You may recall that back in 2007, the series Dispatches, produced by Britain's Channel 4, sent reporters into several mosques in that country with hidden cameras and microphones. The result was a program entitled Undercover Mosque, which – for those who didn't already suspect that fishy stuff was going on behind those walls – was mind-blowing, confirming pretty much every claim made by the critics of Islam that had been furiously rejected by imams as sheer Islamophobia. Among other things, Channel 4 caught preachers on videotape rejecting Western law and integration into Western society; asserting the intellectual inferiority of women and the acceptability of marrying pre-pubescent girls; and calling for the murder of Jews, Hindus, gays, Muslim apostates, and British soldiers.
If you remember that program, you may also remember what happened afterwards. The British police investigated the mosques, but decided they didn't have enough evidence to charge them with anything. At which point the cops did a 180 and reported Channel 4 to Ofcom, the UK's answer to the FCC, for allegedly editing its footage in such a way as to misrepresent the preachers' views. The good news is that Ofcom eventually rejected the charges; the bad news is that, once again, the critics of Islam became the heavies, the Muslims the victims. And despite Undercover Mosque's explosive revelations, nothing much changed as a result of them.
Now, to its credit, and to the astonishment of many, Swedish television has done its own version of Undercover Mosque. The 60 Minutes-style series Uppdrag: Granskning (Assignment: Investigation) sent two women in burkas into ten Swedish mosques. One of them carried a hidden camera; the other pretended to be a woman whose abusive husband had taken a second wife and who wanted to know the answers to these questions:
- Is a man permitted to marry more than one woman?
- Is a woman permitted to deny her husband sex?
- Is a man permitted to hit his wife?
- If so, is she permitted to call the police?
Again, for those who have been following these matters for years in North America and Europe, the results of this investigation will not come as much of a surprise. But in Sweden, where the media try their best never to approach these matters in a remotely honest way, this episode of Uppdrag: Granskning provided a rare taste of media candor.
One of the ten mosques was the Stockholm Mosque, the most prominent Muslim house of worship in Sweden. An official at the mosque, Mahmod Adam, told his burka-clad interlocutor that it's perfectly acceptable under the Koran for a man to take four wives, so long as he can support them and treat them equally. “Understand?” he asked. “Yes,” she replied meekly. In response to which he told her, sharply, “You're supposed to listen!” – in other words, “Shut up!”
The faux wife went on to tell Adam that her husband hits her if she so much as opens her mouth – and that he cites the Koran in his defense. Adam replied that her husband is allowed to smack her on the arm – and that under no circumstances, in any case, should she call the police on him. His final advice: to show her husband more affection.
Elsewhere the advice was similar. At the Örebro Mosque, Abdur Kadir Salad told the woman not to call the police because she'd end up getting a divorce and breaking up her family – and Muslims don't want that, for Islam is about building families, not breaking them up. At the Islamic Center in Malmö, same advice: no police, because “they can take your kids.” At another Malmö mosque, the message was unambiguous: “Never, never consider calling the police.” Even if he hits her twenty or thirty times? Smacking himself on the arm, the imam said forcefully: “This is not hitting!”
On to Uppsala, where Abdul Wadod – who, amusingly, looked not unlike Sasha Baron Cohen with a beard – told the woman that when her husband hits her, she shouldn't call the cops; she should apologize. Apologize? Yes. He cited what he called “a very fine hadith,” which, according to him, says in effect that a good wife responds to spousal abuse by telling her husband: “I'm sorry, I just can't sleep until you're satisfied with me.”
That was the overall pattern. There were exceptions. “It doesn't matter if he ends up in prison,” said the counselor at the Islamic Cultural Center in Rinkeby when asked about how to deal with domestic violence. “You must report him to the police.” (Curiously, of all the mosques, this is the one that has the reputation of being the most conservative; I couldn't help wondering if he'd figured out that his visitor was wearing a wire.)
The final score: at six out of the ten mosques, the woman was told that it was her duty to submit to sex with her husband. At six, she was told not to report spousal abuse to the police; at two others, the advice she received was vague or contradictory; only at two mosques was she told to go to the police. And at nine out of ten, she was told that her husband has the right to take four wives.
All of this advice, as Uppdrag: Granskning duly noted – and as the mosque employees certainly understood – is in explicit violation of Swedish law. And these mosques, as was pointed out on the program more than once, receive generous financial support from the Swedish government.
After the women had finished making their rounds, a male reporter for Swedish TV visited the Stockholm Mosque, where, in a sit-down interview, he told Abdallah Salla of Sweden's Islamic Federation that a woman had asked an official of that mosque, Mahmood Adam, for counsel. He told Salla what Adam had said, whereupon Salla got Adam on the phone and, after a brief conversation, assured the reporter that Adam had never said any such things. Such advice, he insisted, would be utterly counter to Islam, which, he explained, is all about democracy, sexual equality, and so on. At which point the reporter, in classic 60 Minutes fashion, whipped out his laptop and confronted Salla with a video of Adam saying everything he'd denied saying.
What followed was instructive. First Salla tried to argue that Adam hadn't really said what he'd said. When the reporter confronted him with the absurdity of this claim, a cowed, defensive Salla agreed to meet with him and Adam the next morning to discuss the matter. But when the reporter showed up the next morning, Salla, now in a thoroughly aggressive mode, said that the plans had been changed. Adam would not be coming; there would be no meeting; the mosque would perform its own internal investigation. And he would not be giving any more interviews to the media.
And that was that.
The only surprising thing about this program is that Swedish national TV broadcast it at all, given that it violates the see-no-evil policy on Islam that has guided that country's politics and journalism from the git-go. How, one wonders, did the producers get away with this? Part of the answer is that the program's emphasis on the mosques' unequal treatment of women made it far more acceptable than it might have been had the mosques been criticized from another angle. Sweden, after all, prides itself on the notion that it is (as we were reminded at the beginning of the program) the country in the world in which men and women enjoy the greatest equality. Which trumps which in Sweden: multicultural blindness toward Islamic misogyny or the proud Swedish tradition of equal rights for women? The producers of Uppdrag: Granskning were plainly betting on the latter.
In addition, the producers manifestly strove to frame the program not as an attack on Islam but as a criticism of rogue mosques by “good” Muslims and their allies in the name of “true” Islam. Viewers were informed at the outset that one of the two women in burkas is a Muslim and that the other is an ex-Muslim. The producers also granted a prominent role to Mohammad Fazlhashemi, a Muslim historian of Islam, whom they presented as a personification of decent, moderate, democratic, law-abiding Swedish Islam, and whom they kept cutting back to: instead of having an infidel Swede comment on the counsel given to the women at the various mosques, the producers accorded that role to Fazlhashemi, who smoothly argued that the unfortunate statements made by the men at the mosques to the undercover women in burka only fuel the fire of Islam's enemies, including the Muslim-haters in the Swedish Democrat Party. By giving such counsel, lamented Fazlhashemi, his fellow Muslims “live up to all the prejudices of the Islamophobes.” Thus did the producers manage to affirm their abhorrence for “Islamophobia” and their solidarity with “good” Muslims like Fazlhashemi.
Whatever. At least it got the show on TV. But whether it will make any difference is, I would guess, doubtful. I hope I'm wrong. But Sweden is a tough case. And in Britain, as noted, where the media are a lot more open about these things, the only people who ended up in trouble with the law as a result of Undercover Mosque were its producers. Heaven only knows what's in store for the gutsy folks at Uppdrag: Granskning.
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