Founded in 1968, the Runnymede Trust describes itself as "the UK's leading independent race equality think tank." Its chair is Clive Jones CBE, a former executive at Britain's ITV; its director is Omar Khan, a Governor of the University of East London and member of a variety of advisory groups involving ethnicity and integration. Runnymede's reports are taken extremely seriously, and its recommendations heeded, at the highest levels of the British government.
In 1994, Runnymede published a report on anti-Semitism. Its title, A Very Light Sleeper, was borrowed from a statement by the author Conor Cruise O'Brien: "Anti-Semitism is a very light sleeper." Now, anyone familiar with contemporary Britain knows that the alarming contemporary rise in Jew-hatred in that country – as in all of western Europe – is principally a consequence of the growing population of Muslims. But the Runnymede Trust's report seemed designed mainly to divert attention away from that fact. Tracing anti-Semitism through Luther, Voltaire, Marx, Henry Ford, and Hitler, the report did a splendid job of implicitly identifying anti-Semitism as a Western phenomenon – a product of what the report presented a distinctively Western tendency to divide the world into "us" and "the Other."
Of course, no civilization is more virulently anti-Semitic than Islamic civilization. But the Runnymede Trust's 1994 report presented as gospel the at best exaggerated notion that medieval Islamic societies were tolerant of Jews, who were thus "able to play a full part" in those societies. To the extent that the report acknowledged the reality of today's Muslim anti-Semitism, it depicted that prejudice (a) as being confined to "extremist" groups, such as Hizb ut-Tahrir, that (it was quick to emphasize) are also hostile to many Muslim countries; (b) as being caused by anger over the fact that Jerusalem, "the third most sacred place for Muslims after Mecca and Medina," is controlled by Israel; or (c) as being caused by irrational fears of the sort that also exist in Christianity and other religions.
But when it came to Jews and Muslims, the thrust of the report is summed up in its assurance that the Koran also "refers to Jews and Christians as People of the Book" – never mind that the Koran also refers to Jews as "apes and swine," describes them as cursed, calls on Muslims to kill them, and forbids Muslims from befriending them. Reading Runnymede's report on anti-Semitism, one gathered the impression that it was compiled mostly so that Runnymede could be able to point to it and say that it had, in fact, issued a report on anti-Semitism.
The reality is that the Runnymede Trust does not appear to be terribly interested in anti-Semitism. For many years, it has seemed to be far more exercised about the purported pervasiveness of anti-Muslim prejudice in the U.K. In 1997, it published a report, Islamophobia: A Challenge for Us All, which "was launched at the House of Commons by then-Home Secretary Jack Straw." Of its 60 recommendations, many were ultimately implemented. This year, on the twentieth anniversary of that report, Runnymede issued a new, 106-page report, Islamophobia: Still a Challenge for Us All, edited by Farah Elahi and Omar Khan.
The new report is a remarkable document. Among its premises is that "anti-Muslim hate crime" is a major crisis in the U.K. that demands urgent action by politicians, police, educators, employers, civil-society groups, the media, and pretty much everybody else. As for the far more serious matter of crimes committed by Muslims, the report mentions them only within the context of discussions of anti-Muslim hate. In the town of Rotherham alone, for example, in accordance with orthodox Islamic attitudes toward "uncovered" or "immodest" infidel females, over 1400 non-Muslim girls are known to have been sexually abused by so-called Muslim "grooming" gangs in recent years – but the epidemic of "grooming" is cited in the Runnymede report only as one item on a list of practices and phenomena that it identifies as contributing to British "stereotypes" about Muslims. Similarly, here is the Runnymede Trust report's solitary reference to the fatwa against Salman Rushdie: "In Britain...many Muslims felt unsupported in their reaction to Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses and faced a backlash from those who they felt prioritized freedom of speech above respect for minorities." The point here is apparently that Britons who stood up for Rushdie's right not to be slaughtered for writing a novel were guilty of Islamophobia.
In the town of Rotherham, England, in accordance with orthodox Islamic attitudes toward "uncovered" or "immodest" infidel females, over 1400 non-Muslim girls are known to have been sexually abused by so-called Muslim "grooming" gangs in recent years. (Photo by Anthony Devlin/Getty Images)
The report does acknowledge the reality of what it euphemistically calls "the terrorist threat," but it never seriously addresses this threat and excuses this failure by explaining that "this report is about Islamophobia." While noting, moreover, claims that some individuals that Islam "should be subject to criticism" because it "is a system of beliefs," the report maintains that this "focus on ideas (or 'ideologies') has obscured what instead should be a focus on people." The point apparently being that even if you're criticizing Islam strictly as a set of ideas, that act of criticism is still being directed at people – which, again, makes you an Islamophobe. Several paragraphs of the report are, indeed, devoted to a convoluted "explanation" of why, even though Islam is not a race, Islamophobia is nonetheless a form of racism.
The British government's program Prevent, the part of its counterterrorism strategy that seeks to inhibit the radicalization of British subjects, also comes in for criticism in Runnymede's report. Prevent is faulted both for being rooted in the notion (which it finds offensive, true or not) that the chief terrorist threat to the country is posed by "Islamist terrorists" (a term that the report puts in scare quotes) and for "put[ting] the onus on Muslim communities." The report charges that because the British government, as part of the Prevent program, monitors (for example) imams who preach violence against the West, Prevent represents a violation of free speech. I can find no record of the Runnymede Trust ever criticizing the zealous attempts by British authorities to silence critics of Islam – a practice that has led to the banning from the U.K. of prominent American critics of Islam, even as the government has continued to permit preachers of violent jihad to enter the country.
Much of Runnymede's report is devoted to the high levels of Muslim poverty and unemployment in the U.K. – but instead of seeking reasons for this problem in Islam itself, it blames this problem primarily on "institutional racism," while avoiding the ticklish question of why Hindus, whom one would also expect to be victims of "institutional racism" in Britain, are economically more successful than any other group in that nation, including ethnic British Christians.
There is nothing in the Runnymede Trust report about Islamic theology – about jihad, sharia, the caliphate, the systematic subjugation of women, the execution of adulterers and apostates and gays. Audaciously, a chapter on women and Islam reduces the whole question to "Western stereotypes of Muslim women as oppressed, passive victims." Female genital mutilation (FGM) and honor violence, the report asserts, have been "sensationalized" by the British media. In an effort to downplay the importance of these phenomena, the Runnymede report points out that domestic violence and child abuse are also committed by Westerners; the difference, needless to say, is that while FGM and honor violence enjoy widespread approval in Muslim societies and communities, where they are viewed as justifiable (if not compulsory) under Islam, domestic violence and child abuse are universally condemned in Western society and are never defended on cultural or religious grounds.
As for Islamic patriarchy, the report insists that patriarchy exists in the West as well as in the Islamic world. The report's repeated endeavors to draw this kind of moral equivalency are so patently absurd – and desperate – that they do not even merit a civilized response. Indeed, the report itself – whose authors are manifestly determined throughout to absolve Islam of any blame for anything whatsoever, and to attribute every ill afflicting the British Muslim community to Islamophobia – would not merit any comment at all if the Runnymede Trust were not taken as seriously as it is in the corridors of British power.
Bruce Bawer is the author of the new novel The Alhambra (Swamp Fox Editions). His book While Europe Slept (2006) was a New York Times bestseller and National Book Critics Circle Award finalist.