Magazine article The Spectator

The Spectator's Notes

Magazine article The Spectator

The Spectator's Notes

Article excerpt

This week, Policy Exchange, of which I am the chairman, produced a survey, 'The Hijacking of British Islam', of literature found on the premises of more than 100 mosques. In about a quarter of the mosques, often 'mainstream' ones, some blessed by a visit from the Prince of Wales, the researchers found what could fairly be described as 'hate' literature -- books with titles like Women Who Will Go to Hell (for, among another things, cutting their hair short), invitations to kill anyone who abandoned the Islamic faith, attacks on Jews, etc. Much of this material, about half of it published in English, comes from Saudi Arabia, whose King Abdullah has been having a rather edgy state visit here this week. The Muslim Council of Britain, the official umbrella organisation, says that the Policy Exchange report is 'futile' and 'plumbs the depths'. The publications criticised are not illegal, it says. Sir Iqbal Sacranie, the MCB's former boss, says, 'These texts can be found not just in mosques, but in ordinary bookshops.' I am struck by how strange these defences are. What is 'futile' about surveying such material, and why is it, even if true, a sufficient answer to objections to claim that the material is not against the law? Why is the fact that you can get this stuff outside mosques a justification for selling it inside? Suppose, by analogy, that Church bookshops were found to be selling literature that said it is a good thing to kill Christians who left the faith, or to hate all Muslims or Jews or to throw homosexuals off cliffs, would Church House or the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster even attempt such defences, let alone get away with them? Another defence offered is that mosques are not always responsible for what is sold or handed out on their premises, but allow a sort of free-for-all.

Why is this so? Does it not concern the MCB that such horrible things find sanctuary under a religious roof? 'The MCB does not tolerate any messages of hate, ' it says on its website; yet that is precisely what is happening, and precisely what the MCB defends, saying it is the 'pioneer in creating a space for the many rich traditions of Islam'.

The excitement about the royal blackmail case this week turns on the word 'royal'.

It is a word -- like Pope, sex, split, gun and cancer -- treasured by the media. As a result, it gets stretched. The 'royal' who is the subject of this alleged blackmail attempt is not someone with the title of HRH and he/she performs no royal duties and is not paid from the Civil List. Even less royal, then, is the 'aide' who, according to the alleged blackmailers, as reported in the press, 'allegedly claims in a video to have engaged in a sex act with the royal'. So even if the blackmail did take place and if the aide did make this claim, and even if his claim is true, it is a very, very small story indeed. An even more useful word than 'royal' in my great trade of newspapers is 'alleged'.

When I first went to India, 25 years ago, I was embarrassed by cycle rickshaws.

I felt uneasy being transported by thin people much poorer than myself, especially as I watched the muscles of their calves straining to move the weight of their passengers. The whole thing emphasised inequality. Now cycle rickshaws are popular in central London as an amusing, green and almost nimble way of getting through the traffic. …

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