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Thursday, January 24, 2008 

The Daily Express sweepstakes and three little rainbow pigs.


Partially thanks to this glorious government's liberalisation of the gambling laws, and also down to the ingenuity of bookmakers in devising yet more ways to separate those who enter their doors from their money, you can now more or less bet on absolutely anything. Want to put a bet on when the first throw takes place in a football game? Go ahead. Decide to back Ken Bloggs in the national tiddlywinks championship? You're more than welcome. Amy Winehouse to become prime minister AND die in the next year? Sure, we'll take your money sir.

With this in mind, surely there is now the opportunity to bet on the front pages of newspapers, or more significantly, that of the Daily Express. Under the helm of Richard Desmond the paper has declined from an embarrassment into an atrocity, to the level of such that there are now just a few distinct subjects which ever reach the front. These are, in no particular order, immigrants (today), Muslims (yesterday), the weather (Tuesday), Diana (last week), Madeleine and house prices. On a rare occasion there'll be a rant about tax or something else, but mostly the aforementioned are fair weather friends.

To extend the fun slightly, you could even wager on whether the story will be backed up by even the slightest of actual facts. Today the Express is itself playing the percentages: according to FCC, one of its previous lying front pages, claiming that migrants have taken "all" the new jobs in Britain, is under investigation by the Press Complaints Commission, and has been taken down as a result, and so it's being extra careful. Claiming that 1.3 million Poles arrived in Britain last year, the headline is accurate, but only in the strictest possible terms. The Office of National Statistics figures that the Express is basing its story around don't count immigrants: they count tourists and businessmen making visits here (PDF). Despite this, they've managed to get two separate different political figures to open their mouths and make different statements on how this simply must change. On the roll call of shame goes David Davis, yet again, and the increasingly deranged Frank Field, who seems to have let his hatred of Gordon Brown for ending his ministerial career develop to gargantuan levels. True, both could have been tricked by the Express into commenting on figures they thought were official levels of migration than visits, but that doesn't excuse them making their own checks. The article even claims that because Poles only spent £24 on average a day during their stay it means that they *must* have been looking for work. This is quite openly misleading their own readers, but then the paper doesn't seem to think they're intelligent enough to notice.

Yesterday was a similar case. The story, BRITAIN'S MUSLIMS ARE TOO EXTREME, was based on the comments of Iraq's vice-president after he had visited mosques in Blackburn. It wasn't what he saw actually going on there that made him deliver such comments, or what was being preached, but the literature itself that he said would have been banned in Iraq. Somehow, you get the feeling that Iraq in its current state has far more of a problem with extremism than we do, but what the hell do we know?

To go to another discredited source on extremism in British mosques, the Policy Exchange report
(PDF), they found what they defined as extremist material in two of the mosques in Blackburn, although in the case of the Islamic Educational Society, they seemed to have used one of the tricks used elsewhere in the report of attributing literature found in places not technically connected to the actual mosque, in this case, the Noor ul-Islam Mosque. The book found there, Islam: Beliefs and Teachings, is noted by the report for being one of the key introductory texts that set Ed Husain on his path to extremism. The other mosque in Blackburn which had alleged extremist literature is the Islamic Cultural Centre, featured on page 138 of the report.

The key thing as always has not been whether these texts are available in the mosques, but whether they are actually being preached and lauded as acceptable, or that their interpretation of Islam is admirable and the one that ought to be followed. There has long been no evidence to suggest that this is the case; indeed, the government's latest thinking on radicalisation and extremism has come to what many have been saying for a long time, that rather than the mosque being a hotbed of anti-Western sentiment, it's the personal research by the impressionable and interested rather than a fiery imam that has set many down the path. Organisations such as Hizb-ut-Tahir might be involved at some stage, but they do not personally condone any sort of violence, regardless of their oft anti-semitic rhetoric. We shouldn't be complacent, but we shouldn't be scaremongering about it all either.

Finally, in a story that might have made or even warranted a Daily Express frontpage, we have an educational, digital, updated version of the Three Little Pigs, entitled the Three Little Cowboy Builders, apparently being rejected for a major prize for the possibility of being offensive to Muslims, and err, builders. Via MediaWatchWatch, according to Merlin John online, some of the feedback provided by Becta involved these comments:

* “Is it true that all builders are cowboys, builders get their work blown down, and builders are like pigs?"

* "The subject matter is questionable for certain groups within the UK."


* "The idea of taking a traditional tale and retelling a story is fine, but it should not alienate parts of the workforce (building trade)."


* "Developers should make role models positive."


* "Although this may not be intended, it feels cynical and tongue in cheek."

* "Judges would not recommend this product to the Muslim community in particular."


* "Only an exceedingly creative teacher could find this innovative."

Which more than anything seems to suggest that those doing the judging were a bunch of cretins taking the whole thing rather more seriously than they should have been. Becta has issued a statement, which you can condense down to "In particular, the product was not sufficiently convincing on curriculum and innovation grounds to be shortlisted," and it does indeed appear that the makers have gone public with some of the reasons why it wasn't shortlisted out of hurt pride.

As regular readers might know, I don't think there is such a thing as "political correctness". What there usually is, and then distorted out of proportion for their own short-term gain, is generally well-meaning people going out of their way to be inclusive for decent reasons but only showing themselves up as ignorant and overly sensitive in the long-run. As could be expected, the Scum leaps on it, and before you know it, "the politically correct brigade" are it again, with the Telegraph even bringing up the non-existent rainbow sheep yet again, although it did bother to ask the Muslim Council of Britain for its views, that unsurprisingly said they weren't offended at all.

I've always been intrigued by this notion of the politically correct being part of a brigade, and the latest Viz has a fake advert about calling them out with Littlejohn praising the service. Thing is, just what vehicle do the politically correct brigade go about in? My vote is for a Robin Reliant: a car missing a wheel for all those one legged lesbian Muslims in niqabs to answer calls in.

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Just to be a bit nitpicky, the Express headline isn't accurate even in the strictest sense. The report measures the number of visits, not the number of visitors so there could be significantly less than 1.3 million Poles making these visits.

And, on the 3 Little Pigs story, am I right in thinking that the adjudication doesn't actually mention Muslims, but certain groups?

I think it said Asians, but we all know who they meant.

oh dear oh dear oh dear
free bet

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