Telling a Truer Story


[This is the full text of a speech that Dr. Taylor gave to a Media-Project-sponsored gathering in Prague in 2008.] I have been asked – and I quote – to “focus on the new religious reality with Islam and how Islam is challenging Europe in our coverage of religion”.

My credentials for doing so are presumably that I was a secular journalist covering race, who became a Christian, and did a PhD in Islamics at SOAS. When I became a Christian, my eyes were opened to the fact that religion, not race, was the real story.

I discovered how badly religion was being covered throughout the media – and how central it was to the way the world turns and is turning. With Interserve, an international Christian charity, I travelled and reported throughout the Muslim world – Brunei, Pakistan several times, Egypt, Tunisia – and saw who were the nation builders, and who were the nation destroyers. By that I mean, who was building hospitals for the poor – and who was knocking down the churches of those who built those hospitals, or preventing them from being built in the first place? Who was fighting for women’s rights in remote places? And who was preventing them? Who was punishing women for being raped? Who was fighting for freedom of conscience, and who was killing people for it? Michael Doran, head of counter-terrorism in the Pentagon, says, “al-Qa’eda builds nothing; it only destroys” [1].

But it’s not just al-Qaeda, and we cannot pretend it’s just the loony fringe of one religion that is responsible for so much of the evil we report. The West’s dismissive arrogance about religious belief has had repercussions all over the world. I’ve reported particularly in Africa where a war against children by the Lord’s Resistance Army was not taken seriously by international agencies who did not have the discourse to deal with it. Muslim thinkers often justify their rage against the West by reference to the apparent godlessness of the West. There is not the time to explore this view, but it is one with which I sympathise.

I have called this talk “Telling a Truer Story” because I believe there really is a truer story to be told about the deep-down reasons of the human heart that have been reduced by secular materialism to irrelevancy. As Christian journalists we have a unique responsibility to find ways of revealing the truth about how beliefs impact the big stories.

Let’s start with religious persecution. It was a huge story before the iron curtain came down. And yet there was only one reporter I’m aware of in Britain attempting to describe the near-obliteration of the Orthodox church in Russia during the Cold War, and that was the famous Malcolm Muggeridge (1903-1990). More than 200,000 priests were slaughtered by Stalin after the Russian Revolution according to former London KGB bureau chief, Oleg Gordievsky.[2] The persecution of Christians almost everywhere is still an untold story.

There was and is amazing ignorance about this in the West. For instance, Bernard Levin, our then greatest commentator, wrote in one of his famous columns for the Times during the early 1990s that the only people who had been persecuted for their faith since Roman times were the Jews. This despite the fact more Christians were martyred in the 20th century than all the preceding nineteen centuries put together. I sent him a lot of evidence about the blasphemy penalties in Pakistan and their victims – penalties that are still being used today as a form of state terror against minorities. Once I’d made contact with his office, he began to change. Article after article quoting the testimonies of Christian believers in Iran and Pakistan began to emerge in his column. All credit to him for being able to change. No credit to the church for failing up until then to engage him with the facts.

Another example: the Muslim political agenda in Britain and the West. Melanie Phillips another famous Jewish columnist in Britain, was writing trenchant stuff tearing into the liberal agenda, but she was missing the much bigger story. I nagged her to start researching Islamism, and she did. Her brilliant book Londonistan exposes the fact that Britain has become the international headquarters for most Islamist terrorist organizations. But our conversations were ten years ago, in 1998 at the British Library where we had adjacent lockers. It takes a long time for a book to emerge. She began to understand that terrorist atrocities were actually being carried out in the name of the Qur’an; that jihad is a religious principle. Her book eventually emerged, after enormous difficulties finding a publisher brave enough, in 2006, to take it on. In it, she wrote: “To deny that these were all fundamentally religious conflicts was to reveal an astounding misreading of those conflicts.”[3] Religion was supposed to be dying out. The default view of the European intelligentsia was secularized. In Tony Blair’s Press Secretary’s infamous view, one of those “bon mots” that seem to speak for a generation, “We don’t do God.” Europe convinced itself, exceptionally, that religion was a thing of the past, a phenomenon of patriarchalism and oppression. Islam did not exist as a political reality, because we had ideologically blinded ourselves to it.

Then 9/11 happened, and the London tube bombing was planned and executed. Melanie has done us a great service, by exposing 20 years of collusion by the British government with terrorists. But why did it take her so long to see what Christians had seen for years? And if Christians had seen it, why was it so difficult to sound the alarm? What is our responsibility now? And what are the challenges?

If Christians do not take responsibility for telling a truer story, the results can be catastrophic. Christians are in the driving seat of world change. That is because the Church is where the poor are, and that is where God is transforming lives. We have special access and insight into the roots of suffering and poverty, and those are world issues. That’s where the news is.

This morning I want to do three things: 1 Define firstly what we mean by Europe – it crucially has to do with Islam – and how its changing demography has implications that concern us. Current immigration trends are largely from countries that come at the very bottom of the international index of Press Freedom, and that is affecting our ability to tell the truth. 2 I want to analyse how Islam is affecting our work as Christian journalists for better and worse; 3 I want to suggest some things we as Christians are uniquely placed and even obliged to do as a result.

Europe – an Islamic invention

Europe, in theologian Lesslie Newbigin’s definition, was “that tiny western tip of the vast Asian land mass that was characterized by Christianity.” Europe was first so-called in the 800s in contradistinction to Islam. Professor John Roberts wrote in his famous The Triumph of the West in 1985 that “the islamic onslaught of the seventh to ninth centuries was one of the most important of the processes hammering Europe into a certain shape. The word ‘Europeans’ (Europeenses in Latin) seems to appear for the first time in an eighth-century reference to Charles Martel’s victory against the Moors at Tours” which stopped the eastward advance of Islam on the French side of the Pyrenees in 732 [4].

The idea of Christian Europe hardened in the 11th and 12th centuries. “The struggle against Islam became Europe’s first great common cause” says Roberts. Scandinavian kings could be converted – many of the English kings were descended from Norsemen, barbarians – but Moors could not.

Eventually, after 700 years, Moors were finally expelled from Spain by Ferdinand and Isabella in 1492; the advance of the Turks not repulsed until 1526 at Vienna. And the battle for the Mediterranean at Lepanto against the Ottoman Turks, was decisively won in 1571 by the Holy League, but it cost the lives of 40,000 Christian soldiers and galley slaves. I am not saying that our only future together will look like the past. All I am trying to do is indicate that the otherness of Islam is really “other”; that if we are having problems uniting the warring nations of Europe into one economic bloc, who were the same religion, the migration of Muslims is unlikely to be a matter merely for “interfaith dialogue”.

In fact, as I said, ignoring the otherness of the “other”, minimising difference, has resulted in the catastrophe of 9/11 and the other singular events since. We thought, in Fukuyama’s notorious words, that we had reached the “end of history”; that from now on, the future was a kind of sunlit capitalist upland of ever-increasing prosperity, consumerism and well-being. Even if religions were not quite dead they were dying. What was left of them, in terms of immigration, could be dealt with by equality policies. Equality translates as state neutrality. In the law, state neutrality about religion has given us multi-culturalism, where religions, including Christianity, are not just equal before the law – on the same irrational side of the fault-line over against secular humanism – but equivalent in supposed fact. Yet, as various scholars of law, such as Adrian Bradney, have shown [5], neutrality is impossible, because religions have different “shapes”; they believe vastly different things, no matter how we try to press them into a Catholic or Anglican mould. Secular states have allowed the illusion of religious sameness to justify their sanguine response to mass migration into Europe of people from non-Christian countries. The number of Muslims is impossible now to say. In Britain the figure has remained suspiciously fixed at 1.6million since at least the time I was beginning my research in 1995 [6]. For Europe as a whole figures range between 3% and 10% depending on who is consulted [7].

The Tower of Babel that was the various Western empires seeking dominance around the globe is collapsing into competing communities – what Gerd Bauman called “contesting cultures” – all over a continent that does not know what it stands for any more. And into this babble of voices, the media try to speak. But as we know from the Tower of Babel, chaos ensues, where no one can understand another and order must be established by force. Empires are guilty of hubris, by definition. They are too powerful. The hubris of Christian Europe led to the most devastating wars in history, after all. Any vision that seeks unlimited dominance will fall by its own sword. But that imperialism has been replaced with another – secular globalisation that governs with the force of religion, as Muslims like Seyyed Nasr have noted, but which lacks religious legitimation [8]. This affects us as journalists. The truth is what the government now decrees it to be, with the police to enforce it, as I hope to show.

This brings me to my second point: how Islam is affecting our work as journalists.

This secularism which still dominates the thinking of our European rulers, as Lesslie Newbigin and I tried to show particularly in the book Faith and Power, is no match for ambitious Islam. It ends up pandering to it, out of fear of violence [9].

We go back to 1998 and the attempt by well-respected historian and journalist Paul Fregosi to publish a book about jihad. The book, commissioned by one of the UK’s most prestigious publishing houses, Little Brown, in 1991, was de-commissioned in 1998 [10]. Little Brown broke their contract with Fregosi following post-Rushdie fatwa violence. But Little Brown editorial director Richard Beswick showed remarkable lack of backbone in the face of an assault on freedom. He first wrote to Fregosi demanding he foot any necessary bill for security or losses caused by boycott of any of their other titles. Then six months later the company claimed the book was a “bad book”, and they would not after all be publishing it.

Fregosi claimed the publishers had lost their nerve because of fear of reprisals – and were ashamed to admit it. He eventually finalised a deal with Prometheus Books in the States – but only after 17 other rejections in Britain.

What seems to confirm Fregosi’s suspicions was that on 24 January that same year – 1998 – another author, David Caute, left-wing former literary editor of The New Statesman, was in the news after announcing his decision to self-publish his novel Fatima’s Scarf about an anti-fundamentalist Muslim writer. Highly praised in private, it was turned down by 25 leading publishers.

What was going on? Writers claimed the normally pugnacious publishing world was running scared. “Commercial” values were suddenly turning “sensitive to religion”.

Only four books had been written up to that point in English on jihad since 1975, compared with 247 on the Crusades.

Of course, that was all before 9/11 – and a recent check on the School of Oriental and African Studies library database reveals an astonishing increase in books on jihad, mostly written by Jewish dons – more than 300 in fact, and going up exponentially each year. A bit late in the day, you might say, but as Martin Amis puts it in his recent book The Second Plane: “our understanding of September 11 is incremental . . .” [11].

To reiterate my key point: The secular project of liberal Europe is no better at securing religious freedom than the Christendom project it replaced, and probably rather worse. You do not preserve the truth by caving in to violence – and truth is the business of all of us gathered here.

A second story of the British establishment’s puzzling response to truth concerns an award-winning book by a British war correspondent and TV cameraman whom I cannot name for security reasons. The book concerns a 12-year old child from the Dinka tribe in Sudan, abducted by janjaweed horsemen who burned her village, killed many of her clan and raped her several times on the ride back to Khartoum. They sold her into slavery to an upper-class Khartoum family, who in 2000 passed her on to the family of the Sudanese acting ambassador to Britain.

The Sudan regime funded a Sudanese plaintiff to the tune of £400,000 using a very top British law firm and libel experts to sue my journalist friend for libel, claiming it was all untrue. He and the publisher defended it to the tune of £1.5 million (thereabouts). The case was struck out once they proved the Sudan Government was secretly funding it and that money was potentially ‘terrorist funds / money laundering’. Costs were awarded against the Sudanese – who are in Khartoum and therefore beyond the reach of English law. The writer and his publisher had to pay their own lawyers, of course – hence the £1.5 million bill. Fortunately, and unusually, they were insured.

Worse still was the fact that he was warned by the police it would be better for him if he stopped stirring up trouble. He regarded the warning as sufficiently menacing to move his family out of Britain altogether.

Truth, in an ideologically or Islamically pressured context, is what the police will allow.

My third story concerns the recent decision by West Midlands Police to attempt to prosecute Channel 4, our third terrestrial TV company, for inciting racial hatred over its film “Undercover Mosque”. When the Crown Prosecution Service refused to prosecute, West Midlands Police reported the programme makers to communications watchdog Ofcom for “fakery”.

“Undercover Mosque” was an edition of Channel 4′s investigative current affairs strand Dispatches. The programme reported the observations of an undercover reporter who visited a number of mosques and Islamic organisations in Britain. The programme stated that it had discovered extremism being preached in this country: “…an ideology of bigotry and intolerance spreading through Britain with its roots in Saudi Arabia“.

The programme included secretly filmed footage taken from Green Lane mosque in Birmingham and organisations associated with this hard-line Wahhabi institution. The undercover recordings featured the teachings of several speakers which the programme alleged to be homophobic, anti-Semitic, sexist and condemnatory of non-Muslims. The programme also included excerpts from books, CDs and DVDs that had been purchased from these Islamic centres, and from websites which were connected to the Mosques.

The programme included a number of excerpts from preachers and teachers such as: “Allah created the woman deficient” [12].

“…it takes two witnesses of a woman to equal the one witness of the man”.

“By the age of ten, it becomes an obligation on us to force her [young girls] to wear hijab, and if she doesn’t wear hijab, we hit her”.

“…take that homosexual and throw him off the mountain”.

“Whoever changes his religion from Al Islam to anything else – kill him in the Islamic state”.

Instead of condemning this message, the police condemned the messengers. Instead of prosecuting those in the film who in other times would have been quite clearly guilty by their own admission of treason, sedition and incitement to hatred, if not murder, the Assistant Chief Constable of West Midlands Police, Anil Patani, decided to take action against Channel 4.

Journalists have accused him of being in a state of psychological denial. A career policeman with an Asian background, he has not even been reprimanded, let alone sacked.

Instead of seeking to bind migrants into the nations to which they have come en masse by at least acquainting them with the teachings of Christianity, our governments spend billions of Euros trying to teach them “improved” versions of their own faith. European identity is intimately tied up with Christianity – as the European Values Survey showed [13] and there is a certain amount of angst expressed by our Prime Minister among others about the loss of a sense of identity and the need to rebuild it. And yet 300 imams are being given visas to tour Britain to teach a more acceptable (to the government) form of Islam! Saudi businessmen are required to spend 5% of their income on mosque building in Europe – and the spokesman in the government’s Department for Communities and Social Cohesion says: “We are not unduly bothered.” Secular neutrality seems to be blind to all religions except the Christianity whose step-child it is.

The default position on religion for the European political system, as I have said already, is “neutrality”. This is enshrined in legal precedent in England. One famous and fundamental modern legal judgement says that “as to religions the law stands neutral” [14]. This is taken by Muslims to mean what secularists take it to mean. The Muslim scholar Tariq Ramadan, speaking recently to lawyers at the Temple – a talk in the same series as that of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s explosive reflections on shariah law – commended the neutrality of the British system which made it more possible to be Muslim in Britain than in any so-called Islamic state anywhere in the world [15]. But this is clearly a dangerous “neutrality” – one that has resulted in a frightening roll-call of terrorist offences: A recent Europol report pointed out that in 2007 the British arrested 203 terrorist suspects; the figure for the rest of Europe is 201 [16]. This would not be surprising if it were actually al-Qaeda policy, as some believe it to be. Reuven Paz, in an article in the right-wing Middle East Review of International Affairs cites Imam Abu Baseer, one of the leading religious supporters of al Qaeda, as saying:

One of the goals of immigration is the revival of the duty of jihad and enforcement of their power over the infidels. Immigration and jihad go together. One is the consequence of the other and dependent upon it. The continuance of the one is dependent upon the continuance of the other [17].

Neutrality in light of this is at best moral equivalence – what Martin Amis calls colourfully “the fetishisation of balance” – and at worst, it is treason [18].

If all religions are equal all must be deemed to have irenic wings and violent wings. All must have their fundamentalists. The British Home Secretary David Blunkett went too far in 2004 when he accused evangelicals of “terrorism”. “We need to be able to take on those extremists and say, I’m afraid in our society, pluralism and openness, the ability to accept differences without being subsumed, is crucial to our survival, it’s what distinguishes all of us, from every faith, from those who would take our lives because they reject our faith, and it applies equally from far right evangelical Christians, to extremists in the Islamic faith” [19]. All religions are equally mad, or equally benevolent or equally vicious to the religiously illiterate (secularized) mind.

This then brings me to my third point: What is our responsibility as Christian journalists?

Journalists who are both outside the public square and yet licensed to speak into it must do a better job at reporting the facts of religion, while we still can.

For it is not an exaggeration to say that freedom of speech and conscience are under attack by our secular governments who are afraid of Muslim violence. Meurig Llwyd Williams, Anglican archdeacon of Bangor, included a drawing, reprinted from the French newspaper Le Soir, in the church paper Y Llan. It showed Muhammad sitting on a heavenly cloud with God and Buddha and being told: “Don’t complain – we’ve all been caricatured here.” Mild enough, you might think. Yet, incredibly, he was forced to resign as archdeacon, and the issue of the paper was destroyed.

Just this week, two evangelists meekly handing out tracts in the predominantly Muslim Alum Rock in Birmingham were threatened with arrest for committing a “hate crime” by a Community Support Officer who happens to be a Muslim. He is alleged to have told them: “This is a Muslim area” [20]

Martin Amis says “Writing is freedom” [21]. Sales of the first Bibles to be printed in the languages of ordinary people in the sixteenth century were so great that they formed the basis of modern economies [22]. Journalism itself began as a form of protest against the state suppression of free speech in the 17th century – in tracts written by the poet and journalist John Milton, and his friends.

The Index of Press Freedom around the world is evidence enough of which kind of state produces a flourishing press. It is possible to illustrate the connection between Protestant religion and freedom in a quite simple way, using this Index published by Reporters Sans Frontieres. Now in its fifth year, this ranks 169 countries according to 50 criteria of press freedom, culled from questionnaires sent to 15 freedom of expression organisations throughout the world that are its partners, and to its network of 130 correspondents, journalists, researchers, jurists and human rights activists. It shows that “the countries of northern Europe are always the ones who behave best” in the words of RSF. Of the top 20, 14 are majority Protestant countries. All the countries of the European Union are in the top 50, with the exception of Bulgaria (51st) and Poland (56th).

However, it’s a different story on the borders of the European Union. Russia for instance ranks 144th; Algeria 123rd and Turkey 101st. And in the countries from which the majority of migrants are coming into Europe, Pakistan is in the bottom 20, (152) and Somalia even worse at 159, even below Iraq (157th). Of the bottom 20 countries, ten are Muslim and the rest are either totalitarian or failed African states.

Christian journalists must not retreat into a ghetto mentality, or content themselves with writing for the Christian press or following the secular news agenda. Without compromising our professionalism, we must write our truth in ways that infect that news agenda, not being content with the secular distortion or partiality.

Lapido Media deliberately chose to launch at a club for secular foreign correspondents in December last year. The title of the event was “Neutrality or Truth?” It opened up this discussion for the mainstream media, and resulted in considerable coverage in the daily press including the Times and CNN. Dominic Lawson, son of our former Chancellor wrote his op ed on it, entitled “Could a Robust Christianity be the Answer to Radical Islam?” It was a vindication of the decision to launch in a secular venue. CNN did a ten-minute studio interview to camera for their Correspondents slot, exploring whether we were advocating preferential treatment for Christianity. To which I answered No – just report the facts.


[1] Michael Burleigh, ‘How to defeat the global jihadists’, Standpoint 29 May 2008 [2] Conversation with the author, 10 August 2008 [3] Londonistan (Gibson Square, 2006). [4] Roberts, The Triumph of the West (BBC, 1985). [5] —-, 1999 ‘Religion and Law in the United Kingdom at the End of the Second Christian Millennium’ Unpublished paper presented at conference entitled Taking Religious Convictions Seriously: the Impact of Incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights at Imperial College, London, 6 January 1999. [6] Lewis Young, British and Muslim (Polity, 2008). [7] The Brookings Institution estimates the current European Muslim population at 3-4% continent wide.| BBC country statistics show populations in Western Europe ranging from a low of 1.4% in Italy to a high of 9.6% in France. | Euro-Islam estimates France’s population at 8.5%, Denmark’s population at 8.4%, 5.8% in the Netherlands, with the most of the rest of Western Europe bunched in the 4-5% range. | Statistics from all sources reviewed show Britian’s population to be 1.6 million or 2.3% of the population. [8] Cited by Taylor in Newbigin, Sanneh & Taylor Faith and Power (SPCK, 1998) p. 77. [9] See Stephen Lowe, Moral but No Compass (Von Hugel Institute, 2008). Lowe, the Anglican Bishop of Hulme, commented in a BBC interview that the Government was pandering to Islam because of fear of violence, while ignoring the church’s historic ministry of reconciliation. [10] I first had this story published in three European national newspapers in 1998 to mark the tenth anniversary of the Rushdie fatwa. The book was later published by Prometheus in the US. [11] Amis, Plane p. ix. [12] All quotes are taken from the Ofcom report. [13] Ashford, Sheena & Timms, Noel, 1992 What Europe thinks: a Study of Western European Values Dartmouth Publishing Company. [14] This was most clearly expressed by Lord Justice Scrutton in 1961, in the case of Re Carroll – ‘It is, I hope, unnecessary to say that the Court is perfectly impartial in matters of religion’ – and Cross J’s comment in Neville Estates Ltd v. Madden: ‘[a]s between different religions the law stands neutral.’ Bradney, 1993 Religions, Rights and Laws, p. 4. [15] 19 May 2008. ‘Islam in English Law’. Middle Temple Festival. [16] Cited by Michael Burleigh, Standpoint, 29 May 2008. [17] Reuven Paz, ‘Middle East Islamism in the European Arena,’ MERIA, vol. 6. no. 3 (September 2002). [18] Amis, Plane, p. 199. ‘We are drowsily accustomed, by now, to the fetishisation of ‘balance’, the ground rule of ‘moral equivalence’ in all conflicts between West and East, the 100-per-cent and 360-degree inability to pass judgement on any ethnicity other than our own (except in the case of Israel).’ [19] 7 July, 2004, announcing plans for a new law to prohibit ‘incitement to religious hatred’. [20] Reported by The Daily Telegraph, 2 June 2008. [21] Martin Amis, The Second Plane (Jonathan Cape, 2007). [22] See Benedict Anderson (1983) Imagined Communities: Reflections on the origin and spread of nationalism. London: Verso