Why did they lie?

A front page of the "Times" newspaper, with the headline "Christian child forced into Muslim foster care"Earlier today I saw an article on Medium titled “Why did Andrew Norfolk lie?”. Andrew Norfolk is the investigative reporter who wrote the story about the “Christian” girl being fostered with the Muslim foster family in east London that appeared last Monday. The article was written by Abdul-Azim Ahmed, editor of the On Religion magazine (not sure if he means the print magazine or the website). He writes:

Andrew Norfolk, in writing these words, knew they amounted to lies. The girl’s racial and religious background is mixed according to court documents, with foreign-born Muslim grandparents (though the mother disputes the religious identity).

The entire story, from headline to closing to paragraph, was a series of lies and lies by omission. Others have detailed this, the shoddy basis of the story, and the wider context of poor reporting on Muslims.

According to Islam it’s enough that a man repeats everything he hears that one may call him a liar. In British law the definition is more exacting: it’s libel to call someone a liar unless you can prove they knew at the time that what they were saying was false (I’ve been threatened with a libel suit in the past for calling Shiv Malik a liar on this blog). I don’t know how much Andrew Norfolk or his editor knew about the facts behind the story they were given but I can lay a fairly safe bet on why they published a story that anyone with any knowledge of issues surrounding fostering could have told them might be at least partly untrue, and which fell apart so dramatically within days: an agenda to demonise and stigmatise Islam and Muslims in this country.

In the past I have said that the Times is a right-wing newspaper but is in general not sensationalist, and although I subscribe to the Guardian I might have bought the Times if it was not available. In recent years the paper’s reporting on issues that have anything to do with Islam or Muslims have taken on a fear-mongering and hostility-baiting quality. In the 2000s they ran a number of stories, many of which appeared to originate from “Harry’s Place”, a generally Blairite, pro-Israel and anti-Muslim blog run by a bunch of people who wrote under pseudonyms, which drew attention to ‘extremist’ sentiments that had been expressed by people who were scheduled to speak at events in the UK and voiced demands that their visa be cancelled, often successfully. At the time, the government had a policy of barring anyone who had a record of public statements which could stir hatred, whether they were white or from a minority (Louis Farrakhan was banned for many years for this reason), and this was at least consistent.

In recent years they have crossed a line from exposing public figures accused of extremism to ‘exposing’ private citizens for demanding a bit too much or doing things differently to how white people usually do them. In keeping with a similar agenda in the Cameron government, such issues are often lumped into the ‘security’ (i.e. threat) category; for example, when the Times reported on the “Trojan Horse” affair in Birmingham (for more on which see this recent long read in the Guardian, which is quite comprehensive other than in not even hinting at the origin of the original hoax letter), in which a number of teachers and school governors were accused of turning academies into Islamic schools by the back door (and at the same time, drove up GCSE achievements such that Ofsted rated them as outstanding; most of the accusations were shown to be baseless and most of the formally accused individuals cleared), the article in question was co-written with Richard Kerbaj, the security correspondent; the government’s investigation into the matter was headed by Peter Clarke, the former head of the Metropolitan Police’s counter-terrorism division. Only today, the Sunday Times put the ‘issue’ of primary school age girls wearing hijaab as part of the uniform on the front page; a harmless practice made to seem otherwise by a few busybodies who speculate on what it really means or symbolises when an adult woman wears it, an issue I covered in another recent entry.

Abdul-Azim Ahmed offers a number of explanations for why Andrew Norfolk wrote the Tower Hamlets story: is he just thick? Is he just a liar? Is he desperate, or an Islamophobe? Personally I believe he shares the wider agenda of the Times; it was not just about his own attitudes. If his editor had cared to do his job, he would have seen that the story was paper-thin and a potential embarrassment, and liable to do great harm. The Times is part of the same Murdoch-owned group as The Sun, and is aimed at a wealthier and better-educated audience than the Sun which is targeted at working-class and lower-middle-class readers. It is aimed at peeling off middle-class support for multiculturalism by appealing to ‘liberal’ sentiments (hence the propaganda about “homophobia”, “gender segregation” — though not when it’s happening in mixed schools, not single-sex grammar or church schools in affluent areas — and “hijab sexualising young girls’ bodies”) and continually casting any controversy involving Muslims in a threatening light. Murdoch himself has written in the past that “maybe most Moslems (sic) peaceful, but until they recognize and destroy their growing jihadist cancer they must be held responsible”.

The paper also knows its readers in the UK; it’s sold quite profitably for the past decade and a half with a regular diet of anti-Muslim stories from both its news desk and from its pro-war and pro-Israel writers, both Blairite and Conservative. It also has an eye on the American audience (the story was syndicated or at least repeated on various US right-wing media sites including Breitbart) and accuracy about Muslims is not high on the agenda in the American blogosphere. It’s an echo chamber where only ideological fact is treated as fact and ‘bias’ means not being biased in their favour. One suspects that the people behind this knew it would take on a life of its own, that it would continue being repeated elsewhere even after the truth came out, and that people would forget that the Times was its origin as almost every paper would print a version of it.

When it comes to hatemongers and bigots, we must remember that the ‘facts’ behind their stories are less important than the intention they represent. In this case they are laying the groundwork for future acts of hostility and even violence against ordinary Muslims in the West — not Hizbut-Tahrir, not the Muslim Brotherhood, but the average Ahmed and Khadijah who work in ordinary jobs, or socially beneficial jobs such as medicine and nursing, or who stay at home to raise their children, and are not necessarily involved in politics but live their lives according to Islam and look and speak differently and eat halaal. They want a way of distracting the public if Brexit goes ahead and causes economc disaster, but their main aim is to make it difficult for Muslims to live in this country by encouraging legal crackdowns on Muslim schools, marriage councils and slaughtering, as well as by fostering an undercurrent of personal hostility and violence against Muslims going about their business. Some of them are motivated by loyalty to Israel, but others hanker for the old days when “Britain was great”, and that meant white. The aim of the Right always was to keep Britain white.

The motive for this was nothing other than malice.

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