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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?

10 Responses

  1. When I was a member of the Evangelical Council we had an agreement that crhistians would not attack one another in public before
    a) ascertaining the facts
    b) sharing their proposed publications with the person they plan to attack before publication, and
    c) using the sort of temperate and gracious language that should characterise any kind of Christian debate, and
    d) finally. saying only those things which would bring joy to the Jesus we serve.

    I do wish these principles would be a part of any debate. As a totally detached observer I find the language used in these excahnges a disgrace to the cross of Christ.

    Peter Kimber

  2. On the character of Ben White, I suggest any observer read this article by him and make a judgement

    http://www.counterpunch.org/white0617.html

    and his symapthetic link to this piece on his website

    http://www.benwhite.org.uk/blog/?p=119

    Unless he has repented of this stuff, how anyone can defend him is beyond me.

  3. Ben White’s views are neither here nor there – what interests me is Sookhdeo’s modus operandi, which I find to be scandalous and insulting to the intelligence. Simply to assert that White needs to “repent” does not change the fact that Sookhdeo’s claims against White in relation to the book review are utterly bogus. Or is truthfulness no longer a Christian virtue when there’s a chance to make a hit against a political opponent?

  4. Richard

    You seem to spend a lot of time, rightly or wrongly taking a swipe at the views of many people, it is only fair that people that you judge people like White by similar standards.

    Otherwise people might think you have double standards.

    Dez

  5. Again, whether or not I have “double standards” is neither here nor there – you could find all kinds of supposed flaws in my character for all I care, but that would not detract from what I’ve written about Sookhdeo – my complaint is based on evidence, not any claim to personal authority. However, the fact you prefer personal attack to engaging with the issue suggests to me that you have nothing substantial to say in Sookhdeoo’s defence.

  6. Richard

    Strange response, i feel you are over reacting, the thing that seems to have upset Barnabus Fund are the credentials of Ben White, And I find White’s credentials to say the least odd.

    The allegations is that he is a sympathiser with Islamist Movements of whom Hezbollah, are one, I would say his own words suggest this, this is not idle speculation but his own blog posts suggest that he does.

    Now you said “it just calls White a “jihadist sympathizer”. Are we supposed to take this kind of thing seriously?”

    and from reading what he has said this is an allegation that is not without merit,

    I am sorry if disagreeing with your views offend you,

    Dez

  7. OK, I get the point – you agree with Sookhdeo, you don’t like White’s politics, so it’s OK to lie about White attempting to “stifle” Sookhdeo and to make up stuff about a Muslim death threat. And, of course, anyone who sees through it all can be dismissed out of hand.

  8. Please show me where I have said its ok to lie about White?

  9. You’re putting me on – you know what I’m getting at. Sookhdeo and his supporters suggest that White wants to “stifle” him – that’s a lie, because Sookhdeo was given right of reply on “Fulcrum”. There was a suggestion that White’s review was part of a conspiracy involving other groups hatched at a meeting last year – that was false, and Sookhdeo has backed down from the claim. And most seriously, we have the suggestion that by contacting a Muslim blogger White has put Sookhdeo at personal risk, and Phillips has inflated this into a death threat: but where’s the evidence? Not on the Muslim blog cited, which contains nothing inflammatory. Obviously, if your only response to all that is to complain about White’s politics, or to suggest I have “double standards”, rather than attend to the problem, clearly you think this is all OK.

  10. Melanie Phillips in The Spectator, WORLD magazine, and now…The Weekly Standard online:

    http://www.weeklystandard.com/Check.asp?idArticle=16287&r=ymlkb

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