Award-winning journalist, broadcaster and author Peter Oborne was hosted at the East London Mosque and London Muslim Centre yesterday evening (9 June 2022) to launch his latest book, The Fate of Abraham – Why the West is Wrong about Islam (published last month by Simon & Schuster UK).

Over 250 guests attended the book launch and signing, with every copy sold out before the end of the evening. The event was chaired by a Trustee of the East London Mosque and London Muslim Centre, Ruhana Ali. Dr Salman Sayyid, Professor of Social Theory & Decolonial Thought, Leeds University, was part of the panel and a respondent to Oborne’s new book.

Peter Oborne commended the East London Mosque and London Muslim Centre and said, “I can’t think of a more wonderful place to do this [book launch].” Oborne also noted that this was not his first visit and has continued to support various underrepresented groups and organisations.

The premise for the book

Speaking to the audience, Oborne presented the motivation for his new book by recounting his days as a journalist at The Spectator and the changes in attitude and tone he noticed amongst his peers after 9/11 and 7/7 towards Muslim communities. Oborne saw the “awful way” the British press wrote about Muslims. He described this as a “sort of industry of writing stories about Muslims” and began writing his book by investigating whether there was any truth to the stories. Oborne highlighted several notable stories that had made splashes in British tabloids, including from Muslims wanting to “ban Christmas” to young Muslim nurses and doctors “endangering the health of patients.” Oborne concluded that he had uncovered them and found them to be “absolute fabrications”.

Trojan Horse Affair

“There was no Islamist conspiracy. It was a sort of media frenzy..."

Oborne spoke at length describing the trojan horse affair which made national headlines in 2014, about a plot by “Islamists” to take over schools in Birmingham. He told the “amazing” life story of Tahir Alam, former chairman of the Park View Educational Trust, who was unjustly accused alongside numerous teachers in the trojan horse affair, even though he had led the transformation to change the failing schools under the trust to become some “of the very best schools in Britain”.

Oborne states, "they [the Government, ministers, right-wing press and tabloids] destroyed that school and other schools, wrecked the lives of about 20 teachers and all-in-all”. He summarised the topic, “There was no Islamist conspiracy. It was a sort of media frenzy, a witch-hunt aimed at some of the best, most honourable and idealistic people who've ever lived in this country. British people, by the way, who are as British as they come, who really care about making a wonderful positive contribution to a community.”

Grooming Gangs

Oborne then focused on a chapter of his book addressing the grooming gangs and “Muslim men” who had committed “terrible crimes”. However, he said, “when I started to look into the grooming gang narrative and how it was constructed, it was very selective.” He went on to say, “We have a terrible problem of child abuse, sexual abuse of children in this country. Most of that abuse is carried out in the home. It's also carried out by all kinds of other people of other faiths. This is no evidence at all – zero evidence – as a government report later found that Muslims are more likely to do this awful thing than any other faith or any other people [who] have no faith. I still find this chapter extraordinary because it starts with The Times newspaper, which has been guilty of other anti-Muslim fabrications.”

A clash between the West and Islam

Peter Oborne explained that as part of his new book and the negative stories about Muslims, he needed “to understand how they came about,” which inevitably left him turning the pages of history. He said, “I look at the history of the United States first because modern Islamophobia, so much of it has come out of the United States. I try to show why the United States finds it so difficult to have an equable understanding of Islam. I think part of the reason is that the first foreign war was the Barbary Wars” in the 18th century.

He also added, “it's fascinating to see how you get the early clash of civilisations narrative emerging, and those Barbary Wars and the neo-cons who created the clash of civilisations, and used it, later on, looked back at the Barbary Wars and interpreted it in that way.”

Ignored by the “Islamophobic” media

"Why don't they want to hear about Islamophobia? Because they are Islamophobic..."

Oborne described how it was noteworthy that the wider British press had completely ignored his book. He explained it was because he felt, “They don't want to hear about Islamophobia. Why don't they want to hear about Islamophobia? Because they are Islamophobic, structurally Islamophobic. They produce the lies. They manufacture them in factories around what used to be called ‘Fleet Street’ both in terms of stories and also in terms of analysis. Now, it's also upset me, though I think at least they could do the courtesy of reviewing the book and engaging with the arguments.”

In comparison, Oborne highlighted ‘The Strange Death of Europe’, a book (published in 2017) by Douglas Murray, who is well known for his denigration of Muslims and Islam. Murray’s book, in contrast to Oborne’s, was lauded by the press, receiving “four days of massive serialisation in the Daily Mail” according to Oborne and was “hailed as the most important book of the year.”

Oborne concluded by coming back to the Trojan Horse story. He stated that the “authoritative” academic works and research undertaken by Professor John Holmwood, Emeritus Professor of Sociology in the School of Sociology and Social Policy, University of Nottingham, into the Trojan Horse affair was never picked up by the media. “The BBC has never once had Professor Holmwood to talk about Trojan Horse – what does that tell us?”, he said.

Responding to the book, Dr Salman Sayyid

Providing his observations and insights, Dr Salman Sayyid called Oborne’s new book “very unexcepted” for three reasons. First, he highlighted how the book “goes against the spirit of the times” and the narrative set about Islam and Muslims in the public discourse, and in doing so, it sets forth the question: “What did the West get wrong?” Second, the very “existence” of the book “goes against the grain is that it's actually written.” Speaking about Peter Oborne, Sayyid described him as “a journalist who actually takes the craft of journalism seriously.” His final point emphasised how “in any gathering of Muslims or any kind of minority group, one of the things you always find is complaints about the media. And what Oborne does is demonstrate that, yes, there is truth to this claim. But more importantly, he talks about how you can see the way this works.”

Canaries in a coal mine

Describing the media as becoming its own “political party” rather than an “independent” entity reporting the facts as defined by Oborne in his book, Sayyid said, “the media is linked in with particular way of political projects, particular ideologies – and as such, it is part of the politics and governments. It pretends to stand outside politics, but it is actually a political party. It is basically what you have seen is a kind of ‘middle-class-zation’ of the media, including public service broadcasting. And that has been to the detriment of society as a journalist in general rather than just specifically.”

Sayyid went on to say, the “Muslims act have become canaries in a coal mine warning about what happens when the media becomes derelict in its duty of trying to uncover and connect and make comprehensible things that we and our ordinary lives perhaps may not see.”

Celebrating diversity

On his final note about the book, Sayyid said that the thrust of this new book is that “we can have a different way of looking at the world. There is a sense that I detect in Peter and he'll correct me if I've got this wrong, that we need to recognise that there is the diversity that we see in many societies is actually the engine of creativity and not catastrophic chaos.”

He added, “We should embrace that and learn from that to be the best we can be. In a sense, diversity is something to be celebrated, not just on brochures but fully in belief.”

The presentations from both Peter Oborne and Dr Salman Sayyid ended with a Q&A discussion.

> Copies of The Fate of Abraham can be purchased here