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Risk Assessment

Dear Editors,

Explain to me, would you, what this means: ‘Sebastian Faulks outburst risks anger of Muslims’? Or this: ‘Sebastian Faulks has risked sparking Muslim outrage…’

Does it mean that you have not yet found any angry Muslims and you’re stirring? Or is it just that you’ve taken your risk assessment training a tad too seriously?

‘The bestselling author Sebastian Faulks has courted controversy by saying the Koran has “no ethical dimension”.’

He has courted controversy, has he? And how is his courtship going? Are Muslims engaging, or as it seems to me, are they too preoccupied with a month of fasting and prayer to lap up this manufactured schism? The comment fields are filling up with condemnation of backward Muslims who have no respect for free speech, for sure, but the Muslim voice is strangely absent. Hence ‘risk’.

As for you, Mr Mair, what was with that package on PM last night? No, don’t get me wrong, it was quite fascinating and instructive. I was just wondering about the invitation of Fay Weldon. Well, when I say wondering, I mean I was thinking, ‘Good choice’. For it was Fay Weldon, was it not, whose contribution to the Satanic Verses affair was:

‘The Koran is food for no-thought. It is not a poem on which a society can be safely or sensibly based. It gives weapons and strength to the thought-police — and the thought-police are easily set marching, and they frighten’ (Sacred Cows, 1989, p.6)

And when I say, ‘Good choice’, I really mean — well — on a discussion concerning the literary merits of the Qur’an versus the Old Testament, you could have invited a doctor of literature, an Old Testament scholar, one of the non-Muslim translators of the Qur’an. Rather than an author who is more associated with fictional tales of women trapped in oppressive scenarios. Though I admit, her contribution wasn’t lacking in that regard.

So a good choice if you’re stirring and you’d rather like to move beyond the ‘risk’ stage and onto to something more compelling. Effigies, bonfires, that kind of thing. Indeed, one blogger has already titled his post, ‘I smell a fatwa’ in anticipation. It would be a shame to disappoint.

But perhaps not the best choice if you seriously wanted to enlighten your listeners on the merits of one over the other. Never mind, we had Dr Mir. I can’t say I was awfully disappointed.

My dear editors — pardon me if I speak out of turn — but is it possible that you misjudged this one? Ever so slightly? I don’t even think Mr Faulks needs the publicity; his book seems to stand up on its own merits in the reviews I’ve read.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not averse to risk assessments (for I really must give you the benefit of doubt on this). No, I think they’re a jolly good thing. Indeed, I often think to myself, ‘If only I had done a risk assessment’ when another DIY job has gone terribly wrong.

No, it’s just that while undertaking your risk assessments, in order to have quantified the probability of Muslim anger properly, as well as identifying the hazard (Mr Faulks’ opinion) you really should have quantified exposure to the hazard, taking into account all of the environmental factors relevant to the case. Factors, I might posit, such as the fact that Muslims are currently fasting the month of Ramadan, which has numerous implications.

For example, it could be argued that a person who rises at 3.00am in the morning to take breakfast and then abstains from eating anything until just after 8.00pm might possibly feel somewhat weary, thus exhibiting less interest in manufactured schisms than usual.

Similarly it could be argued that a person who is spending their free time reading the Qur’an and standing the night in prayer, both ingrained habits of this month, may fail to get full exposure to said manufactured schism. Indeed, since many Muslims abstain from TV and internet use during this month, we are at risk of seeing the risk severely diminished.

Furthermore, you might possibly find that conditions of the fast such as restraining oneself from getting angry and holding one’s tongue from ill-considered speech lessens the likelihood of the full blown riot required. I could list other factors, but you’re intelligent folk; you get the gist.

Therefore, dear editors, I suggest you sit on this story for the time-being and then pull it out just as Parliament is debating the Religious Hatred Bill or something. Obviously you will have to think of another piece of legislation, as you used said Bill in 2006 when the issue of the Danish cartoons miraculously reappeared all across the media three months after the actual incident.

Not quite sure how you’ll bring it up again post-Ramadan; with the cartoon issue you had the redundancies at Arla foods. Perhaps when Mr Faulks gets nominated for the Booker Prize and you run the story, you could add this line: ‘Faulks courted controversy in August when he said…’ Well, you know the script already.

Risk assessments are all well and good. But sometimes there’s just no substitute for not publishing the story when you have a non-story.  I know it’s us who look stupid when you run these stories, but the ultimate judge of stupidity lies elsewhere.

Kind regards,

etc. etc.

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5 Comments

  1. P.S. This is what the non-Muslim translator of the Qur’an, Arthur Arberry, wrote in the preface to his English rendering:

    “In making the present attempt to improve on the performance of my predecessors, and to produce something which might be accepted as echoing however faintly the sublime rhetoric of the Arabic Koran, I have been at pains to study the intricate and richly varied rhythms which—apart from the message itself—constitute the Koran’s undeniable claim to rank amongst the greatest literary masterpieces of mankind. (The summary result of my investigation is printed in my The Holy Koran, published by Allen & Unwin in 1953). This very characteristic feature—‘that inimitable symphony,’ as the believing Pickthall described his Holy Book, ‘the very sounds of which move men to tears and ecstasy’—has been almost totally ignored by previous translators; it is therefore not surprising that what they have wrought sounds dull and flat indeed in comparison with the splendidly decorated original.”

    The Koran Interpreted, Arthur J. Arberry, Oxford University Press, 1964, p. x

  2. Mohammad

    They were in the News more that 1400 years ago:

    “Assuredly ye will be tried in your property and in your persons, and ye will hear much wrong from those who were given the Scripture before you, and from the idolaters. But if ye persevere and ward off (evil), then that is of the steadfast heart of things.” Qur’an 3:186

  3. Timothy, lovely piece. Thanks.

  4. WM

    I’d be angry if I understood what he was saying. But I can’t understand the claim that the Qur’an has no ethical dimension.

  5. sandra742

    Hi! I was surfing and found your blog post… nice! I love your blog. 🙂 Cheers! Sandra. R.

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