South African Press Ombudsman Ed Linington has dismissed a complaint against the Sunday Times by a group of Muslim lawyers and Islamic bodies objecting to a book review published in the Lifestyle pages of the paper, writes Bate Felix.
They complained that an October 12 review of The Caged Virgin by Ayaan Hirsi suggested that Islam is “a rubber stamp for violence against women; inimical to individual rights; an expression of desert Arab male culture; a religion whose 'God demands blood and mayhem'; and a backward religion”.

Extracts from the article likened the Prophet Mohammed to a tyrant, a pervert and a paedophile, said the complaint.

They alleged that the article was published in the knowledge that it would cause offence to all Muslim readers and this showed the Sunday Times had an anti-Muslim attitude.

Proof of this, they said, was that the “Sunday Times failed to give Muslim religious bodies the opportunity to comment on the article and the views it expressed before publication”.

The complaint demanded an apology to the Muslim community and a full page article, provided by the complainants, about the qualities of the Prophet and his life.

The Sunday Times refuted these claims and denied that it published the article knowing it would cause offence to Muslim readers.

It said that the Muslim Lawyers Association had objected to the publication of the book review the week after it appeared and made various demands which the Sunday Times did not accede to, and a “nationwide boycott” was attempted but failed.

The paper said that the article was a book review which attempted to put a controversial new work and its author in context. It did not constitute editorial opinion as all criticisms were attributed to the author at all times.

"Whether or not the Sunday Times is guilty of offending the religious sentiments of Muslims is therefore not relevant. We are entitled to offend people. We are not entitled to defame people or to incite hatred or violence against people. We exercise our right to keep our readers informed with news and views about their world. If we are to do this honestly, it is inevitable that some of what we publish will offend sectors of society or individuals from time to time. It does not follow that we are motivated by a desire to give offence,” the paper responded.

Linington found the Sunday Times editor's arguments “persuasive”.

He said: “I find that the Sunday Times was justified in publishing the review in the way it did,” and that “the contention that the Sunday Times should have sought the views of the complainants before publication as required by the press code is not accepted”.

Thus he dismissed the complaint, ruling that “the contentions that the Sunday Times has an anti-Muslim attitude and intended to insult Muslims by publishing the review are not supported by anything more than suspicion”.