Michael Williams: Readers' editor

You can call us many things, but never anti-Islamic
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The Independent Online

It was the moment I burnt the toast. Blearily preparing breakfast last Sunday morning with half an ear on the radio review of the papers, I heard the announcer say: "... and 'The Independent on Sunday' has one of the most anti-Islamic front pages of the day". What? I hit the replay button, and there it was again.

Now, the 'Independent' titles are against many things – for example, we're famous for controversial views on the Iraq War, climate change and civil liberties, for starters. But anti-Islam? Cor blimey.

You'll probably recall the 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.

Bekhal Mahmod, in the picture, was leaving the trial of her father, who was convicted of killing her sister Banaz last year. And this newspaper was campaigning on the issue of honour-related violence, both in the news pages and through columnists such as Joan Smith, long before Rowan Williams's mitre popped above the parapet. We're all tiptoeing on eggshells here. The difficulty with charges of being "anti-Islamic" is that they are easily made but not so easily refuted. As Polly Toynbee observed recently on Radio 4's 'The Moral Maze': "Years ago, it was relatively easy to confront Islam. Now it's difficult to weave your way between the faith itself and the people who hold it."

More than a week on, the Rowan Williams row is still raging, and I'm not sure we're any clearer about what he did or didn't say. But one thing is certain. Though he hasn't done himself any favours, he's unintentionally done a big one for the rest of us. Which is to put on the agenda issues such as our disturbing front-page report last Sunday.

Message Board: Facebook: social boon or lure to predators?

Networking sites display copious amounts of personal information. That those same details can be used against people stirred a huge online debate...


I'm on Facebook and it seems as harmless as having your own website or blog. Nobody is suggesting all the bloggers should stop, are they? It can also be positive, too, an indication of a varied and active personality.


An idea has emerged that it is somehow 'dishonest' to use a nickname. Many people have no concept of how easy it is to gather information and build a profile of them once they start publishing under their real name.


If you use these 'spaces', only put on there what you would want other people to know about you or don't use them at all.

Nigel (CritEst)

The problem is not with the technology. The real problem is with the prejudices, lack of integrity and bigotry of those who use the information illicitly.


It's simple. If you don't want the whole world to know something, don't put it onto a public website. If information is posted on a public website such as Facebook, then it is not illicit for a present or prospective employer to read it.

Darren Reynolds

Posting to the IoS blog under a real name might have similar consequences. My wife has cited my Facebook page in our divorce proceedings. She thinks I've gone weird because I've gone vegetarian and started meditating.


Social networking sites are a just fad. They will gradually fade away when fees are applied to be a member. Those who post information about themselves are naive.


How is it that random prospective employers are viewing everyone's pages? Doesn't the privacy setting take care of this whole issue? Isn't this how Facebook works?

To have your say on this or any other issue visit www.independent.co.uk/IoSblogs