The Daily Mail has a habit of taking old stories and serving them up as fresh, usually when the paper has a bit of its agenda to push. Most often, these are stories that have already appeared in the Mail, but today there's a three week old story from the Telegraph on our plates, and boy does it smell.
In the Telegraph, the story was 'Female Muslim medics 'disobey hygiene rules'' (2 February). Now that some poor work experience kid has been made to do a 'write this in your own words' exercise, the article has become 'Muslim medics refuse to roll up their sleeves in hygiene crackdown - because it's against their religion' in the Mail. The two are virtually identical, using mostly the same examples in the same order, the same quotes and the same hyperbole to exaggerate the extent of the problem, such as it is.
The hyperbole starts right there in the headlines. Why say 'medic' instead of doctor or surgeon, or both? Because the stories aren't about doctors or surgeons, but medical students. Having medical students raise objections to exposing their forearms during their studies, where they'll have to comply or fail, is rather less worrying than actual doctors or surgeons refusing to expose their forearms and actually risking people's health. As ever, the truth would make a bit of a crap headline and a decidedly tame scare story.
Both use similar techniques to exaggerate the numbers of occurrences. The Telegraph says:
Women training in several hospitals in England have raised objections...and the Mail says:
Medics in hospitals in at least three major English cities have refused to follow the regulations...So this has happened in several training hospitals in at least three cities. 'At least three' is tabloid language for 'three'. Apparently, three Universities have mentioned that some of their Muslim students have:
raised objections to removing their arm coverings in theatre and to rolling up their sleeves when washing their hands, because it is regarded as immodest in Islamif you read the Telegraph, or:
objected to rolling up their sleeves when washing their hands and removing arm coverings in theatre, claiming it is regarded as immodestif you read the Mail. The work experience kid must have been in a rush when they hit that sentence, eh.
Exactly how many students are we talking about though? Both articles open by talking about Liverpool and then go on to mention Leicester, Sheffield and Birmingham. I know that makes four cities and I said there were three, but there's a reason the paper said 'at least three' and not 'at least four' when they have four examples. See, after opening by talking about Liverpool and then going on to mention the other three cities, the Mail reveals:
A Royal Liverpool hospital spokesman said they had experienced issues of Muslim staff not sanitising their forearms with alcohol gel although this had now been addressed.And a little later:
"A number of female Muslim students had approached the University of Liverpool to ask if we would provide facilities for them to change their outerwear and Hijab for theatre scrubs.So, it looks as though there's no problem anymore.
"We were pleased to accommodate this request and these facilities have now been incorporated."
Both articles are vague about how many staff are involved in all four places except Sheffield, in which:
Sheffield University reported a case of a Muslim medic refusing to "scrub" because it left her forearms exposed.according to the Mail, and:
Sheffield University also reported a case of a Muslim medic who refused to "scrub" as this left her forearms exposed.according to the Telegraph. It may be the case that both papers have had the work experience kids in, since the Mail has the extra information about Liverpool and the Telegraph doesn't. Possibly because the Telegraph kid ignored that bit of the wire release.
So we have one person in one city and one possibly solved case in another. But what about the other cities? How many students have refused to scrub properly there? The Telegraph has this about Leicester:
Minutes from a medical school committee said that "a number of Muslim females had difficulty in complying with the procedures to roll up sleeves to the elbow for appropriate handwashing".Having difficulty with something isn't the same as not doing it. If students had point blank refused to roll up their sleeves and actually not done so, don't you think that would have been mentioned in the minutes? Me too. So that's Leicester out.
The Mail also has this:
Some students have said that they would prefer to quit the course rather than expose their arms, but hygiene experts said no exceptions should be made on religious grounds.Luckily, the Telegraph lets us know that the students who'd rather quit are only from Birmingham. It also has this quote:
Dr Mark Enright, professor of microbiology at Imperial College London, said: "To wash your hands properly, and reduce the risks of MRSA and C.difficile, you have to be able to wash the whole area around the wrist.which is clearly the source for the Mail's 'but hygiene experts said no exceptions...' bit from the sentence quoted above. There aren't any direct quotes from any University saying that students had refused to scrub properly and been allowed to carry on, putting patients at risk.
"I don't think it would be right to make an exemption for people on any grounds. The policy of bare below the elbows has to be applied universally."
So, there's not really that much of a problem here. Since we have no direct quotes from any of the Universities that says that female Muslim students had refused to scrub properly and been allowed to get away with it, it's likely that what's happened is something a whole lot less worrying than either paper is leading us to believe. My money is on some female Muslim students saying they'd rather not scrub in front of men if that could be avoided, but not refusing point blank to do so, with the possible exception of the ones in Birmingham who said they'd rather leave the course.
Presumably there's more than one female Muslim medical student in Sheffield, and definitely plenty from everywhere other than these four cities, so this is clearly something that concerns a small minority. And if Dr Mark Enright is right, no exception will be made for these students.
But - both stories include quotes that suggest this is not a minority concern, from the Islamic Medical Association. Who are they, then? 'Is there a doctor in the mosque?' from the Graun's Comment is Free section gives us an idea. It seems to be made up of a couple of nutjobs whose only web presence is this badly formatted and poorly written word document, which gives no clue of how many members they have, reveals they've only ever produced one book 'Al-Dhabh: Slaying Animals for Food the Islamic Way', which is pretty clearly not medical, and two booklets. On any other subject, would a group like this ever be treated seriously by the Telegraph?
Ah, the usefulness of having an impressive sounding name while spouting what the papers want to hear. Seems to have served the Islamic Medical Association as well as it has MigrationWatch, The Campaign Against Political Correctness and the Taxpayer's Alliance. It got them favourably mentioned in the Mail's 'Muslim and Jews join gay-laws protest', because they like homosexuals about as much as the Daily Mail.
If the Islamic Medical Association are after more coverage, I'd suggest slagging off the Polish.
Why has this story appeared now, and not three weeks ago, when you could make at least a half-hearted attempt to cal it news? So that there's a companion example to go with ''Sharia law will undermine British society,' warns Cameron in attack on multiculturalism'.
It seems that when the paper needs to back up an attack on multiculturalism and scare its audience about Muslims, three week old stories that weren't good enough when they first appeared suddenly acquire urgent importance.
Maybe nobody replied to offers of money for anonymous horror stories about Muslims.
Or maybe the paper couldn't bribe any Muslims into doing anything it could complain about.
Who can say?