World Joins in “Evangelical-Islamist Axis” Hysteria over Negative Book Review

The Patrick Sookhdeo vs Ben White spat continues to grow, thanks to Melanie Phillips’ thudding pseudo-journalistic piece in the Spectator. As I blogged recently, Sookhdeo wrote a book in 2007 called Global Jihad. White gave it a bad review at the website Fulcrum; two of Sookhdeo’s supporters wrote a response which was published on the same site. However, Sookhdeo’s Barnabas Fund also distributed other versions of the response which also contained inflammatory personal attacks on White; it was also suggested that because White had brought his review to the attention of a Muslim blogger, he was responsible for putting Sookhdeo’s family at risk, and the Fund also drew attention to a private meeting which took place last year as evidence that the review was part of some kind of plot against Christians who publicly attack Islamic extremism. Although this was all nonsense, Mad Mel let rip in the Spectator, adding the claim that Sookhdeo had actually received a death threat and that some evangelicals and Islamists were now working together.

Phillips’s mischief-making has now crossed the Atlantic; the conservative evangelical World magazine has a follow-up piece:

…attacks on Sookhdeo and others who speak against Islam’s violent roots are flowing now that power has shifted on both sides of the Atlantic to leaders who favor a soft approach to Islamic radicalism.

As this political turnabout emboldens left-leaning evangelicals who favor the soft approach, they appear ready to turn against the critics of Islam within their own churches.

Evidence of that banishment came to light amidst the White-Sookhdeo controversy. Last year a group of 22 British evangelicals held an “invitation-only” meeting at All Nations Christian College to draft a soon-to-be released document called “Gracious Christian Responses to Muslims in Britain Today.” Not on the invitation list: Sookhdeo, Sam Solomon, Dennis Wrigley, and Baroness Caroline Cox (WORLD’s 2004 Daniel of the Year)—arguably Britain’s most internationally known evangelical experts on Christian-Islamic relations. In addition to Sookhdeo, Solomon also is a former Muslim, a leading imam before his Christian conversion—prompting Spectator correspondent Melanie Phillips to call the meeting an effort by fellow Christians “to discredit and stifle those Christians who warn against the Islamization of Britain.”

One small problem though: several of the organisations who had representatives at the meeting issued statements denying this characterisation, and Sookhdeo has backed down from his allegation – albeit in a disingenuous way that suggested he had been the victim of misrepresentation, when the truth was obvious to any unbiased observer: that Sookhdeo had responded to a temperate but critical book review in a vicious, unprincipled and unworthy manner that to any outside observer must destroy his credibility. The fact that prominent Christian media outfits like World should jump on the bandwagon rather than have a care for truthfulness says a lot (although perhaps nothing new) about the integrity of the US Christian Right.

One aspect of the controversy that I find particularly annoying and hypocritical is the claim that White’s review is an attempt to “silence” those who hold different views; this was Phillips’s take, and World‘s headline is “Stifling the messengers”. It’s a complete fabrication – as noted above, Sookhdeo in fact was given right of reply at Fulcrum; it is his side which is attempting to shut down debate with the preposterous assertion that to criticise Sookhdeo’s book is tantamount to inviting Islamic extremists to threaten his life (and I’ve seen for myself how shoddy Sookhdeo’s scholarship can be). Take a look at this paragraph from World:

[White’s] review trucks in every warmed-over jihadist sympathizer’s laments: Osama bin Laden is the product of the U.S. arming of Afghan mujahideen in the 1980s. U.S. support for the Shah of Iran beginning in the 1950s is the reason we have a terror-sponsoring Islamic republic in Iran today.

World doesn’t actually argue against this: it just calls White a “jihadist sympathizer”. Are we supposed to take this kind of thing seriously?