Muslim and Jewish organisations have made a joint complaint to the press watchdog about a column published in The Sun newspapers by one of its own board members that uses the phrase "The Muslim problem".
In their complaint, the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the anti-Muslim hate crime monitoring group Tell MAMA, and interfaith group Faith Matters said they were "horrified" by the column, which they said set a "dangerous precedent".
The piece in Monday's newspaper about Brexit, immigration, and grooming gangs was written by Trevor Kavanagh, the former political editor of The Sun and a current board member of the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO).
Kavanagh wrote: "The common denominator, almost unsayable until last week’s furore over Pakistani sex gangs, is Islam."
He thanked Sarah Champion, the Labour MP for Rotherham, and Trevor Phillips, the former equalities chief, who he said had made it "acceptable to say Muslims are a specific rather than a cultural problem".
He ended the article by writing: "What will we do about The Muslim Problem then?", and the line was printed in italics in the paper.
On Tuesday, IPSO confirmed the article had been the subject of 130 complaints so far.
In a statement published on the Board of Deputies website, the groups said: "The printing of the phrase ‘The Muslim Problem’ – particularly with the capitalisation and italics for emphasis – in a national newspaper sets a dangerous precedent, and harks back to the use of the phrase ‘The Jewish Problem’ in the last century, to which the Nazis responded with ‘The Final Solution’ – the Holocaust.”
A spokesperson for the Board of Deputies said: “We were horrified to read this in The Sun today, and we feel that it warrants swift condemnation by IPSO, and a prompt retraction and an apology by The Sun. We will not tolerate indiscriminate attacks in the media on any faith community.”
A spokesperson for Tell MAMA and Faith Matters said: “We stand united with the Jewish community in our condemnation of this outrageous article. Newspapers must take responsibility for peddling hate.”
In a statement to BuzzFeed News provided after publication, a spokesperson for The Sun said: “We strongly reject the allegation that Trevor Kavanagh is inciting Islamophobia. He is reflecting the links between immigration, religion and crime in the context of a trial of largely Pakistani sex gangs. Indeed he quotes Trevor Phillips, former head of the EHRC: 'What the perpetrators have in common is their proclaimed faith. They are Muslims and many of them would claim to be practising. It is not Islamaphobic to point this out.'
"Any suggestion that this article is promoting Islamophobia is a deliberate misreading of a very serious subject. Furthermore, it was never the intention that other elements of the column would be equated to Nazi-like terminology”, the spokesperson said.
After publication, the capitalisation of "The Muslim Problem" had been changed to lowercase on Wednesday, which users pointed out on social media. BuzzFeed News has contacted The Sun for comment.
Kavanagh remains on the IPSO board despite calls for him to be sacked or resign in February when he was publicly rebuked by the press watchdog, which ruled he had misquoted government statistics in an inflammatory column about refugees.
Miqdaad Versi, a campaigner for accurate reporting about Muslims and whose complaints have resulted in over 30 corrections in national newspapers, told BuzzFeed News: "In a week where we have seen the serious challenges of neo-Nazi plots against Muslims, we have a national newspaper asking its readers to consider what solution there should be for 'The Muslim Problem'.
"What would be the reaction if this was about any other minority faith or racial group?"
Versi added: "It is seriously disappointing that the press regulator IPSO is not willing to afford protection for groups against incitement to hatred or violence."
Writing in a blog for the Huffington Post, Versi said what hurt him most was the "sharp contrast" in how people reacted only a couple of weeks ago when the Sunday Times published a "sexist piece containing anti-Semitic tropes by Kevin Myers".
Versi said the social media of the liberal commentariat was "rightly outraged and Myers was sacked within 24 hours".
On Tuesday, The Sun published a letter by Versi on its letters page titled: "Don't blame Islam for evil".
Brendan Cox, campaigner and husband of Labour MP Jo Cox, who was murdered by a far-right extremist last year, said Kavanagh's column was "disgraceful".
Other people tweeted their shock and said the column was racist:
Campaigners who monitor press reporting tweeted their outrage at the article, with the Sun Apologies account tweeting a link to followers directing them to IPSO's complaint page.
Meanwhile, Stop Funding Hate, a campaigning group, on Monday tweeted companies that advertise in The Sun directly.
Aisha Gani is a senior reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Aisha Gani at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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