Saturday, July 19, 2008

Douglas Murray on opportunism

The recent Dispatches investigation into the level of anti-Muslim prejudice in British society is a reminder, if the Daily Mail needed one, that journalists should be careful about the stories they use to peddle prejudice. The danger is that some of these stories may not even be true and then people will cease to believe what they read in the tabloids. And what will we do then, turn to wikipedia for the latest correction?

The Daily Mail has splashed with several stories this year which have been followed by other papers as well which have turned out to be either untrue or heavily exaggerated. This includes the 'hundreds of forced marriages' story, the 'Muslim no-go area' story and another story that I might have made up when nobody was looking.

Douglas Murray turned up on the Islam channel last week to defend the anti-Muslim position. The programme was chaired by Anas Altakriti. Peter Oborne, who presented the Dispatches programme, and a Muslim journalist, who worked on the progamme, debated with the Murray. I am only recording it here for posterity's sake because some important points were raised, including about Murray himself.

First of all, Murray made his statement that he is of course against any violence against Muslims and would be upset if any of his writings would have encouraged such tendencies. Then he said, however, that he agreed with Trevor Kavanagh, the former political editor of the Sun, who said that the only reason the Sun went with numerous untrue stories about Muslims was that it was only Muslims and not any other religious or ethnic minority that were intent on terrorism.

Murray was countered here by the Muslim journalist who reminded him that the majority of the anti-Muslim stories about Muslims were not about terrorism but about Muslim culture - the hijab, Muslim schools, family life, religiosity etc. If the focus on Muslims was specifically to do with terrorism, then this could form the basis of a defendable position. But as the Cardiff university study on media reporting since 9/11 has found, this is not the case (this issue is examined in detail in the study). This is about the pathologisation of one group of people.

Next point. The Dispatches programme asserted that what was being said about Muslims could not be said about anyone else. The Murray refused this and asked for examples. The Muslim journalist in a moment of inspiration which must have come from the heavens reminded him that he himself had described Islam as 'an opportunistic infection'. The Murray initially refused to accept that he could have said anything so unacceptable. But was then reminded that he had said this in his speech to the Pim Fortuyn Memorial Conference in February 2006, a speech which is still publicly available. The Murray then, astonishingly, defended his statement. Theorists of culture and prejudice, and amateur ones like myself, can quite clearly see that we are living through a time in which the culture of one community is being singled out for particular denigration. Douglas Murray is a part of this. He is influential on the right. One hopes that the right will reconsider their association with someone like this. Why is he calling us opportunistic?