By Lauren Booth
This week, several tabloids, ran stories about a sinister-sounding woman who takes time off from fund raising for 'terrorist' families' only to pander to her rarefied hobby as a 'cheerleader for Islamic Zealots.'
Several things made me curious about the articles in the Daily Mail, the Daily Express and the Sun, the main one being that they were supposed to be about me.
Reading press stories about yourself with the words "Islamic Zealot' in the headline, is a serious business. Headers linking a person to the neo-McCarthyite labels of 'extremist' 'fundamentalist' or 'Islamic' anything, can have a serious impact on family members safety and emotional well being. Not to mention the negative effect on future work prospects.
However, this weeks effort by the tabloids to denigrate my professional and personal reputation have been so lurid, yet content-weak, they leaked into the comedy zone. Despite reading awful things about myself, I laughed out loud more than once at the over egged rhetoric. As did others I heard from, in the Muslim community.
The fact we are laughing may show we have finally reached a tipping point in the campaign against us.
For a start, I wonder about the intention of the use, in the Daily Mail article, of the term 'pale-skinned woman' not once, but twice, to describe my appearance. I am white skinned, this is a matter of record. Not least though the photo byline which I wrote under for more than half a decade at the very stable of newspapers which now print scurrilous tales about me.
The tone of my epidermis was never a cause for comment back then. So, why make reference to skin color, now? Could it be that as the North of England is home to the Toxteth Tan (straight from the bottle to the booty) that I have unwittingly committed a social faux pas by walking around a 'working class' area without one? If so, I'd like to take this opportunity to apologize to my more bronzed neighbors who have had to put up with my pastiness for many weeks. I'm sorry. It is mid winter. More likely it is an attempt to haunt readers with the spectre of white people accepting Islam.
Then there's the 'bizarre love triangle' of which I am supposed to be a part. This is another odd element to focus upon as it is, I am almost sorry to say, so mundane. Is it really 'shocking' in today's 'anything goes' world of relationships, that whilst awaiting a legal divorce from a previous relationship, that a man and woman should embark upon a new one? What is the news value of going over and over a separation followed by a new relationship when it it carries zero social stigma? Unless, of course, there is the added delectation of the phrase "Islamic marriage" being added to the mix. This somehow translates to Daily Mail hacks the possibility of sauciness - two wives Phoar! Perhaps I am the Tilda Swinton of Stockport without knowing it. This is not the case though, as the Mail hacks know full well, having spent such a great deal of journalistic time and Associated Newspapers funds, pestering my contacts, family members and former drinking buddies.
The article which has led to the momentary feeding frenzy appeared as an addendum to a four month investigation into Muslim organizations including Cage and Hhugs (Helping Households under Great Stress). I am a patron of both.
I'm not going to give the cocktail of weak allusions dressed up as 'findings' more space here. Legal options are under consideration. I will re iterate that all the organizations made mention of must operate under the same legal standards and procedures as any other. No police or legal action is under way against myself or to my knowledge any of the employees or directors of the specific organisations to which I have linked in the pieces.
Surely the most bizarre insinuation the Daily Mail has put forward must be that I have chosen to live as a Muslim in order to try and get rich from this faith choice.
Are we laughing yet?
It is surreal intellectual gymnastics to hint that someone has converted to the faith which your very own paper is at that moment using to trash their reputation, as some kind of CV enhancer.
It is significantly less amusing to accept that 46% of the British Muslim population live in the 10% of the most deprived areas in the UK. Whilst more than half the British population see Muslims as a threat, in no small part thanks to salacious attacks like this.
Prejudice manifests itself through discrimination in the workplace, where Muslim men are 76% less likely to have a job of any kind compared to white, male British Christians of the same age with equal qualifications. According to research, Muslim women are up to 65 per cent less likely to be employed than our white Christian counterparts.
So, just to be clear. Being a journalist (or having a job in general in the UK) is not helped by adding 'Muslim Speaker' to your CV in the current climate. My faith is my way of life, my heartfelt joy and a matter of private choice and observance. The doors it has opened, in Europe certainly, are the doors to public mockery, online Islamophobic attack and worries about the safety of my family members in public.
As one of only a small number of female voices in the Muslim community to have been heard speaking about the well catalogued failings of the Prevent strategy, my hijab-covered head has been above the media parapet for some time. As such, an attack of this kind has long been expected. After all, I am hardly alone in this. The situation for Muslims taking a role in public or charitable life or presenting an alternative view on current affairs was summarized to me by the head of an international charity, who wishes to remain anonymous for obvious reasons.
'I was accused in the tabloids of being a 'recruiting agent for Al Qaeda' for sharing a facebook post about Shaker Aamer a few years ago. Now he's a hero in the Daily Mail. Wear these headlines as a badge of honor. You are in great company.'