IJ gets a mention in the Spectator

I was browsing through the Spectator the other day, and noticed that Melanie Phillips had contributed a piece about a “new axis of Islamists and Evangelicals” against Israel. The subject was nothing other than the row among Evangelicals about Ben White tipping me off about his review of Patrick Sookhdeo’s book. I was mentioned as “Indigo Jo”, not by my real name, and I’m sure she knows it. You can find the article on her website or (in six parts) at the Spectator’s site.

The Christians who objected to White tipping me off were concerned about threats to Christian missionaries and to Sookhdeo himself. Phillips is more concerned about the fact that Ben White and some of his associates have a less indulgent attitude towards Israel than she would like:

A recurring thread of White’s writing is his hatred of Israel. He justifies Palestinian terrorism against Israel as legitimate self-defence to bring about the ‘decolonisation and liberation from occupation and Zionist apartheid’.

He says he can ‘understand’ why some people are unpleasant towards Jews because of Israel’s ‘ideology of racial supremacy and its subsequent crimes committed against the Palestinians’ and also ‘the widespread bias and subservience to the Israeli cause in the Western media’.

Enter at this point the non-evangelical, secular Left in the shape of Andrew Brown, who joined White’s onslaught against Sookhdeo on the Guardian’s Comment Is Free website. Brown claimed of Sookhdeo’s supporters that they constructed ‘a closed mirror-world of hatred to stand against the Islamist one’.

Brown’s article, too, seemed to be driven by hostility to anyone who supported Israel. His objection to Sookhdeo was principally that ‘in practice the Sookhdeo view of Islam is always coupled with a stance in favour of the greater Israel’ — which enabled Brown to make a witty crack insinuating that the Jews were ‘people who are instructed by their religion to be violent, treacherous and imperialist’.

Andrew Brown has another explanation for why Anglican clergy are often not Israel-lovers:

But most of the Anglican ambivalence towards Israel is much simpler and less completely worked out than a conspiracy: it arises from the simple fact that Palestinian Christians are Arabs, and if you go to visit them, as Anglican clergy often do, you will see how Arabs are treated under Israeli occupation. That makes the travellers dislike the Israeli army. No doubt this will be interpreted by Melanie as “blaming the Jews”, but occupying armies get blamed for their behaviour whether they are Jewish, Chinese, or even British. It goes with the territory.

I had two qualms with Phillips’s references to me. The first is that she called me an “Islamist”, a term used so broadly by those who use it that it really does not mean anything anymore. The same goes for “radical Muslim”, a term used for me on the Barnabas Fund’s prayer request:

Indigo Jo does say on his website that he is a British convert to Islam, original name Matthew Smith, now using the name Yusuf, and that he is pro-madhhab http://www.blogistan.co.uk/blog/about/about-me-and-my-blog.html (Madhhab is the word for a school of sharia, Islamic law, so this means that he is pro-sharia, i.e. a radical Muslim.)

Whether this is ignorance or dishonesty, I’m not sure. What I do know is that most radicals, except for some in Pakistan, are actually anti-madhhab; at least, against them in the way Muslims traditionally follow them. The Shari’ah is the entirety of Islamic law, including the food laws and rituals, not just the political aspects.

The second is the description of Sookhdeo as an “Islam scholar”. Sookhdeo’s articles on Islam frequently contain brazen distortions of the truth and outright falsehoods, and what makes them more egregious is that they appear in mainstream magazines and newspapers, such as the Spectator and Evening Standard in London, not just obscure Evangelical publications. The Spectator published one entitled Will London Burn Too?, in November 2005 (available here on a sympathetic Evangelical site, or here at the Spectator’s site in four tiny parts), which demonstrated his tendency to seize every opportunity to present Islam as a threat, magnifying small incidents out of their propoer proportion (e.g. a bit of trouble between Kurdish and Pakistani youths in Peterborough), and also contained this false accusation:

Migrant Muslim communities in the West are constantly engaged in sacralising new areas - first the inner private spaces of their homes and mosques, and latterly whole neighbourhoods (e.g., Birmingham) by means of marches and processions. So the ultimate end of sacred space theology is autonomy for Muslims of the UK under Islamic law.

Quite apart from the ridiculous description of Birmingham as a “neighbourhood” (it’s a city - where were the editors when this was being published?), the claim that marches and processions are used to sacralised the areas marched in is just baseless. Besides political demonstrations, some sections of the Muslim community partake in marches for certain celebrations, most commonly the birthday of the Prophet (sall’ Allahu ‘alaihi wa sallam), which is actually condemned by most of the radicals.

Is this man a total idiot, or a liar? One thing he is not is a scholar. He is nothing more than a hatemonger who uses a few long words. As I said before, his work for Christians abroad does not offend me, and his pro-Israel stance does not offend me a tenth as much as his repeated, malicious slurs against Islam and Muslims. The spectacle of Boris Johnson getting promoted in the Tory party after publishing the utter nonsense this scoundrel writes convinced me that the party had nothing to offer Muslims.

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