Is Ken really the man for this job?

In a couple of weeks’ time there will be a conference in London, “A World Civilisation or a Clash of Civilisations”, featuring a long list of speakers including Ken Livingstone (the mayor of London), Christina Odone, Tariq Ali, Tariq Ramadan, Bruce Kent, Oliver Kamm and David Aaronovitch. Among the supposed highlights of the conference will be a debate between Livingstone and Daniel Pipes, whom the site quotes as saying that “there is not so much a clash of civilisations as there is one of civilisations vs. barbarism”.

Given that London is a very diverse and international city, and that any “clash of civilisations” will be keenly felt in London, I think it’s a valid topic for a conference organised by, or participated in by, the mayor of London. However, I don’t believe Livingstone is the man to debate Pipes. What such an undertaking needs is someone who knows - and knows well - what he is talking about, and is able to detect when Pipes is pulling an irrelevant and/or erroneous factoid out of his backside. A good example is this comprehensive article at A Fistful of Euros by Scott Martens, debunking various things Pipes said about Tariq Ramadan.

A typical example of Pipes’ shamelessly dishonest commentary is currently the second to top at his website: Islamists in the Hospital Ward. It concerns three separate issues - Muslims refusing the anti-MRSA gel in the UK, a young shepherd in Turkey being refused service by “two headscarved (i.e., Islamist) female radiology doctors” on religious grounds, and Muslim women in France going without epidurals because their husbands object to them being given them by male doctors. As for the MRSA gel, this issue was brought up on Osama Saeed’s blog a few days ago and it turns out that it’s not only Muslims who refuse it; Hakim Abdullah (Abu Sahajj) comments:

I’m a manager of an Infection Control Department at a very large hospital in New York City and it should NOT be a problem that patients or the family and friends of patients refuse - what we call - alcohol based hand gel, soap and water is sufficient, just as long as a form of hand-hygiene is performed. The complaint is another attempt to exploit Muslims, do not fall for it. I have staff that refuse the hand gel because it is extremely drying, without the more expensive emolients. Do not let the media fool you, this is another trick.

In some incidents (as recently in Kent), hospital staff have been told to stop using such gels to prevent the spread of other infections, such as clostridium dificil, because the gels end up killing the weak pathogens and leaving the strong drug-resistant ones - leading, of course, to stronger and more difficult-to-treat infections.

As for the incident in Turkey, one might ask why a large hospital in a large city (Konya) was unable to find doctors other than the two women who were so religious that they would not treat a male patient. In the UK there are scores of Muslim doctors and if treating patients of the opposite sex was an issue for them, it would be known of, particularly if it concerned a case as acute as this. Bear in mind, many British Pakistanis are Deobandis, that is to say, strict Hanafis - and there are plenty of strict Hanafis in Konya; a British Pakistani doctor I contacted regarding this told me that to reach the stage these supposed female radiology doctors had, they would have had to learn their craft treating and examining both male and female patients. The condition this shepherd likely had was testicular tortion - that is, twisting of the testicle - which cuts off the blood supply and kills the testicle within five to six hours, and normal British practice is to take a young male patient with such acute testicular pain straight to theatre to have it examined and fixed, if it is indeed twisted (in older men, the more likely cause is infection). The incident, if it was reported accurately, reflects an incompetently-run hospital (or possibly two women who “got religion” well after their medical training), not an Islamist takeover. (Note Pipes’ amusing reference to a “shepherd from Konya” - Konya is a large city whose population, as of 1980, was more than 1.7 million.)

The situation he reports from France dates from 2004, something he does not mention, but surely in a western country a doctor would not refuse treatment to a conscious, competent adult patient because their spouse objected, and are the men present in order to object? Are the sort of French Algerian men who would put up such an objection really “new men” who would sit in on the births of their children? The fact is that women are refusing the treatment themselves, and my doctor friend tells me that there is a good reason in the Shari’a for the woman to be given an epidural by a male doctor if no female is available, not only because it relieves the great pain of childbirth but also because, if a caesarian proves necessary, it might well make the general anaesthetic (with the risks that entails) unnecessary. The objection, where it appears, stems from culture, not Islam.

Would Livingstone be able to mount such a comprehensive refutation as Scott Martens’s in a face-to-face debate? I think not - not unless he has a formidable team of researchers on tap at the time of the debate, something I doubt Pipes will agree to because he likely will not have the same resource himself. Livingstone is a rather gaffe-prone politician (the Finegold affair springs to mind) and I question whether he would keep to keep himself “together” enough. At the end of the day, debating someone is pointless when you cannot tell whether the examples he uses to illustrate a point are honest ones.

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