Barnabas Fund - International Headquarters River Street, Pewsey, Wilthire. Phone: +44 1672 565030 Latitude: 51 deg 23 min 18 sec N Longitude: 1 deg 45 min 48 sec W .
Dr Patrick Sookhdeo responds to critical...

Email:

Dr Patrick Sookhdeo responds to critical Guardian article

To

Email address:
Separate multiple addresses with a comma (,). Maximum of 10

From

Your name:
Your email address:
Security test:
Please enter the numbers that appear here in the box below.
refresh captcha
CAPTCHA Image
Security code:

Details provided here will never be used in any other context

Dr Patrick Sookhdeo responds to critical Guardian article

Country/Region: United Kingdom, Europe

The-Guardian-4X3.jpg

On 9 September 2011, The Guardian newspaper in the UK published an article by Mehdi Hasan, senior political editor of the New Statesman, entitled “How fear of criminalisation forces Muslims into silence”. This contained a number of specific and personal criticisms of Barnabas Fund’s International Director, Dr Patrick Sookhdeo.

This is not the first time in the recent past that this newspaper has published a biased piece highly critical of Dr Sookhdeo’s work (see also this 2009 blog post by Andrew Brown). But on this occasion he has requested and been given the right of reply, and a shorter and significantly edited version of the article below has been published by The Guardian today. Some points we would have liked to make had to be excluded from that piece for reasons of space or editorial policy, so we are now releasing this fuller version to our supporters.

Allegations such as those in the original article imply that highlighting the causes of anti-Christian hostility and speaking out for the freedom of oppressed Christians in Muslim-majority countries (especially converts from Islam to Christianity) amount to hate speech, and so can be used to discredit our advocacy on behalf of the persecuted Church.

In his recent article, Mehdi Hasan refers to me as a “rightwing ideologue”, a “crude, anti-Islam propagandist” and a “preacher of hate and division”. I want to respond here not only to these specific and personal charges, but also to the social and political claims that he deduces from them.

At the personal level, Mehdi Hasan does not, in fact, provide much of a case for me to answer. The only evidence he cites to support his allegations are the brief references to me in the manifesto of Anders Breivik, the Norwegian mass killer, and a few short quotes from my books. But given the wide range of sources quoted by Breivik, his references to my writings are hardly definite proof of right-wing extremism. And I am content for those who have taken the trouble to study those writings in any detail to judge whether I deserve the epithets applied to me in the article.

More needs to be said, however. Mehdi Hasan suggests that Muslims in Britain today are victims of “negative stereotypes” and “demonisation”. Yet he is himself prepared to use equally negative stereotypes to demonise those, including myself, who offer an understanding of contemporary Islam that is different from his own. His strategy is a common one: to defend a weakly supported opinion by accusing his opponents of extremism. But although this may give a spurious respectability to his view, it provides no defence against the serious criticisms that may be brought against that view.

I yield to no-one in my abhorrence of anti-Muslim prejudice, bigotry and hatred in all its forms, and I am on record as speaking out forcefully against it. I have also worked hard on a number of occasions for the causes of endangered and oppressed Muslim minorities. Sheikh Dr Muhammad Al-Hussaini, Director of Abraham House in the UK, has issued a response (read here) to Mehdi Hasan’s article in which he refers to my campaigning to defend Muslims in the Balkans from slaughter by the Serbs, my defence of Muslims suffering violence in India, and the protection by the church that I then led of a London mosque at a time of anti-Muslim hostility. I count Dr Al-Hussaini, and many other moderate and liberal Muslims, among my close friends.

But there is a crucial difference between anti-Muslim hatred and legitimate criticism of the religion of Islam. Like any other ideology, Islam must be open to being critiqued, and where its political aspects appear to pose a challenge to fundamental Western values, these issues must be discussed openly and responsibly, without the debate being obscured by charges of “Islamophobia”. It must also be possible to comment on the behaviour of individual Muslims where this contravenes our society’s basic norms, without being accused of racism or bigotry.

On YouTube videos Mehdi Hasan appears to refer to non-Muslims and atheists in very derogatory terms: “cattle”, "animals", “people of no intelligence” and even kuffar, a grossly offensive term applied by some Muslims to non-Muslims. (Some of his fellow-Shia Muslims even apply it to Sunni Muslims.) Admittedly, the context of these comments is unclear, but if he expects to enjoy the freedom to use such terms, I wonder on what basis he can argue for the silencing of reasoned and courteous voices that challenge certain aspects of contemporary Islam. I wonder, also, whether The Guardian would have published an article by someone who had seemingly called Muslims “cattle” or “of no intelligence”. Indeed, I wonder if that person would not be reported to the appropriate authorities or even to the police.

Mehdi Hasan queries the influence given to me by Western governments. The political and military leaders who have found my insights worthy of attention can speak for themselves. My work with the armed forces has been focused on facilitating understanding of and dialogue with Muslims, and it has taken place in the context of peace and community relations. This should perhaps be enough at least to gain my views a fair hearing, from anyone not invincibly prejudiced against them.

And there is in fact plenty of evidence from both Muslim and secular sources to support those views. Some parts of the Muslim community really are becoming increasingly isolated from other people, creating enclaves where they live largely according to their own rules. Smaller, more radical elements really do advocate – quite openly – a fully Islamic society under the rule of sharia law. As a result, some areas of British society really are being subtly but progressively Islamised. This process is not an invention of a few “anti-Islam propagandists”; it is a well-documented and significant social change that deserves, indeed demands, a fair-minded debate. I suggest that Mehdi Hasan’s unwillingness even to acknowledge its existence raises questions about his own credibility as a commentator.

I close with a personal note. I am a convert from Islam, and all schools of Islamic law prescribe the death penalty for an adult male Muslim who chooses to leave his faith. Having lived under this death sentence for my entire adult life, I am acutely aware of the plight of apostates from Islam in some Muslim-majority contexts, where they are at real risk of violence or even murder. Even as I write, an Iranian pastor, Youcef Nadarkhani, is on death row in Iran, and may be executed any day. If I had no other reason to speak or write about Islam, then giving these vulnerable people a voice in the West, where their suffering is so often ignored, would be reason enough. My unshakable commitment to liberal Western values requires nothing less.

I am surprised that The Guardian newspaper, which claims to recognise fundamental freedoms and presents itself as a paragon of virtue in this respect, appears to be so little concerned with human rights and freedom of conscience when it comes to Christians far away in non-Western contexts.

Dr Patrick Sookhdeo
27 October 2011

Help us: Share this article

Email:

Dr Patrick Sookhdeo responds to critical Guardian article

To

Email address:
Separate multiple addresses with a comma (,). Maximum of 10

From

Your name:
Your email address:
Security test:
Please enter the numbers that appear here in the box below.
refresh captcha
CAPTCHA Image
Security code:

Details provided here will never be used in any other context

christian, persecution, charity, church, persecuted, sookhdeo, Islam

Other articles

Follow Barnabas

or

receive news & appeal emails as they are published

From Twitter

From Twitter_icon
  • Iranian pastor Farshid Fathi hospitalised after beating by prison guards http://ow.ly/w4Liq 12 hours ago

  • Young Christian man killed by Muslim co-worker in Pakistan for refusing to convert to Islam http://ow.ly/w1Uum Tue, Apr 2014 15:22

  • Christians driven out of Maaloula by Islamist rebels long to return after its recapture by the Syrian army http://ow.ly/vTrgN Thu, Apr 2014 16:37

  • Islamic parties make unexpected gains in Indonesian elections http://ow.ly/vR60m Wed, Apr 2014 16:46

Daily prayer

Daily prayer_icon
  • Praise God for the release of John Short, an Australian missionary who was detained in North Korea for distributing Christian leaflets. John, who is 75 and based in Hong Kong, was reported to security officials in Pyongyang after he was spotted leaving a Christian leaflet at a Buddhist temple, an act that is illegal in North Korea. Further Korean-language Christian pamphlets were subsequently found in his hotel room. John, who was released on 3 March after two weeks in custody, was required to sign a confession probably scripted by the authorities. Other foreign missionaries arrested in North Korea have been given long prison sentences. Give thanks to God that John has escaped further punishment, and pray for him as he recovers from his traumatic ordeal. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed 5 hours ago

  • Pray for Barnabas Fund partners in South Sudan who have been supporting Christians forced from their homes by violence. Conflict between supporters of President Salva Kiir and his sacked deputy Riek Machar in December and January displaced around 860,000 people. Churches were burned down and a number of pastors killed, while many people lost their belongings and were left destitute. Give thanks that churches in and around the capital, Juba, were able to provide food and other essentials to many families with help from Barnabas. Pray that they may continue to be salt and light in their country at this unstable time (Matthew 5:13-16), and that it will soon be safe for displaced Christians to return home. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed Wed, Apr 2014 00:00

  • Pray for the residents of a mainly Christian village in Borno state, Northern Nigeria, in the aftermath of a horrific attack by Boko Haram militants on 15 February. Ask for God’s comfort for the relatives and friends of the 106 people in Izghe who were gunned down and slaughtered in their houses or in the open as they tried to flee. Pray for strength for the numerous residents who were wounded or whose properties were looted and torched. Pray too for the many Christians who fled into the neighbouring state after the attack, and ask that the Christian community in the North of Nigeria will be preserved in the face of Islamist violence. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed Tue, Apr 2014 00:00

  • Violent attacks by militants from the Islamist group Boko Haram continue unabated in Northern Nigeria. On one horrendous day of violence on 26 January, at least 138 people were killed. A church in Wada Chakawa village in Adamawa state was targeted; the attackers locked the congregation inside and then detonated bombs, shooting and cutting the throats of people who tried to escape. They then went on a four-hour rampage in the village. Later the same day, Kawuri village in neighbouring Borno state was burned to the ground. Boko Haram is fighting to establish an Islamic state, and Christians are among its main targets. Pray that the Nigerian authorities will succeed in containing its insurgency. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed Mon, Apr 2014 00:00

  • Almighty God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, we give You thanks on this Easter Day for the living hope that You have given us and all Your people through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead (1 Peter 1:3). We pray that the prospect of an enduring inheritance and future salvation will encourage our persecuted brothers and sisters to persevere in their faith, whatever may happen to them. We pray that we too may be sustained by this hope in the sufferings that we experience for the sake of Christ. We ask that the joy and resurrection power of the Lord will give strength and peace to persecuted believers today and every day. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed Sun, Apr 2014 00:00

© Barnabas Fund 1997 - 2014 All rights reserved.
Barnabas Fund & Barnabas Aid are registered trade marks