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Friday, 12 September 2008

Take a break . . .

Every Friday afternoon, like clockwork, Newsline – the weekly e-bulletin from the National Secular Society, edited by NSS President Terry Sanderson – has pinged! into my email inbox.

Newsline, which has appeared weekly since the beginning of 2001 (and before that fortnightly), is a handy resource for anyone wanting to keep up to date on religious and secular news.

Though I’ve often wondered how Sanderson manages to produce it with such regularity, I’m grateful that he does. This week, however, it (and Sanderson, presumably) has taken a rest.

Deprived of my weekly read, I decided to have a look back over a couple of the more recent issues and was reminded of Sanderson’s editorial for 8 August edition, which asked, Is Bob Pitt a new McCarthy?:

Richard Dawkins made headlines this week when he accused British schools of allowing creationism to flourish in schools’ science lessons if it was being promoted as part of Islam. He told the press: “Most devout Muslims are creationists – so when you go to schools, there are a large number of children of Islamic parents who trot out what they have been taught. Teachers are bending over backwards to respect home prejudices that children have been brought up with. The Government could do more but it doesn't want to because it is fanatical about multiculturalism and the need to respect the different traditions from which these children come.

“The Government – particularly under Tony Blair – thinks it is wonderful to have children brought up with their traditional religions. I call it brainwashing. It seems as though teachers are terribly frightened of being thought racist. It’s almost impossible to say anything against Islam in this country because if you do you are accused of being racist or Islamophobic.”

Indeed, right on cue, Professor Dawkins was immediately denounced as an “Islamophobe” on the website Islamophobia Watch by “Martin Sullivan”, the site’s leading light. Mr Sullivan wrote: “On the other hand, there are those of us who would argue that paranoid delusions about the impact on educational policy of a minority faith community who comprise less than 3% of the population of the UK are quite accurately categorisable as Islamophobia.”

According to Johann Hari of the Independent, and several other reliable sources, Martin Sullivan is an alias. The site is almost certainly a one-man band run by a bloke called Bob Pitt, a radical left-winger who imagines he is protecting Muslims by siding with their most reactionary leaders and spokespeople.

Bob Pitt sees “Islamophobia” everywhere. His website is packed with “examples” of how “Islamophobia” is spreading through Europe. Such is his obsession that just about all public utterances that are not completely fawning about Islam are recorded and denounced by Mr Pitt as “Islamophobic”. Needless to say, the NSS and its honorary associates figure prominently.

Could one go so far as to say that Islamophobia Watch contravenes the incitement to religious hatred laws? Could it not be argued that Islamophobia Watch is, in fact, a place where Islamic fanatics could go to find the names of people they can then identify as their enemies? Certainly I have seen people who have been named on the site (often complete with their pictures, for easier identification) expressing alarm at what the consequences might be, and at least one has received hate mail following being named. Indeed, I am not happy about my own picture being repeatedly featured with the implication that I an incorrigible "Islamophobe". (According to the site, being critical of any element of Islam the religion is the equivalent of being anti-Muslim people).

I wonder if Mr Pitt’s conscience is at all pricked by the fear his site inspires in those it brands, McCarthy-style, as “Islamophobic” simply because they wanted to contribute to the debate on Islam and religion generally? I wonder if he ever imagines that some of the things that are criticised by his so-called “Islamophobes” (stoning women to death, hanging dissidents, assassinating critics) might be worthy of harsh criticism?

See also:
Johann Hari on Islamophobia Watch
Leicester Secularist blog
Why Islamophobia Watch doesn’t like Maryam Namazie
Bob Pitt’s web of lies (spun at tax-payers expense)
Britain is letting sharia sneak in

As a cursory browse on Pitt’s website will prove, Islamophobia Watch finds Islamophobia in anything that is short of praise for all things Islam and, just like many Islamists, it seems, doesn’t believe in the right to freedom of speech – try posting a comment to the site!

A month ago, my colleague Andy Armitage emailed Pitt under the subject heading "Johann Hari article":

Attention Bob Pitt

Dear Bob

You'll be aware that Hari has written a piece about your blog, Islamophobia Watch. At the bottom, he writes:

"POSTSCRIPT: You can ask the editors of the Islamophobia Watch website why they continue to demonise gay men who resist sharia law at"

I am genuinely curious about this, too, and have been for some time, because I, too, have come in for criticism on your site. My understanding was that there would be a lot of common ground among minority groups. If I've misinterpreted your intentions, then tell me. But it does look as if – as Hari and Terry Sanderson of the NSS say – you find "Islamophobia" in anything that is short of praise for all things Islam, and then call it racism.

I hope I'll hear from you.

Best wishes
Andy Armitage

Of course, we didn’t expect a reply and, true to form, we didn’t get one.

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