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Newspapers issue public apologies to Muslim Scout leader over false allegations of ‘extremism’

The Times, The Telegraph, The Mail, and The Express have paid libel damages and published apologies to Muslim Scout leader Ahammed Hussain over false allegations of ‘extremism’.

These newspapers paid the substantial damages and published a retraction and apology, bringing to close all the claims brought forward. The newspapers admitted that the allegations that Hussain promoted extremism in his position as Scout leader, was linked to antisemitic organisations, and was being investigated by the police, were all “false”.

Hussain’s solicitor, Zillur Rahman, of Rahman Lowe Solicitors, said:

“Once more we see the media using false extremism allegations to attack someone whose civic service they should be applauding. It’s disappointing to see national newspapers yet again running libellous stories that create hysteria about a particular community, in this instance the Muslim community. However, Ahammed’s wholesale vindication demonstrates how the media can be effectively held to account.” [1]

Alongside Rahman and counsel Mark Henderson of Doughty Street Chambers, Hussain was being represented for defamation claims that he brought against each of the national newspaper groups that published stories about him in January 2019. The allegations included using the Scout Group to promote extremism, segregation of children, and inviting banned preachers to the mosque.

Times NewspapersTelegraph Media GroupAssociated Newspapers, and Express Newspapers have all admitted that the allegations were false. The newspapers published retractions and apologies to Hussain, agreeing to pay his legal costs in addition to paying him a substantial sum for damages, further exemplifying the seriousness of the allegations.

The final settlement against Times Newspapers came this month after claiming there were “grounds to investigate whether…criminal offences [had been] committed by the Claimant in the way [he] had run the Scout group.”

“The Claimant had…promoted extremist Muslim ideology at the Scout group…”

“The Claimant had a longstanding history of links with antisemitic individuals and organisations [with] strong grounds to suspect that he himself was antisemitic”

In their public apology, The Times admitted that “concerns that he had promoted extremist Muslim values, including segregation of boys and girls” were “incorrectly asserted” and “also asserted that [Hussain] had a history of association with antisemitic organisations and individuals”. This had led to the suspension of Hussain by the Scout Association and the start of a police investigation.

The Times wrote:

“We accept these allegations are false and apologise to Mr Hussain for these errors and for the distress caused by them. We have agreed to pay damages and costs.”

In a statement, Hussain said:

“In hindsight I can see that this failed attack on my character was a desperate attempt to undermine the good work that Muslim Scouts groups do generally, and mosques like Lewisham Islamic Centre in particular. At the time though, having my name smeared across four national newspapers and news sites was a shocking experience. I am appreciative of the support from my legal team (Zillur Rahman at Rahman Lowe and Mark Henderson at Doughty Street Chambers), Lewisham Islamic Centre and Muslim Scouts Fellowship; and deeply grateful for the positive reactions from the Scouts parents and my own family.

A written copy of all the published apologies can be found here.

British Journalism for Sale

This is not the first time that media outlets such as The Times have published misleading and libellous articles. In early August, Islam21c received hundreds of leaked documents from the Murdoch press. The files consisted of emails and transcripts of an “investigation” by The Times’ chief investigative reporter Andrew Norfolk.

The leak exposed a large campaign — ostensibly in the service of Saudi and Emirati economic and political interests — to demonise Muslim organisations calling for democracy in the Middle East. Andrew Norfolk, together with the Henry Jackson Society (HJS) and the News Corporation alongside at least one Conservative politician appeared to be working together to smear Qatar and Qatar-linked organisations.

The shocking papers detailed correspondence several months long between Norfolk and litigation lawyers apparently helping craft as much misinformation and false links as possible without being sued or subject to press regulation investigation. The Times and other news sources like it are very well known for burying the requisite legal disclaimers in their text whilst carrying out their outrageous and deliberately malicious disinformation campaigns.

Hundreds of papers detailed carefully crafted plans to smear mainstream Muslim organisations, including Al Rayan Bank. They used misinformation and sensationalised links to organisations in the Middle East such as the Muslim Brotherhood, who are listed as “terrorists” by dictators across the Middle East for calling for democratic governance.

The demonisation seems to be a reflection of political pressure from Gulf states on Murdoch’s News Corp., reflecting a designation unmatched in the US and Europe. It extends to grassroots organisations and charities with decades of humanitarian work and contribution to British society on many levels and in many spheres. Extending such designations not only undermines British law but also gives credence to the suppositions of totalitarian regimes whose conflict with democracy is not exactly hidden.

In addition, the articles published in August confirmed that “The Times’ analysis of Al Rayan account holders was in conjunction with the Henry Jackson Society’s centre on radicalisation and terrorism.” Although there is not much to expect from a hard-right-wing paper, the use of information from the neoconservative think tank Henry Jackson Society (HJS) raises a number of questions concerning neutrality observed when conducting their ‘research’.

The HJS is well known for writing reports attacking Muslim activists, in particular those campaigning against Islamophobia and for wider public participation of Muslims in the UK. [2] It is reportedly funded by far-right organisations and individuals from overseas, such as Nina Rosenwald, dubbed “the sugar mama of anti-Muslim hate.”[3] The society’s Associate Director, Douglas Murray, regularly praises far-right Islamophobes such as Robert Spencer and Geert Wilders. [4]

The HJS’s routine attacks on Muslim organisations are thought to be a result of the likes of Murray’s expressed desire that, “Conditions for Muslims in Europe must be made harder across the board.” [5] It therefore has little credibility outside of Islamophobic circles, with even Theresa May’s cabinet members “scrambling” to disassociate with them. [6]

The Times’ article also attacked prominent Muslim scholars including Sheikh Dr. Haitham al-Haddad, Sheikh Assim al-Hakeem, and Sheikh Dr. Yasir Qadhi. This is not the first time that such scholars have been attacked by the right-wing media.

In early July, Sheikh Haitham came out triumphant in his three-year battle against The Telegraph over fabricated statements attributed to him. The newspaper launched a character assassination on the prominent UK Imam and academic in 2015 in a series of articles which claimed that Sheikh Haitham had described Jews as “the descendants of apes and pigs”, and “the brethren of swine and pigs.[7] In reality, the statements were completely fabricated; these were words that Sheikh Haitham had never said.

The Telegraph has since retracted its statement and published a full apology. The newspaper was ordered by the High Court to pay £62,500 towards Sheikh Haitham’s legal costs. Earlier last year, the BBC also issued a retraction of accusations made by presenter Andrew Neil that had been made in a similar manner. The retraction stated that “It has withdrawn this allegation and confirms that it will not repeat it.”[8]

Outlets such as The Times have failed to adhere to the basic requirements and conditions required for accurate and honest journalism. It is becoming increasingly clear that they write only to instigate suspicion and promote fearmongering.

Just ‘Bad Press’, or Islamophobia?

With the UK media’s history of inaccurate, anti-Muslim content, one could argue it is no longer coincidental. Regarding attacks, Muslim attackers are 78.4% more likely to be labelled as ‘terrorists’ than their ‘far-right’ counterparts. [9] Yet, UK media outlets have proven to go further than using ‘terrorism’ as their justification, targeting the local Muslim community who make up 5% of Britain.[10]

In 2016, Daily Star Sunday and The Sun misled readers with headlines that claimed UK mosques funded ‘terrorism’ and that one in five Muslims sympathised with “Jihadis”.[11] In 2017, The Times claimed that a Christian girl had been “forced into Muslim foster care”. Despite complaints and regulations from press regulator IPSO, these headlines seem to be more common, with The SunThe Daily MailThe Daily Express, and The Times noted as seemingly consistent contributors.

Miqdaad Versi, assistant secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), is one Muslim who keeps tabs on these fabrications. In an article by The Guardian, he reveals that he keeps an Excel spreadsheet of articles with inaccurate, anti-Muslim content, and lodges complaints against them.

“In its scrolling entirety, the document is a cold account of how flagrantly British papers get their news about Muslims wrong, and how often they reuse the same stereotypes…The most permanent residence of these Muslims is not Brick Lane in London or Small Heath in Birmingham, but the pages of Britain’s newspapers.” [12]

Evidently, such ‘bad press’ has negative implications on the Muslim community. After the Christchurch incident, newspapers revealed there had been a 600% increase in Islamophobic incidents in the UK, with offenders using “language, symbols or actions” linked to the New Zealand attack.[13]

For those like Mr Sultan Choudhury and Ahammed Hussain, their reputations can be tarnished as a result of ‘bad press’. They can lose their jobs and even become ostracised from their communities. For children, this sense of ‘othering’ can, and does, have traumatising consequences. One of the countless cases is the 11-year-old boy who is “now reluctant to speak up in class” after claims of radicalisation by the school and social services, despite being cleared thereafter.[14] These instances are only a few examples of what the Muslim community are subjected to as a result of inaccurate news content.

The fact that more and more Muslims are standing up to this treatment and are launching legal battles against offending misinformation mongers is, God willing, a good sign of the empowerment of the Muslim community, which is increasingly seeing itself more like citizens and less like subjects.

Source: www.islam21c.com

Notes:

[1] http://www.rllaw.co.uk/news-and-events/the-times-telegraph-mail-and-express-pay-libel-damages-and-publish-apologies-to-muslim-scout-leader-for-false-extremism-allegations/

[2] https://www.islam21c.com/current-affairs/think-tank-funded-by-foreign-extremists-writes-report-on-foreign-extremist-funding/

[3] https://www.alternet.org/investigations/one-americas-most-dangerous-think-tanks-spreading-islamophobic-hate-across-atlantic

[4] http://www.spectator.co.uk/2017/01/geert-wilders-doesnt-threaten-dutch-liberalism-hes-defending-it/https://youtu.be/cGlAwMv8c-8

[5] http://www.conservativehome.com/thecolumnists/2011/10/by-paul-goodman-the-struggle-against-islamist-extremism-demands-from-the-start-the-separation-of-islam-a-complex-religion.html

[6] https://www.thecanary.co/2016/07/20/theresa-mays-cabinet-scrambles-disassociate-extremist-think-tank-tied-donald-trump/

[7] https://saracenssolicitors.co.uk/litigation/telegraph-apologises-and-pays-out-in-al-haddad-apes-and-pigs-libel-claim

[8] https://www.doughtystreet.co.uk/news/bbc-publishes-retraction-andrew-neil-week-claim-uk-imam-believes-jews-are-descended-pigs-mark

[9] https://www.islam21c.com/news-views/media-reluctant-to-label-far-right-attackers-as-terrorists/

[10] As of the 2011 census

[11] https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/why-the-british-media-is-responsible-for-the-rise-in-islamophobia-in-britain-a6967546.html

[12] https://www.theguardian.com/news/2018/oct/18/miqdaad-versi-very-polite-fight-against-british-media-islamophobia

[13] https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/new-zealand-shooting-attack-muslim-hate-crime-rise-uk-a8836511.html

[14] https://www.islam21c.com/news-views/11-year-old-boy-cleared-of-radicalisation-accusation/

About Hamza Saleem

2 comments

  1. Good article, though personally I wouldn’t label Assin al Hakeem as a sheikh, his numerous errors and attacks of other Muslim have shown he’s got qualified for the position. That being said any smears against him are inevitably just an attack on Muslims in general and needs to be stood up against.

    • I feel really uncomfortable about letting your comment go, so I won’t. I have no attachment to Shaykh Assim al Hakeem but to make vague allegations about his ‘errors’ and his ‘attack[s] of other Muslim[s]’ seems to be going against the advice given to us in Ustadh Ahmed Hammuda’s article ‘Quranic Community #18 | Suspicion, Spying and Backbiting: a Natural Progression.’ If you have something specific that you are unhappy about then quote him and explain yourself.

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