Michael Williams tries to defend Independent on Sunday’s front page

Michael Williams, the Independent’s ‘reader’s editor’, did his best to defend the Independent on Sunday’s appaling front page last week. He tries to contrast the IoS’ front page with that of the Sun and the Times in the same week, which also covered “Muslim news” stories:

You’ll probably recall the [IoS front page]. A life-size picture of the face of a woman wearing a burkha with a headline reporting that 17,000 women a year in Britain are subject to “honour” crime, including murder.

It was a week in which most of the Sunday newspapers had led with the fallout from a BBC interview in which the Archbishop of Canterbury had said that the adoption of elements of sharia in the UK was “unavoidable”.

Sure, the coverage in some newspapers was offensive to Muslims. The “What a Burkha” headline in ‘The Sun’ may have been a giggle for some people, but probably not for many Islamic women. ‘The Sunday Times’ disgraced itself by leading with a story that could have been lifted from the British National Party house journal – about inbreeding among Muslims causing deformities in their children.

Stories such as this would never have seen the light of day if the Archbishop of Canterbury, in his naivety, hadn’t thrown the field open to the baser instincts of some sections of the press. In fairness, it would be disingenuous to claim our report on the appalling catalogue of assaults on women in the name of the “honour” was not also prompted by the Williams row, because much of it happens because of sharia.

But rereading the ‘IoS’ report, there was not a jot that could be interpreted as offensive to Muslims. The image of the woman in the burkha was not a ‘Sun’-style stunt – she was real.

First, I am not sure how Michael Williams links his (sur)namesakes comments on sharia to the IoS story. There doesn’t appear to be any evidence for this and it doesn’t explain such violence carried out by other communities who are not Muslim or indeed the absence of such violence in other Muslim communities. This “sharia” defence by Williams seems like a a lazy afterthought.

Secondly, the woman on the front page of The Scum is also a ‘real person’, regardless of whatever her views may be. How can Williams defend his newspaper’s use of a woman in a visibly Muslim garment, while attack the The Scum for being ‘offensive’?

Thirdly, The Scum doesn’t portray itself as a ‘serious’ newspaper. In fact, I could swear criticism of its reporting only spurs it on to spew even more rubbish and half-truths. If anything, you expect this sort of approach from The Scum. The IoS, on the other hand, no doubt likes to think of itself as a newspaper which is above Sun-tastic sensationalism. But clearly it isn’t above such tactics when it needs to push for sales and generate some hype. Indeed, such front pages on so-called respectable newspapers makes it easier for others to engage in these sorts of tactics, which Williams seems to find ‘disgraceful’.

Fourthly, it is doubtful whether anyone looking at the front page of the IoS would have worked out the picture was related to the murder and disgraceful treatment of Banaz Mahmod. All the picture on the front page of the IoS shows is a woman in a head covering of some kind, which is explicitly associated with ‘Islam’ in the media, and the number of potentially unreported crimes against women in the United Kingdom. The link is very easy to make.

The IoS should, indeed, be criticised for giving in to the baser instincts of journalism and toying with a very serious problem.

With nearly two women a week killed by their current or former partners in the United Kingdom (amongst other shocking statistics), identifying ‘honour’ crimes is about how we frame crimes carried by people from particular ethnic groups in a wider problem: violence and abuse against women in Britain, and worse, its acceptance (explicit or implicit) by society. Although, I don’t believe identifying ‘honour’ crimes can be so easily dismissed as mere ‘orientalism’, one needs to consider how domestic abuse and violence is a problem amongst other communities too (e.g. Christians in Britain), before forming a picture of the true extent of this horrible social disease.

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