On November 18, The New York Times published a reportage by Elaine Sciolino on Shariah, or Islamic religious law, and its presence in Britain. The text was a typical Times product: superficial, inaccurate, and soft on Islamist ideology. It illustrated two points -- macro and micro -- first, secular journalists are ill-equipped to write about religion, and second, this difficulty is nowhere more obvious than when Western journalists address the challenging issues of Shariah, or Islamic law.
Before proceeding to an analysis of the Sciolino text, I must disclose my own personal and organizational stake in this discussion. The organization of which I am executive director, the Center for Islamic Pluralism (CIP) is currently completing an extensive survey of Shariah penetration in the main Western European countries: that is, in Britain, Germany, The Netherlands, France, and Spain. CIP has benefited from extensive attention by TCSDaily, and, indeed, one of our most important early commentaries on Shariah in the West appeared here.
In addition, CIP's international director, the prominent and widely-respected Islamic scholar Dr. Irfan Ahmed Al-Alawi, has been in the forefront of debate over Shariah in the UK. A quick glance at the CIP website, linked above, will show that Al-Alawi and I have produced an extensive corpus of articles and interviews on these topics in the main British media, ranging from the British Broadcasting Corporation's TV and radio networks to The Times of London and The Spectator, Britain's main political magazine.
We can hardly expect a New York Times writer like Sciolino to acknowledge that her article merely reproduces facts and arguments that have occupied the attention of the British public, Muslim and non-Muslim, for months. The NYT is well-known for its attitude that, as with certain cooks, any soup begins with them spitting in it. In addition, The NYT would not view CIP as a source for commentary on these matters, notwithstanding the commitment we have made to a serious investigation of the issue, drawing on Islamic sources.