At last the British press has given Richard Dawkins a break! In truth, I can’t remember the last pro-Dawkins piece they’ve published, although there are dozens taking the other side, every one a carbon copy of the others. Strident. Bigot. Racist. Superannuated. You know the tropes. While people have every right to differ with Richard’s ideas, the wolf-pack behavior of the British press is more like a feeding frenzy than a reasoned assessment of his ideas.
But in the August 24 Spectator, British journalist and author Nick Cohen analyzes this phenomenon in a piece called “Richard Dawkins attacks Muslim bigots, not just Christian ones. If only his enemies were as brave.” He not only decries the press for its herd mentality, but indicts it for cowardice: its refusal to defend liberal Muslims who stand up against their oppressive and conservative coreligionists.
How refreshing is this beginning?
It’s August, and you are a journalist stuck in the office without an idea in your head. What to write? What to do? Your empty mind brings you nothing but torment, until a thought strikes you, ‘I know, I’ll do Richard Dawkins.’
Dawkins is the sluggish pundit’s dream. It does not matter which paper you work for. Editors of all political persuasions and none will take an attack on Darwin’s representative on earth. With the predictability of the speaking clock, Owen Jones, the Peter Hitchens of the left, thinks the same as Craig Brown, Private Eye’s high Tory satirist. Tom Chivers, the Telegraph’s science blogger, says the same as Andrew Brown, the Guardian’s religious affairs correspondent. The BBC refuses to run contrary views. It assures the nation that ‘militant’ atheism is as fanatical as militant religion — despite the fact that no admirer of The God Delusion has ever planted a bomb, or called for the murder of homosexuals, Jews and apostates.
Sharp operators could sell the same piece a dozen times without changing a word. Read the papers, and you will suspect that is exactly what sharp operators have done.
Cohen then recounts the case of Nahla Mahmoud, a Muslim woman in England about whom the press has been curiously silent. For less than two minutes of criticism of sharia law in Britain, she’s suffered vicious criticism and appears to be in serious danger. Her brother was attacked and her mother threatened, and now she lives in fear.
She is a Sudanese refugee who became a leading figure in the British Council of ex-Muslims. Earlier this year Channel 4 gave her one minute and 39 seconds precisely to talk about the evils of Britain’s Sharia courts in Britain. In these institutions, a woman’s testimony is worth half that of a man’s, a man can divorce his wife by simple repudiation, and women who remarry lose custody of their children. One minute and 39 seconds may not sound long enough to list their vices. But it is one minute and 39 seconds longer than the BBC has ever given her.
Nahla described how she grew up under Sharia. She was ‘always dealt with as a second-class citizen, always bought up to believe that I am an incomplete human being [who] needed a man as a guard.’
She was shocked to find the same system here in her land of refuge. ‘Muslims have been living in Britain for hundreds of years and never needed sharia courts,’ she concluded. ‘Everyone should have equal rights and live under one secular law.’
I’m only dimly aware of sharia law in Britain, how it’s implemented, and to what extent it supersedes civil law. Perhaps some reader can enlighten me. Can a British Muslim really divorce his wife according to that law, or lose custody of her children? Is a woman’s testimony in those courts worth (as it is in other Muslim countries) only half that of a man’s? If so, the British should be ashamed.
The British press, like the American, is simply afraid of criticizing Islam, and if sharia law is a going thing in the UK, how come its press writes about Richard Dawkins’s stridency instead of the oppressiveness and misogyny of Muslim law? Which is more important?
We know the answer: any criticism of Islam by the press is liable to bring down on them the opprobrium and attendant physical threats of Muslims. Everyone is well aware of the violence following publication of the anti-Muslim cartoons in the Danish press.
If we construe “Islamophobia” as “fear of Muslims” and not “hatred of Muslims,” then the press is guilty of it far more than is Dawkins. In the end, they pick on the easy victim, for Richard isn’t going to kill his journalistic critics.
Cohen has a nice finish to his piece:
My point is that women like Nahla are being terrified and abused every day in Britain. I have seen Richard Dawkins speak up for them as a matter of honour and a matter of course many times, but have never heard a peep of protest from his opponents.
One day there will be a reckoning. One day, thousands who have suffered genital mutilation, religious threats and forced marriages will turn to the intellectual and political establishments of our day and ask why they did not protect them. The pathetic and discreditable reply can only be: ‘We were too busy fighting Richard Dawkins to offer you any support at all.’
Sharia law is profoundly undemocratic and contemptuous of human rights. It should not be practiced in the UK at all, regardless of whether Muslims consider it a “tradition.” It’s time the press, like Cohen, gets its priorities straight.