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West challenged by one of its own

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West challenged by one of its own


Outspoken convert to Islam says she's still a feminist, but critics can't see past the hijab



special to the star


September 29, 2007



Once a hard-nosed, hard-drinking Fleet Street reporter, Yvonne Ridley today is a proud, pious and unapologetic Muslim. Islam is "the biggest and best family in the world," she says, but deeply misunderstood.


The 48-year-old London-based journalist and political activist brought her campaign against the West and its war on terror to Canada this month, visiting Toronto, Waterloo and Montreal to speak at fundraising dinners for the Canadian Islamic Congress.


"I've always been a fighter for women's rights. I still am. I'm still a feminist, except now I would say I'm an Islamic feminist. I have been supporting the Palestinian cause for three decades now. That hasn't changed. What has changed are people's perceptions of me.


"As soon as I put on a hijab, it was like, `Oh my God, she's a radical. She an exremist.' And suddenly, I moved from being a journalist to a Muslim activist."


But her visit here inflamed critics. B'nai Brith Canada, protesting she's a "terrorist sympathizer" whose views are "extremist and dangerous," called for her talks to be monitored by police.


Ridley has been called an Islamist dupe and an apologist for terrorism. Remarks attributed to her include a reference to Jewish critics as "those nauseating little Zionists who accuse me of being an anti-Semite" and a characterization of London cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri, who is serving a seven-year prison sentence for soliciting murder and inciting racial hatred, as "quite sweet, really."


Asked prior to her Toronto talk to comment, she denies nothing. Those reported remarks "are regurgitated by people who have an agenda against me," she tells the Star.


Yes, she called al-Masri sweet, but "that was part of a one-hour, 20-minute talk in which he was featured for about 30 seconds."


She was quoted "totally out of context," she says.


"It would be like you looking at Hitler and saying, `Apparently, he was a very gifted artist and I looked at his work and it moved me.' The next thing you know, you pick up the paper and somebody is saying, `Oh God, that man said Hitler was gifted and he was moved by him.'"


Ridley blames journalists, always out for a juicy sound bite.


"This is the trouble with the media. I'm not having a go at you," she says, "but you do try and simplify issues....If you tell me what story you've been told to get and what headline you need, then I'll try and help you."


Would she characterize a Muslim who calls for violence as un-Islamic or radical? "Historically," Ridley points out, "violence has worked."


The Irish Republican Army "bombed their way to the negotiating table."


And the 1946 bombing of the King David Hotel by the Irgun, pre-state Israel's Jewish militia, was "a defining moment in the British army's desire to get the hell out of Jerusalem."


There's no difference, Ridley says, "between a suicide bomber and a Stealth bomber because they both kill innocent people. And the death of innocent people is always to be condemned."


Ridley's extraordinary journey to her present activism began just after the 9/11 attacks when, as a reporter for Britain's Daily Express (which calls itself "The World's Greatest Newspaper"), she donned a burqa and sneaked into Afghanistan to cover the war on terror.


At the time, she was an Anglican who attended church about twice a month, "which in Britain, is regarded as fanatical." She had a knowledge of Islam "you could probably write on the back of a postage stamp, and it was incorrect."


Her assignment finished, she was making her way out of Afghanistan when the Taliban discovered she had camera tucked beneath her robes. Held and interrogated for 10 days in Jalalabad and Kabul, she was released after promising her captors that she would read the


Qur'an. She kept her word and read the Qur'an. In 2003, she converted to Islam.


Ridley, who wears a black hijab and jilbab, or floor-length cloak, prays fives daily, eschews alcohol, and bristles at suggestions she represents a textbook case of Stockholm Syndrome, a psychological condition in which the captive empathizes with her captor.


"That comes from people who cannot accept that a Western woman has rejected what they see as Western values (in order) to embrace Islam," she says.


The Taliban have been "demonized beyond recognition, because you can't drop bombs on nice people."


But "I did not bond with my captors," she says. "I spat at them. I swore at them. I threw things at them. I was aggressive. I was rude (and) obnoxious. I was the prisoner from hell."


But what about her conversion? Has she compromised her journalistic objectivity by embracing the philosophy of her captors?


"I didn't embrace the philosophy of my captors," is the crisp reply. "My captors were the Taliban, and (they) have a very specific type of doctrine. And I didn't embrace that.


"I embraced Islam. I embraced what I consider to be pure Islam."


Ron Csillag is a freelance writer. Email:

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Yvonne Ridley's The Agenda suspended from Islam Channel online only

One of the biggest success stories to emerge from the confusing mass of satellite television stations is a politics and current affairs show on the Islam Channel called The Agenda.


Every morning for 90 minutes the show gave voice to minority groups that rarely make even 90 seconds on mainstream channels.


Human rights stories explaining the plight of Palestinian olive farmers, US and British soldiers of conscience, peace activists and stories from ex-Guantanamo detainees helped propel The Agenda with Yvonne Ridley into the mainstream viewing figures.


The Agenda was heading towards its 500th edition when the Islam Channel suspended the show without warning.


Five weeks later theories stories abound about why the show and the channel's most famous presenter, Yvonne Ridley, were silenced.


The channel's spokesperson insists the show was pulled due to pressure from the Government TV regulatory body Ofcom, but a spokesman there vigorously denied any involvement.


Apparently hundreds of angry viewers have sent emails to Ofcom and its CEO Ed Richards demanding to know why Ofcom ordered The Agenda off the air. A spokesman for the regulatory body confirmed it was investigating two complaints but insisted it had not interfered with programme scheduling.


"Whatever the reason, organisations like Stop The War, Military Families Against the War, numerous Palestinian and Human Rights groups, have lost their voice", said Agenda presenter Yvonne Ridley, a founder of Women in Journalism.


She added, "It is difficult to imagine why a channel would axe its most successful show without warning. I am still bemused by the unexpected decision but have been overwhelmed and humbled by the amazing support I've received from viewers in the UK and overseas.


"What has amazed me is the eclectic support I've received from across the globe, from people of faith and no faith, men and women in equal numbers.


"I had quite a battle to launch the show at 10am because I was told at the time that Muslim women aren't interested in politics. Agenda proved that individual wrong, but now those same female viewers once again have nothing politically stimulating to watch. They are the real losers in all of this, and for that I am so sorry."



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Ofcom have upheld breaches in the broadcasting code against Islam Channel in respect of “The Agenda” presented by Yvonne Ridley and “Politics and Media” presented by Abdurahman Akhtar Jafar and Inayat Bunglawala.


Ofcom have imposed a £30,000 fine in respect of a breach in the code which prevents candidates in UK elections from presenting programmes during the election campaign and other breaches which took place within the Agenda programme relate to failing to ensure due impartiality on matters of political controversy and matters relating to current public policy.


Islam Channel accepts these decisions of Ofcom and has taken significant steps to ensure that such breaches do not occur again. The channel is considering a legal challenge to the decision to impose a financial penalty in respect of the above and the upholding of a breach in relation to the transmission of a statement writing the documentary Jerusalem: A Promise of Heaven, which argued that the Al Buraq Wall is the property of Muslims. It is Islam Channel's position that such ownership was recognised by the League of Nations (The Shaw Committee in Jordan in 1930) and under UK law, which recognises East Jerusalem as occupied territory.

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Islam Channel should have seen this coming and concentrated more on Islam and it's teachings. Yvonne got on my nerves.

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