Pakistan’s fight with Macron has taken a humiliating turn

The war of words between Pakistan and France – sparked by president Macron’s comments about radical Islam – rumbles on. But the latest skirmish has led to an embarrassing climbdown from one of Pakistan’s top politicians. ‘Macron is doing to Muslims what the Nazis did to the Jews – Muslim children will get ID numbers (other children won’t) just as Jews were forced to wear the yellow star on their clothing for identification,’ wrote Pakistan’s federal minister for human rights Shireen Mazari. Mazari’s tweet was quickly picked up by those who have suggested there is something sinister to Macron’s recent interventions. But there was a problem: it was nonsense. France soon hit back,

Pilgrimage in the age of pandemic

To complete the Hajj is the pinnacle of Islamic worship, required once in the lifetime of every able-bodied Muslim who can afford the journey. In its 1,400-year history, the annual pilgrimage has been cancelled dozens of times, by wars, political strife and pandemics. As I found out when I made the journey, it is a swirling sea of humanity: some 2.5 million visiting Mecca over a few days, from all over the world. When the Covid crisis came, worship was suspended. But then something was attempted that would have once seemed impossible: carrying on the tradition, but under digitally monitored social distancing. The results were extraordinary. A pilgrimage famous for

The SNP’s Hate Crime Bill is turning the law into a culture war

Every time I re-read the SNP’s Hate Crime Bill, I become more convinced that its author, Humza Yousaf, is trying his hand at a Titania McGrath style satire of wokeness. Scotland’s justice secretary is woke but his draft legislation is such a smash-’n’-grab of every item on the wishlist of coercive progressivism that he can’t be entirely serious. It’s not everyone who can forge common cause between the Catholic Church and the National Secular Society, the Law Society and the Scottish Police Federation, so Yousaf is gifted in that regard. Now the Faculty of Advocates, Scotland’s answer to the Inns of Court, has issued a 35-page examination of the Bill,

There is no justification for turning Hagia Sophia into a mosque

It is official: Hagia Sophia, for a thousand years the world’s largest cathedral, and since 1934 a museum, is to be turned back into a mosque. Ever since I heard of the possibility, I have been praying it would not be so because of the impact it will have on Muslim-Christian relations in Turkey, the Middle East and beyond. A suitably purged and compliant judiciary, however, has bowed to the wishes of the authoritarian President Erdogan that Turkey should become more Islamic and less secular. There has been a church on the site since 360 ad and the present building dates from the reign of Justinian in the mid-sixth century.

The strategy of France’s Islamists is to turn Muslim against non-Muslim

France has endured an appalling series of Islamist terror attacks in recent years. One might feel a sense of relief that the country escaped relatively lightly last Friday. That will, of course, be no consolation to the family of the man who was killed by 22-year-old Nathan C, a recent convert to Islam, who stabbed his victim to death as he defended his wife in the Parisian suburb of Villejuif. She is recovering in hospital, as is another woman, while a passer-by apparently has his religion to thank for his survival. Confronted by the killer who was dressed in a djellaba and shouting ‘Allah Akbar’, the man pleaded for mercy,

Islam, reform and the battle of narratives

Is a wind of change blowing in the Arab world and bringing Muslims and Jews closer together? Ed Husain made the case for this in an article in our Christmas special issue: a younger generation is tiring of the hardliners, he said, asking what all the angst has achieved and wondering if Israel might be a decent ally for the Arab world. His article explored what he described as new maps of the Muslim mind, with ‘old hatreds on the run’. It drew predictable criticism from some quarters: surely this is wishful thinking, and his narrative of reconciliation has no real support in the Middle East? But that critique was blown

Islam’s reformation: an Arab-Israeli alliance is taking shape in the Middle East

When Benjamin Netanyahu visited Oman in 2018 in a gesture of goodwill to Israel’s neighbours, the welcome was not universal. For an Israeli Prime Minister to be warmly greeted in a proud Arab state was, for some, far too much. The Omani foreign minister, Yusuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah, was asked on Al Jazeera why the visit had been allowed. The reply went viral: ‘Why not? Is it forbidden to us? Israel is a nation among the nations of the Middle East. We should embark on a new journey for the future.’ A new narrative is emerging in the Middle East. New maps of the Muslim mind are being drawn

The chilling stories from inside China’s Muslim internment camps

Vegetable-seller Kairat Samarkhan didn’t know why he had been summoned to the police station. ‘I had to empty my pockets and hand over my belt and laces. Then they started to ask questions,’ he says. After days of interrogation, during which he was hardly allowed to sleep, officers pulled a sack over his head and drove him to a camp near the city of Altai. Samarkhan, a Muslim Kazakh, told me about his experience in the camp: ‘Every day, we had to renounce the Muslim faith and confirm that we respect the laws of China. Before every meal, we chorused: “Long live Xi Jinping!” ’ In the past two years

Usman Khan’s time in prison could hold the key to explaining his murderous attack

London Bridge terrorist Usman Khan appears to have spent some of his final months behind bars at HMP Whitemoor, a high-security prison near Peterborough, where some of the country’s most dangerous people are held. The prison’s chequered history could be relevant to the horrific events that unfolded in the capital last week. I last visited Whitemoor near the beginning of 2016. This ‘new build’ prison, finished in 1992 with space for around 450 inmates, was designed to be escape proof. Two years later, five IRA terrorists and a gangster brutally disabused this notion by escaping over the perimeter wall armed with a gun that had been smuggled into the ‘supermax’ special

The Conservatives should not give up on Muslim voters

Amongst many leaflets posted and campaigns found around this general election, we can see groups setting out to ‘mobilise the Muslim vote’. I find the term stomach-churning. I’m a director of Faith Matters, which seeks to foster good relationships between all faith communities. I don’t believe in seeing people’s political choices as some form of block activity or vote: religious, racial, or anything else. But identity politics is, unfortunately, on the rise – and we can see plenty of it in this election campaign. I’ve seen a mailshot from one group that declares: “we kicked out 8 Islamophobic MPs in 3 general elections. Help us kick out 14 more in this one!” I was

How Republicans became the anti-Islam party

Ilhan Omar will come up a lot in the 2020 US election. She’s part of the ‘Democratic Squad’ of congresswomen that Republicans hate, along with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib — but she outshines them all by being a foreign-born hijabi who supports boycotting Israel and is accused of immigration fraud. If Donald Trump goes after Omar, it’ll polarise Democrats around her and conservatives around him, which is the role that Islam seems condemned to play in American politics: a trigger word to whip up the base. It prompts the question, why are Trump supporters so scared of Islam? And are their fears justified? It’s easy to slot

The terrifying reaction to a panel debate on Islamophobia | 28 October 2019

Have you ever wondered why so few moderate Muslim voices are heard in the public debate? I used to, until I started to defend my faith against its extremist defamers. I then found out that any Muslim who ventures into this arena to stand up against hardliners is subject to fierce and immediate character assassination. The process is exposed in a Civitas pamphlet, out this month, entitled ‘The No True Muslim’ fallacy. It provides examples of the attempts to silence people like Sara Khan and Fiyaz Mughal by those who have appointed themselves as Islam’s spokesmen. But I can offer another example: the reaction to a recent event at the last

Qanta Ahmed

The terrifying reaction to a panel debate on Islamophobia

Have you ever wondered why so few moderate Muslim voices are heard in the public debate? I used to, until I started to defend my faith against its extremist defamers. I then found out that any Muslim who ventures into this arena to stand up against hardliners is subject to fierce and immediate character assassination. The process is exposed in a Civitas pamphlet, out this month, entitled ‘The No True Muslim’ fallacy. It provides examples of the attempts to silence people like Sara Khan and Fiyaz Mughal by those who have appointed themselves as Islam’s spokesmen. But I can offer another example: the reaction to a recent event at the last

Should Muslim parents be allowed to challenge LGBT lessons?

We saw two different worlds, or at least two different value systems, collide in the High Court in Birmingham this week. On one side there was Sarah Hewitt-Clarkson, the headmistress of Anderton Park, a little primary school in Sparkhill, a largely Pakistani bit of the city; on the other, two men who represent Muslim parents there. You may well have heard about the case. It has turned into one of those totemic issues: tolerant Britain vs backward religious people. At issue is the question of whether and how children should be taught about gay relationships — and whether and how parents who don’t like it should be allowed to protest

Emmanuel Macron will regret his failure to crack down on Islamists

It beggars belief that Mickaël Harpon was employed as a computer expert in the intelligence department at police HQ in Paris. It is also barely credible that when Christophe Castaner, France’s minister of the interior, addressed reporters hours after Harpon had murdered four of his colleagues on Thursday he didn’t know of his background. Castaner said that the perpetrator ‘has never given the slightest cause for concern’, yet on Saturday afternoon France’s anti-terror prosecutor described Harpon’s ‘radical vision of Islam’. The 45-year-old had made no secret of where his allegiance lay. A convert to Islam more than a decade ago, Harpon first came to the attention of the authorities in 2015 when

The tricks and tactics of Miqdaad Versi

If truthful reporting risks increasing tension between communities, should it still be published? Do journalists have a social duty to repress certain topics which are unhelpful? These questions tend to separate free societies from those countries where the press is muzzled. In Britain, there has been a tradition: readers decide what is acceptable. But that tradition is under threat, not just from politicians but from the press regulator itself. You may not have heard of the Independent Press Standards Organisation, but it’s worth knowing about. It regulates this magazine and most British newspapers. When it was set up five years ago, its rules, laid out in the Editors’ Code, were

The notion of ‘Islamophobia’ is being used to stifle honest debate

Next year I will begin my fifth decade as a working journalist. As a writer, as an executive — and now as the chair of Index on Censorship — I have always tried to encourage honest, thorough and professional reporting and analysis of the UK’s ethnic and religious minority communities. Unless all our citizens share in a common understanding of our nation, the prospect of an integrated society will remain a distant dream. The key words here are ‘honest’ and ‘thorough’. The tradition of British journalism eschews propaganda and partisanship. In my early days reporting on minority communities in London, many urged our teams to avoid topics that might lead

Why liberals turn a blind eye to the global persecution of Christians

The new episode of Holy Smoke is about the persecution of Christians. That’s a familiar concept, even if we don’t read much about it in the media. But here’s what it means in 2019: The rape, murder and dismemberment of pregnant Christian women in Nigeria by Islamist thugs. The use of face-recognition technology by the Chinese government to monitor, control and, where it deems necessary, eradicate Christian worship by demolishing thousands of churches The evisceration of ancient Christian communities in the lands of the Bible. The relentless torture of Christians in North Korea. The burning of Christian villages by Hindu nationalists in India, and vicious attacks on Christians in Sri Lanka

Why was a GCSE student disqualified for criticising halal meat?

We have to talk about the schoolgirl who was disqualified from a GCSE exam on the grounds that she had made ‘obscene racial comments’ about Islam. This bizarre incident is being chalked up to overzealous wokeness on the part of some GCSE examiners. But it’s more than that. It tells us a bigger story about 21st-century Britain and the creeping criminalisation of any questioning of Islam. Too many institutions now believe it is their role to monitor and even punish anti-Islam ‘blasphemy’. The girl — Abigail Ward — is 16 years old and a strict vegetarian. In her GCSE Religious Studies exam she wrote some critical comments about halal meat.

The curious reaction to a niqab-wearing homophobe

Are we allowed to criticise the niqab yet? This question crossed my mind as I watched that viral clip of a niqab-clad woman hurling homophobic invective at a Pride marcher in Walthamstow in London. Surely now it will become acceptable to raise questions about this medieval garment (banned in several Muslim countries) and about the views and attitudes of those who wear it? On one level, the footage of the niqab-wearering lady spouting anti-gay hate wasn’t very surprising. Shocking, yes, but not surprising. It’s not as if someone who covers themselves from head to toe in archaic black cloth (which, as Qanta Ahmed has said, is not in the least