As you may know if you’ve been reading this blog (and I’m astonished just how many are doing so and from how many countries per day, for what is a very new blog) that a group called Hereford Masjid / Herefordshire Muslim Association want to build a mosque in Hereford.
Now, before you call me ignorant, I’m not against Islam as a politico-religious philosophy because I know too little, but rather because I know too much about Islam and what happens when Islam is allowed power and influence. Basically, if it walks like an exploding duck, quacks like an exploding duck and looks like an exploding duck then it as near as dammit is an exploding duck.
Although I am opposed to Islam and Islamism I feel that individual Muslims should never be oppressed just for being muslim, that way madness lies. All our blood is the same colour. I do think however, that the ideology of Islam is up for challenge and needs to be challenged. All religions, like all politics should be freely debated. Censorship including self censorship only leads to more of the same, ask an East German or a Pole or a Romanian about that.
The fact that Islam as a philosophy is behind so many atrocities in the world (19,000 and counting )and is the governing philosophy behind some of the planet’s most oppressive, discriminatory and violent nations should not be ignored and neither should it be ignored when it sets up shop closer to home. We have to challenge Islam, sadly sometimes harshly but peacefully, in order to make it fit in with a Western, democratic, mostly secular and equal way of life. Not the other way round.
There should be no place in this nation for those who treat or want to treat women, Hindus, Sikhs, Christians and Jews as second or third class citizens, there is no place for that sort of Islam in the UK, it’s just not wanted, there have been just too many battles in the past in Britain to stop stuff like that. The less troublesome forms of Islam like Sufi I have no issue with nor do I have an issue with those Muslims who are engaged on reform of Islam (it’s a difficult and dangerous job doing that) . However, I get the distinct impression from researches and viewing the Hereford Masjid site that this is NOT one of those reform minded congregations or organisations, despite what they may be telling people in the council and elsewhere.
Now the Hereford Times website ran a few weeks ago, a story on the mosque plans and it attracted a diverse collection of opinions both for and against. The anti’s such as myself played the checkable history / personal experiences cards where ever we could and the pro’s fought their corner very well as well, although some on the pro side seemed to play on emotion rather than facts and there was the odd Islamist nutter on there (possibly over from a lovely place called ‘Islamic Awakening’).
What bothers me is that the Hereford Times has not only removed this debate, but in future web editions also removed the comment from other stories where this issue was mentioned.
Someone contacted Fiona Phillips, the Editor of the Hereford Times pointing out this issue and she rightly pointed out that she had full editorial rights over what is discussed on the HT site. In an extract from her email She said:
“Anyone leaving comments must subscribe to the rules of our website which include ensuring all posts are not in breach of current legislation and are not offensive. If posters fail to adhere to these rules, or when I judge the topic has been aired sufficiently, then the comments facility may be closed. “
No issue at all with the idea of the editor being in control, my gaff my rules so to speak.
Well I didn’t see anything on there, when I was on there that is, I don’t know about later when I wasn’t though, (although there was one spectacular antisemitic loon calling someone a Zionazi after I saved a copy of the discussion, see later) that could be called ‘offensive’ unless you were being highly over sensitive (after all it’s not exactly the first time that someone on a bulletin board has said ‘Mohammed was a nonce’ nor ‘Moses had a hare lip’.)
The Hereford Times was asked whether they were being leaned on in any way and Ms Phillips said that “The Hereford Times editorial department operates without any political or commercial agenda. “ Which I think is a fair comment really and that any local paper that is perceived as a wholly owned subsidiary of the council or local pressure groups or whatever would swiftly lose its readership. I don’t think any criticism of the Editor is justified over this. Editor = Difficult Job.
There is the possibility that the lawyers whispered the phrase Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006 into her ear, or it just may be that the topic has been ‘aired sufficently’, I cannot say whether it is the case that the 2006 Act was invoked and will leave it at that, except to say that if this is the case then those who said that the Act would have a chilling effect on free speech may well have been correct.
In the interests of openness and free speech I will later put up a post with as much of the original debate as I was able to save (about 60% approx I guess). I’d read it quickly if I was you as I consider I may have to take it down later for copyright reasons. Was it a fair debate, you decide?
If you want to write to the Hereford Times about this matter then check out the HT’s Contact Us page at: http://www.herefordtimes.com/contactus/ but beware they have a policy of not publishing letters where there is no name and address, or name and address are requested to be withheld, which would give Mr Salman Rushdie a problem if he wanted to comment on this issue in the Hereford Times.
I bear no ill will towards either The Hereford Times nor Ms Phillips, being a local newspaper editor is a difficult job with lots of journalistic, legal, fiscal and other pressures. I know this because at one point some of my best friends were scribblers.
In conclusion, although local newspapers are an important method of keeping a local community informed about what is going on in their area, they are now not the only method of disseminating news, nor the only medium for debating issues, even issues of controversy. If local newspapers are seen to be too censorious then some of their customers will leave for other media and the subsequent demise of local newspapers would be a sad cultural loss. If newspapers both local and national, are under legal pressure from such things as the 2006 Act then it shows just how important it is to work for changes in the law that establish and strengthen free speech and not reduce it.