Over the years I’ve noticed that a standard tactic of the dishonest journalist or columnist in the age of the Internet is to rely on the geographical ignorance of your overseas audience, most of whom will not know or care if you claim, for example, that Downe (home of Nigel Farage and his favoured drinking den) is a typical Kent village rather than a well-heeled London suburb, or that parts of London have become Islamic enclaves when in fact they are mixed, and Muslim women just feel more confident to wear the veil because they are less likely to get spat at. Latest offender is Shiraz Maher, whose lengthy piece about a group from Portsmouth who went to fight for the so-called Islamic State in Syria, in the current New Statesman (not currently online) contains this geographical howler:
They took circuitous and different routes to the airport. Rahman, Uzzaman and Roshid all took the train to Gatwick from Fratton Station in Portsmouth. Choudhury travelled by car, while Hassan made his way separately from Guildford.
I used to live in Croydon, which had a major station on the southern main line to the coast (East Croydon), and there were trains to Portsmouth at least hourly, with another taking a really circuitous route to Southampton (via Hove, the junior partner to Brighton). They all stop at Gatwick Airport. All the trains that go to Portsmouth stop at all four stations on Portsea Island, including Fratton. There’s an hourly direct train from Fratton to Gatwick, which is the nearest major international airport to Portsmouth, and it takes the most direct route, via Horsham and Crawley, and they take just over an hour. So they did not take a ‘circuitous’ route so as to disguise their intentions (and why would three of them travel together if that was the idea?), but a very common and fairly quick route that probably hundreds of people take every day. (And there is a direct train from Guildford to Gatwick Airport as well; it runs hourly, ten minutes past each hour, and is run by First Great Western.)
(Shiraz, readers may recall, is a remnant of the “celebrity ex-jihadi” movement of about seven or eight years ago, which imploded spectacularly when Hassan Butt revealed that his tale of having received jihad training in Pakistan was made up and that the injuries he’d received at the hands of former jihadis were self-inflicted. Shiraz, who regularly crops up as an ‘expert’ on Islamist and jihadi movements in the media, claimed he had joined Hizb-ut-Tahrir after 9/11 and left after the July 2005 London bombings, despite the first being a spectacular and the second, a routine operation for a major terrorist group, and despite HT and Al-Qaida being ideologically and organisationally entirely separate. I didn’t believe it then, and don’t believe anything he writes now, and these slip-ups, or deceits, show he cannot be trusted.)
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