As a columnist for the Waikato Times, the former National MP Michael Cox is a curious, but mostly harmless figure. He has railed against education experts for commenting on education policy, chided the press for failing to praise the Prime Minister and urged tolerance for homosexuals while wishing they had less to say for themselves. He's about as good as most local newspaper columnists, which is to say: not very.
But his column on Saturday, We should listen to Malala about Muslim influence, he crosses the line into idle bigotry. The column is, of course, about Malala Yousafzai, the courageous Pakistani student activist who this year survived an attempt to murder her by Taleban thugs:
What makes the Muslims so loathe their women; what powers of ignorance are at play, what juices are squeezed in their brains to make them want to commit such atrocities? Why, when one of their female children shows the guts and determination to publicly speak out, do they board her school bus and attempt to blow out her wonderful brains?
Malala was not, of course, shot by "the Muslims", but by members of a movement rooted as much in a patriarchal tribal culture as Islamist extremism. It doesn't seem to trouble Cox that when he writes of "the Muslims", he includes not only Malala herself, but the father who has stood by her and fostered her voice over the years.
And then it gets worse. Cox moves on to "a chap called Dr Peter Hammond, something of a Christian zealot," and his book, Slavery, Terrorism and Islam, an "enemy within" tract that warns, says Cox of how ...
... politically correct, tolerant, democratic and culturally diverse societies, such as New Zealand, will frequently bend to these Muslims' religious demands. Then some of their other "privileges" start to creep into our lives.
Especially, apparently, if their presence is allowed to creep above five per cent of the population:
At this point they will lean on the government to let them rule themselves, under Sharia law [watch out women!] Of course, it is well known that their intended goal is to establish Sharia law worldwide.
In the end, apparently, we can expect burning churches, sporadic killings and ethnic cleansing. Cox seems wholly innocent of the impact that his boilerplate racist blathering might have on the very women for whom he professes sympathy. He seems to genuinely think he's helping.
Anjum Rahman isn't taking it lying down. She sat down on Saturday and wrote a formal complaint to the editor of the Waikato Times, which she has published on her blog. She's claiming breaches under the New Zealand Press Council's Principle 1 (Accuracy, Fairness and Balance) and Principle 6 (Discrimination and Diversity), and also says the headline breaches Principle 5 in that it doesn't fairly or accurately convey the substance of the column, in that the column "fails to provide any indication of her views on 'Muslim influence' at all."
She notes also that Cox makes his case on pernicious Muslim influence (or, rather, copy-pastes the beliefs of Hammond) by citing societies in which the Muslim populations have been victims. Further, on "What makes the Muslims so loathe their women":
It is highly offensive, inaccurate and discriminatory to include me in that statement, and to imply that I loathe myself as a woman along with all other women and that I want to commit such an atrocity against other women. In fact, if read literally, the first part of the sentence is misogynist because I am not even acknowledged as a Muslim, but only as a thing that belongs to Muslims, who are presumably all male. It is therefore discriminatory on the grounds of gender as well as religion.
The views Cox expresses aren't exactly rare -- you can pop over to the comments at Kiwiblog or any of its less restrained fellow travellers and find much the same most weeks -- but they are amplified and given credence by their publication in a major newspaper.
There are any number of flaws in Cox's column -- its risible logic, its geopolitical ignorance, the lazy space-filling transcription of someone else's book and Cox's inability to even correctly spell the name of his heroine -- but key parts of it, the dark warnings of the enemy within, cross the line into actual harm.
And yet, it is an opinion column and not a news story, meaning it will be judged on a different basis to, say, the infamous 'Asian Angst' story in North & South, which the Press Council found breached standards not only of accuracy, but discrimination.
Anjum, a community leader and former Labour Party list candidate, is hoping it doesn't get that far. She emphasises she's had cordial relations with the paper in the past and asks that Cox's column be withdrawn from the paper's website, that space be given for a rebuttal, and the chance to meet with the editor.
This is reasonable, and I hope the Waikato Times acts reasonably in response. Hapless opinion pieces by silly old men are a price we pay for a free press, but there are times when it's not enough to ignore the fools. The Times should, in this instance, step up and take out its own rubbish.