24/10/2006

More bullying? Surely some mistake?

I had started to type up a quick response yesterday to the further bullying of Aisha Amzi by the Mail in their article 'Veil girl's father may have met 7/7 bomber'. In it, I would have said much the same as I did in 'Just when you thought there was no lower to sink' about how the links are only alleged and very tenuous indeed, and pointed out the need for the Mail to deny the very thing it implies with the article because it really does have nothing. There would have been a reference to someone dancing naked on a table with a flower sticking out of their bum as well, so you've lost out there.

I thought the article sounded a bit fishy, though. To go, in the space of a couple of days, from a gingerly asserted possibility halfway through the article (which was primarily about another bomber) that Shehzad Tanweer might have possibly perhaps maybe visited the Markazi mosque to an assertion that it has been widely reported that he attended the seminary seemed a bit of a leap for me. Especially as the seminary is primarily for 12-16 year-olds (although most stay on and it's not unknown for pupils to return). So I thought I'd check a little bit into this claim:
His attendance at the seminary has never been confirmed, but it has been reported many times since the July 7 attacks and has never been denied.
thinking I might find that it had only been reported many times on hate sites, or by the sort of professional Islamophobe like Melanie Phillips or Daniel Pipes that I could scoff at, but not much else. I was also prepared to be proved wrong, and find out that it was all over the place that Tanweer had attended the seminary but I'd just missed it. I wasn't expecting to find little but tumbleweeds.

All I could find after hours of searches for possible combinations of relevant words was one reference from the Times, which appeared one day before the one in the Mail, in an article called, 'How bombers' town is turning into an enclave for Muslims'. The article has one offhand statement that Tanweer attended the seminary, without any reference to a source, or mentions of the claim being widely reported.

What I did find though, were a whole load of references to Tanweer attending a seminary in Pakistan called the Markaz-e-Dawa seminary. Now, I can't help thinking - Markazi and Markaz-e sound pretty similar. Is it possible that there has been some mistake here? Has the Times reporter confused the two seminaries and included the statement without checking, and the Mail based their article on what they read without checking? This sort of thing is not unheard of.

Back in 2003, the Telegraph reported that a school in Tower Hamlets had banned hot-cross buns from its Easter menu, and suggested that they'd been replaced with naan bread. The article even included a picture of some schoolkids tucking into some good, old fashioned hot-cross buns. The trouble was, once the story was investigated further, it turned out to be completely false. The council involved stated that they'd never actually served hot-cross buns at Easter, so the idea that they'd been banned was totally specious. Who knows where they got the naan bread idea from. The picture had been achieved by the photographer nipping up the road to buy some from a bakery.

By the time this was discovered, the story had been covered by other papers and columnists, reported as true. These papers, as well as the Telegraph, had to issue apologies retracting the story, but it had already taken its place in the great 'PC gone mad' mythology, along with the idea that nobody's allowed to ask for black coffee and that manholes have to be called 'person-holes'.

You can still read the story on the Telegraph website, and there's no mention on the page that it has been retracted, no mention that it wasn't true, and no link to the apology, which you can only see on the site if you know where to look, or open one of the search results for 'hot cross buns' that doesn't actually mention hot cross buns until you click the link.

The Daily Mail still reported this story as true earlier this year - even though it was proven false and retracted three years ago.

And let's not forget that only a few days ago, the Mail included a column by Melanie Phillips that repeated a completely incorrect story from the Sun. You can read more about the Sun story at Ministry of Truth, Pickled Politics, Clive Davis and Obsolete.

So, this sort of thing does happen. Something gets misreported somewhere, the shonky report gets picked up and reported in other places and it becomes accepted wisdom that it's true. Except it's not. It'd be pretty bad if this story became part of the accepted history, especially as it seems to have become a stick to bash Aisha Amzi with.

I have emailed the home news editor at the Times and the news editor at the Mail to ask for references and point out I think there might have been a mistake, but I'm not holding my breath. I kind of hope they do get back to me and prove there hasn't been a mistake - because it won't exactly speak very well for the country's press or the current anti-Muslim climate if there has. If anyone stumbles across this (and one or two people have stumbled across the blog, so there) and does have some other references, I'd like to ask that they stick them in the comments so I can have a look at them.

If I'm wrong, I'll stick a correction at the bottom of this post, so nobody's in any doubt I've made a mistake.

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