The Independent is the UK's most sickeningly pro-Islam, anti-British news outlet - and in a field containing the Guardian, Sky News and the BBC, that's saying quite a lot.
A couple of days ago, it was claiming that the "Prophet" Muhammad had "British values", and that we should thus teach more Islam in our schools.
The following day, it published shoddy propaganda of the most unbelievably egregious variety.
The piece, by Hanna Yusuf, attempted to debunk five "ridiculous misconceptions" about Muslims which apparently circulate in Britain today. Many of them would indeed be quite ridiculous...if anybody actually held to them. Most of the article is simply one massive straw man.
This begins in the introduction, which claims:
According to far-right groups like Britain First, Muslims hate poppies. Their claim comes after a few individuals, who are widely condemned in the Muslim community, criticised the poppy on the basis that it constitutes an endorsement of wars in the Middle East.
What far-right groups fail to mention, however, is that many Muslim soldiers have died fighting for the British army, and many Muslim citizens make an active effort to remember the war dead.
I am not a supporter of Britain First, but I do not believe that they have ever made the broad claim that "Muslims hate poppies", which would imply a shared attitude held by every single one in the country, or indeed the world. I have never, ever heard anyone, not even genuine "far-right extremists", claim that all Muslims do or believe anything. I would imagine that all Britain First has done is point out that some Muslims are disrespectful toward the poppy, and express disapproval of this position. Regardless of what else they say, that is hardly unfair or untrue.
The entire article continues in this same vein. Let's look at each claim one by one.
1. "Muslims hate the West"
Being Muslim and a Westerner aren’t mutually exclusive. Many people in Britain identify as Western Muslims. In fact, this article has been written by one. According to a survey by Gallup in 2009, the proportion of Muslims who identify with Britain is higher than that of the general population. It found that 77 per cent of Muslims identify with Britain, compared to 50 per cent of the population. At the time, Muhammad Yunus, a senior analyst at Gallup, said: “British Muslims are more likely to identify strongly with their nation, and to express stronger confidence in its democratic institutions, while maintaining a high degree of religious identity”.
First of all, nobody anywhere has made the generic claim that "Muslims hate the West", as if all 1.6 billion of them think in exactly the same way. That's just one of many straw men to come.
Secondly, I don't know whether the statistics given by Yusuf are accurate, but the involvement of Gallup and Dalia Mogahed in the promotion of the study she cites calls into question its validity, as Mogahed has a proven track record of manipulating and misrepresenting polling data on Muslim attitudes in order to artificially increase the number of moderates. But even if they are correct, such results must be counterbalanced with other statistics showing that alarming numbers of British Muslims support sharia and other extremist positions. "Identifying with Britain" is a maddeningly vague term that could mean almost anything, and it doesn't take away the worrying questions posed by the other statistics I have discussed here in the past.
2. “Muslims are taking over”
Muslims make up 4 per cent of the total population in the UK. This means that even if all of its Muslims came together in London, they would make up a quarter of the capital’s total population. Even if Muslims wanted to, they wouldn’t be able to "take over" one city, let alone an entire nation.
And no, despite some reports, Muhammad is not the "most popular" boys’ name in Britain. This result was based on a sample of names entered by 56,157 members of Babycentre.co.uk (less than 0.009 per cent of the population). Figures by official bodies, such as the General Register Office for Scotland, showed that Muhammad is actually the 52nd most popular name in Scotland, and the 15th in England and Wales.
Muslims might not be a majority in the UK, or even close to one, but if anyone has a perception that they are "taking over", it is likely due to the increasing influence of sharia law within British society, and the observation that certain Muslim leaders have stated their express intention to "take over" Europe at some point in the future.
Also, contrary to the Indy's spin, Muhammad is the most popular boy's name in the UK - not just according to an obscure website, but according to the Office of National Statistics - and only appears otherwise at first glance because the various alternative spellings of the name are not taken into account and grouped together as one name.
3. “Muslims hate Jesus”
Jesus (peace be upon him) is a key figure in Islam. Muslims believe that he is the son of the Virgin Mary, and one of the greatest messengers of God. There are many verses in the Koran that highlight his good character. Not only do Muslims sincerely love him, but he is also seen as a paragon of virtue.
Aside from the fact that in Islam, Jesus is a Muslim who is prophesied to destroy Christianity, this entire point is a straw man and irrelevant. It has been included purely for proselytisation purposes.
4. “Muslim women have no rights/are oppressed”
There’s often a conflation between Islam as a religion and the cultures of some Muslim-majority countries. Like a lot of non-Muslim countries, in some majority Muslim countries patriarchy is a huge problem, but what people usually fail to mention is how many Muslims are at the forefront of the battle against it. Only last year, Masih Alinejad, an Iranian writer and activist, launched a movement called My Stealthy Freedom. The campaign encouraged Iranian women to take photos without their headscarves, to protest against the restrictive policies implemented by the Iranian government. Women in Morocco also protested outside their parliament last year to pressure the government into repealing a rape-marriage law. The law was later amended.
It is also worth noting that four out of five countries with the largest Muslim populations (Indonesia, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Turkey) have had female heads of states. Out of its 44 presidents, the US, otherwise known as the “land of the free”, has only ever had first ladies. As for us in the UK, the Tories don’t miss an opportunity to remind us of that one time we had a female Prime Minister. But by the looks of the male-female ratio in the current cabinet, there’s a slim chance of that happening again (even if Theresa May – the only female contender deemed plausible – does run against George Osborne and Boris Johnson in 2020).
The claim that the mistreatment of women in Muslim countries is "cultural" and not religious is a common and lazy excuse that ignores the evidence of mainstream Islamic teaching, as well as the reality that Muslim countries have repeatedly been found to be the worst countries in the world for women. A 2011 survey concluded that in terms of cultural, tribal, and religious persecution, four of the five most dangerous countries in the world for women are Muslim countries: Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia and Sudan. These results are confirmed by a 2014 study by the World Economic Forum which listed nineteen Muslim countries among its twenty lowest scorers in its global gender gap index, indicating a severe lack of equality between men and women in these societies. If Islam promotes female equality and empowerment, why is it so hard to find any Muslim countries that implement this?
The cheap shot about the lack of female heads of state in the UK and US also ignores the fact that there are many more non-Muslim countries that have had elected female heads of state than Muslim ones, and that their existence in Muslim countries directly contradicts the teachings of Muhammad himself as articulated in the Islamic traditions: "When the Prophet heard the news that the people of the Persia had made the daughter of Khosrau their Queen (ruler), he said, 'Never will succeed such a nation as makes a woman their ruler.'" (Sahih Bukhari v.9, b.88, no.219)
5. “The Koran promotes violence”
I won’t start with the old “context is key” argument when it comes to the widely cherry-picked verses in the Koran. Instead I’ll give an example of a certified, unambiguous verse that can be understood without any context. Verse 6:151 in the Quran says, “do not kill a soul that God has made sacrosanct”. In other words, murder is wrong. In addition to the many verses condemning violence and murder, there are verses that condemn those who selectively pick parts of the Quran to serve their own agenda. So anyone who purports that the Koran condones violence is not only misinterpreting but is also probably being dishonest.
This one is just too easy. Anyone who wants proof that the Qur'an and Islamic tradition not only condones, but promotes violence, even with all "context" considered, can go here and here and see it for themselves. I have discussed it many times and am not going to rehash it all here.
As for the verse Yusuf quotes here, it is clear that its orthodox interpretation is that the Qur'an is only telling Muslims not to kill specific people whose lives have been made "sacred" - and even they can be killed in certain circumstances.
Ibn Kathir - a mainstream, respected scholar and Qur'anic commentator - contextualises this verse by explaining whose lives are considered "sacred" in Islam, and whose aren't. He quotes the following hadith in which Muhammad says: “The blood of a Muslim [emphasis added] who confesses that none has the right to be worshipped but Allah and that I am His Apostle, cannot be shed except in three cases: In Qisas [recompense] for murder, a married person who commits illegal sexual intercourse [i.e. an adulterer] and the one who reverts from Islam (apostate) and leaves the Muslims.” (Bukhari v.9, b.83, no.17)
So Muslims can't be killed except if they kill someone else, choose to have sex outside marriage, or exercise their freedom of conscience and leave Islam. Ibn Kathir also adds that non-Muslims shouldn't be killed either, as long as they are protected by the treaty of dhimmitude. Otherwise they can be killed, in line with the Qur'an's mandate to "slay the idolaters wherever you find them" (9:5).
In summary, this Independent article is nothing more than shockingly inept propaganda designed to stop people from believing the evidence of their own eyes, and deflect all criticism of Islam by presenting the critics as ignorant yahoos who think that "all Muslims" believe the same thing.
In the introduction to her piece, Yusuf laments that "Muslims have become susceptible to all kinds of willfully dishonest claims." Indeed they have - and she is one of them. But I don't think that's what she meant when she wrote this.