what that report says about Catholic school sixth forms lagging behind the national average, this report claims that nearly a fifth of the top-performing comprehensive schools at A-level, and four of the top twenty sixth form colleges, are Catholic). Ridiculing religious personalities, like insulting people’s parents, is rarely done in a spirit of honest “free inquiry”; bear in mind that the Danish cartoons were commissioned by a newspaper determined to show that its editors were not afraid to offend Muslims. Given that he accuses Muslims of lagging behind “us”, meaning the west, he might consider that in England at least, ridiculing of Jesus (peace be upon him) himself is very rare indeed.

Possibly Related Posts:


You may also like...