No one expects tons of original reporting in a blog like Ishaan Tharoor writes for the Washington Post. But when five sources are patched together in a 382-word post -- and any actual reporting isn't evident -- the result can be, well, patchy.
In this case, it's about the so-called Open Mosque that just formed in a suburb of Cape Town, South Africa. The mosque advertises acceptance of anyone without regard to "sect, gender or sexual orientation." This naturally rankles more traditional Muslims, from whom we never hear.
We'll start with the headline, which of course Tharoor may not have written: "A ‘gay-friendly’ mosque just opened in South Africa." As you know by now, the mosque is billed as cutting across several divisions. To make it mainly about gays creates a pinhole view of the story.
But let's hear from the blog post itself. Here's the top:
The "Open Mosque" is intended a space of worship for all, irrespective of sect, gender or sexual orientation. It is the creation of Taj Hargey, a Cape Town-born academic and cleric based at Oxford University who has long agitated against fundamentalist interpretations of Islam. This new prayer space, open to all, was a direct challenge to the extremists he opposes.
Hargey delivered the sermon, inveighing against the unnecessary divisions between Christians and Muslims, according to Agence France Presse. He blamed "contaminated Saudi money" for promoting "toxic and intolerant manifestations of Islam."
Much of the article goes on like that: a conflict approach between this good liberal congregation and the more traditional (bad) interpretations of the faith.
OK, Tharoor is just quoting Hargey -- actually quoting AFP quoting Hargey. But he then starts throwing in his own terms like "fundamentalist" and "extremist." It starts sounding more like advocacy than reporting:
South Africa is home to nearly 800,000 Muslims, who belong to communities that have a diverse origins and histories in the country. But Hargey says a growing Wahabist or Salafist influence -- the same strains that animate the extremism of Sunni militant groups such as the Islamic State -- are creeping into South Africa. "South Africans have become Arabized, they think they must wear the burka, must have face masks, that men must wear pyjama dresses," Hargey told the Daily Telegraph. They think that is the only version of Islam."
Now, you can make a strong case for more tolerance among Muslims worldwide. Believers are often harassed by their neighbors for deviating from community norms. In Pakistan just last week, a scholar was accused of blasphemy, then was shot dead on the street -- not the first such case in that country. And Irshad Manji, a Canadian journalist, told me years ago that the Islamic world was being taken over by an "Arab tribal mentality" -- one that rejects outside criticism as hostile and inside criticism as disloyal.
But is the choice, in fact, that stark? Is it either Salafism or Hargey's interpretation? Is Islam more black-and-white than, say, Jewry or Christendom?
Here's a "Whoaaa!" quote from Hargey: "I have a Ph.D. in Islamic studies from Oxford University, unlike my opponents who went to some donkey college in Pakistan or Saudi Arabia." Such as? And what did they say about that? No comment. At least, apparently, none requested.
Which is odd, because at least one of the linked sources wrote a vigorous counterpoint. Shafiq Morton, writing for a South African radio station, says this among other things:
Hargey’s determination to establish his religious revolution in Cape Town, widely regarded as having one of the most tolerant of Muslim communities, has perplexed many. Cape Town’s mosque platforms are amongst the freest in the world and women, for the most part, can pray in its 150-plus mosques and serve on the committees.
Tharoor's blog links to Morton's article but somehow doesn't quote him. The result may sound like there only two kinds of mosques: the "Open Mosque" version and the "fundamentalist" version.
If you’ve read my stuff for long, you may be surprised to see me criticize an anti-jihadi viewpoint. On my Faith and Values page on Facebook, I often repost articles on the evil -- from bigotry to gross atrocities -- committed by Islamic extremists in many lands. But fair is fair. I wouldn't want my faith, Christianity, artificially divided into good liberals, aka the good guys, and fundamentalists, aka the extremists.
And just as he's wrapping up the article, Tharoor drops this bomb: "In a 2009 interview with the notoriously xenophobic Daily Mail, [Hargey] lamented Britain's supposed multicultural tolerance of Islamist extremists, labeling it 'the biggest disaster to happen to Britain since World War II.' "
Eh? The Daily Mail is notoriously xenophobic? And Britain disastrously tolerates extremists? And that's all obvious to the great majority of readers?
The paragraph may have been added to keep Tharoor from sounding like a publicist for Hargey. Or some editor may have clumsily deleted text after that. Either way, it leaves the readers less than fully informed.
The Open Mosque may be gay friendly, but blog postings about it are not always reader friendly.