Anonymous Sources: Uncertainty in The Sunday Times

The Sunday Times (September 27, 2015) Headline Reads: “Syria’s dictator gains time as West falls into Kremlin trap”.

As Putin heads to the UN today to debate the future of Syrian intervention, the Sunday Times article alludes to claims that Russia will be taking a hard-line approach to Syria and the West’s intervention. As one anonymous source states: “Nor can you shun us forever”, there is a suggestion in the article that Russia is preparing for fierce debate. Whether Russia’s aims are illustrative of such an approach, is yet to be confirmed, but, the Sunday Time’s usage of anonymous sources is somewhat problematic. Using unsourced quotes from those “close to the Kremlin” or a “Western diplomat” provide nothing to the inquires made within the article. Rather, the use of such unsourced quotations produces a worrying cloud of uncertainty over the motivations behind such an article.


International New York Times’ Problematic Definitions of ‘Islam’ and ‘Modern’

The International New York Times (September 24, 2015)

Headline Reads: Islam’s Tragic Fatalism

In a opinion piece on Thursday, author Mustafa Akyol argues that ‘fatalism’ – arguing that a disaster was ‘God’s Will’ serves as a cover for inadequate safety measures too often. Akyol incorrectly characterises the problem as a ‘global Muslim problem’. Rather than lay the blame at the door of elites, Akyol crudely blames all Muslims. In this, he homogenises Islam, and this contributes to Western misunderstanding about the religion – and indeed, the region.

There also seems an assumption that being ‘modern’ and being ‘secular’ are one and the same in Akyol’s writing. He argues that ‘even in Turkey, which is more modern and secular than Saudi Arabia’, the problem of fatalism exists. This off-hand remark runs roughshod over articulations coming from within the region of a Muslim modernity. In short, one can be both ‘modern’ and ‘religious’, and Akyol’s writing presupposes the opposite.

Moreover, Akyol argues that ‘Muslims live within cultural codes largely defined’ by Hanbali ‘dogmatists’. In so doing, he seems to deny ordinary Muslims to ability to forge their own Islam. Perhaps more importantly, his argument has the subcontext  that there is something inherently ‘Islamic’ involved in elite corruption. Given that such arguments are not made about corrupt elites elsewhere in the world, it is misplaced to look back to early Islamic theology to explain fatalism today.

Akyol’s piece homogenises Islam and then demonises it. Neither are useful for critical debate over the role of religion in politics.

Wall Street Journal Opinion Piece Misrepresents Iran


The Wall Street Journal (September 25-27, 2015)

Headline Reads: A Road Map to Regime Change in Tehran

In his Wall Street Journal début, Peter Kohanloo pushes for a neoconservative, hawkish policy towards Iran. In justifying his position, he misrepresents the history of Iranian relations with the US and the political system in Iran.

Kohanloo argues that there is ‘nothing in the Islamic Republic’s 36-year history’ which suggests that Iran will ‘moderate its behaviour’. One assumes that Kohanloo is referring to the taking of Western hostages and the attack on the American embassy in 1979. However, Iran under Khamanei is, and has been, very different from the immediate post-revolutionary period.

For example, in the 1990s, then-president Khatami appeared US news channel CNN to discuss the ‘new Iran’ and invited the US into dialogue. Immediately after the September 11th attacks, Iran offered assistance to the US in Afghanistan. The US and Iran have been linked conceptually in Iranian foreign policy, and since the death of Khomenei, there have been plenty of examples of Iran ‘moderating’ its behaviour. The crude assertion that Iran is some sort of rogue state ignores this Iranian outreach.

Kohanloo then argues that the US should base its intervention in Iran on upholding women’s rights. However, we should be wary of the lures of the “feminist weapon” which was originally used to justify intervention in Afghanistan. Western feminism often takes this approach in reference to countries whose own gender equality does not match its own. Of course, this is not to say that Iranian laws which prohibit the basic needs of women are not abhorrent. However,  recognisably-Western feminism is not be the only pillar of gender equality. Women’s rights derive from on-the-ground organisations and Kohanloo’s argument seems to disregard the efforts of the Iranian and Islamic feminist movements of today.

Finally, Kohanloo argues that the US can bring ‘true democracy’ to Iran. The 2009 ‘Green Revolution’ surely showed that Iranian civil society is lively and organic. The unrest was itself framed in democratic principles – neither Ahmadinejad nor Mousavi called for coups but rather fought battles of the ballot-box. There may well be some institutional corruption (the Green Movement started due to concerns of vote-rigging in the presidential election of the same year) but Iranians are active members of civil society. Moreover, the Green Movement situated itself in a long history of civil unrest stretching back to 1891 and the Tobacco Revolt. Kohanloo’s argument that Iran needs US assistance to ‘prepare a transition to true democracy’ ignores the millions of ordinary Iranians already fighting for it.

In conclusion, this article crudely puts forward a neo-conservative, hawkish view of Iran which shows remarkably little reference to Iranian history or politics.

Daily Mail’s claim that migrants are determined to reach the UK

The Daily Mail (September 21, 2015)

Headline reads: “20,000 Migrants in Just Two Days”

Ian Drury, the Mail’s Home Affairs correspondent, writes that 20,000 migrants crossed into Austria over the weekend, and they were ‘determined to reach Germany, Scandinavia or the UK‘. In this claim, he asserts that the UK is faced with the same number of migrants as Germany. There is no truth to this – the number of migrants waiting in camps at Calais is dwarfed by the numbers in Eastern Europe and Germany. Between January and June 2014, the United Kingdom had received fewer than 25,000 applications for asylum. In the same period, Germany had received approximately 175,000.

By equating the number of migrants trying to reach Britain with the number trying to reach Germany, the author unnecessarily contributes to a wider sense of fear among the British public.

Wall Street Journal’s Claim of Russian/Iranian/Syrian Coordination

The Wall Street Journal (September 22, 2015)

Headline reads: ‘Syria’s Allies Seen Coordinating’

In a wide-ranging article, Jay Solomon and Sam Dagher have charted behind-closed-doors meetings between senior members of the Russian, Syrian and Iranian governments. In particular, they claim that General Soleimani (of the Iranian Qods Force) flew to Moscow to meet with Russian officials earlier this year. This claim is directly rejected by the Russian government. Solomon and Dagher only justify their claim through reference to ‘U.S. and Europeans officials’. These anonymous officials do not constitute credible sources, and publishing an unverified claim does not clarify the complicated situation on the ground in Syria.

The Sun’s claims that ‘battle hardened’ jihadists are coming, and that Muslims will not integrate

The Sun (September 21, 2015)

Headline reads: “Border crisis shows EU dream is over”.

Trevor Kavanagh, a columnist for The Sun, argues that the EU ‘dream’ cannot continue in the wake of the immigration crisis. In so doing, he makes a number of unsubstantiated claims.

Firstly, he argues that ‘hundreds’ of ‘battle-hardened jihadists’ are accompanying refugees into Europe. He never cites a credible source (or indeed, any source at all) for this number. While there are legitimate questions to be asked concerning whether all those travelling are asylum seekers, by not verifying the claim, Kavanagh’s claim is little more than fear-mongering.

He later argues that, in cities across Europe, ‘the centuries-old Sunni-Shia split’ is being replayed across Europe. Again, no source is supplied and, such a claim is undermined by academic research which highlights how economic and social factors also play a role in the so-called Sunni-Shia split. Moreover, considering the vast majority of refugees are coming from Sunni-dominated societies, the point is irrelevant. He also argues that ‘sharia law’ is ‘taking root’ in cities across Europe, yet he fails to mention a single case study.

Kavanagh homogenises Islam, claiming that ‘the Koran decrees the world belongs to Allah, not to elected governments’. In so doing, he ignores the work of Islamic jurists who have interpreted the Quran for centuries.

Kavanagh’s column is filled with opinions not backed up with even one credible source. As a result, it contributes little to any discussion to be had on refugees.

Wall Street Journal’s article on a new migrant rush


Wall Street Journal (September 9, 2015)

Headline reads: “Migrant Wave Inspires Followers”

This front-page article on an impending fresh migrant wave by Nour Malas and Joe Parkinson centres on an unsourced claim. The article claims that “stories and images of migrants pouring into Europe are inspiring thousands more from Iraq to Nigeria, to rush out on their own risky journeys…” This claim is never backed by credible evidence throughout the article. Instead, the authors cite one Iraqi 27-year old in Baghdad International Airport heading off for Greece via Turkey with five friends as an example of the new wave of migrants from Iraq attempting to reach Europe.

Moreover, the alleged surge in migration from Nigeria to Europe is also only backed up by the quotes of one individual, in this case a Nigerian in a camp in northern Nigeria, wanting to make his way to Europe.

Of course, it could very well be true that there is a second rush of migrants coming to Europe from countries such as Iraq and Nigeria, but the claim so far is unsubstantiated. Quotes from single individuals on the ground, whilst valuable, are not credible enough for claims of a new migration surge.

Morning Star lambasts EU’s worker’s rights regulation

Morning Star
Morning Star (September 9, 2015)

Headline reads: “EU membership drives down wages”

In this article, Conrad Landin writes how British workers’ wages can fall due to “EU membership”. Instead of showing factors that contribute to a possible fall of the membership, Landin quotes various eurosceptic trade unionists and ‘No to EU’ spokespeople. Similarly, he claims that the EU profits from member states’ debt interest rate like Greece and Ukraine, but ignores the fact that Ukraine is neither a member of the EU nor in a fixed-loan agreement with the institution. An unsourced and misleading article.

The Sun on Sunday’s article on British airstrikes in Syria


The Sun on Sunday (September 6, 2015)

Headline reads: “Pull the Trigger”

This article on support for British military action in Syria cites a poll conducted by the Sun that has a leading question. The question for the poll is “would you support or oppose Britain playing a greater military role in bringing an end to the war in Syria?”. The results of this poll thus are based on the notion that this greater British military role would subsequently bring peace to Syria, a false conflation. There is nothing to suggest that a larger British military role in Syria would result in making Syria safe.