THERE'S a new urban legend that's spread throughout the land, picked up (or possibly started by) our usually wonderfully accurate tabloid newspapers.

Here is a selection of front page tabloid headlines from the last couple of days:

Daily Mail, 9 Feb: 'Sharia UK: Now the backlash'
Daily Express, 8 Feb: ''Muslim laws must come to Britain''
Daily Express, 9 Feb: 'Muslim courts are here already'
The Sun, 8 Feb: 'What a burkha - Archbishop wants Muslim law in UK'
The Sun, 9 Feb: 'Bash the bishop - join our campaign to give him the boot'

Today's poll (9 Feb) on the Mail website asks 'Which of these men poses the bigger threat to Britain's way of life?'. The two men in question are the Archbishop of Canterbury and Abu Hamza. The Sun is running a campaign to get the Archbishop of Canterbury sacked. The last two days' questions in the Express website 'Have Your Say' section are 'Should sharia law be banned in Britain?' and 'Should the Archbishop resign over Sharia row?'

The Mail's poll is currently at 64% saying the Archbishop of Canterbury is a bigger threat to the British way of life than Abu Hamza.

So, what exactly did the Archbishop say?

We can tell from the Daily Express headline, right - since that's in quotes, it must be a quote. If you believe that, you haven't been paying attention. Here is the Archbishop's original lecture and here is a commentary including a transcript of the Archbishop's interview on the BBCs 'World at One' programme. Go and do a search for the phrase 'Muslim law must come to Britain' in both of them.

Nothing there, right?

As plently of other blogs have pointed out, so many that I don't need to offer my own account, the Archbishop didn't actually say exactly what he's been accused of saying. He made some coments about Muslims using similar courts to Beth Din courts to decide civil matters only, and din't say their introduction were inevitable, or make a claim that they must be introduced or anything like that. Disagree with him if you like, like Obsolete does, but don't make stuff up.

This is a perfect example of what Nick Davies refers to as 'Flat Earth news'. Something that people accept as fact that is actually untrue. It's something I think of in terms of urban legends because of the extra little embellishments that get added to the story.

This one proably started with the BBC reporting that the Archbishop said that Sharia law in the UK was unavoidable. Even though this claim is itself contentious, other sources that pick it up have to exaggerate the comment further - claiming that the Archbishop said Muslim law must come to the UK, which is bollocks. The Express even include spictures of people in Iran getting lashed in its inevitable efforts in distorting the paper's coverage even further from the truth. Big sticks and small carrots has an excellent rundown of how this thinking has spread out of the papers and into the mouths of politicians, scrambling over each other to condemn what the Arcbishop didn't actually say.

That development is part of the same malaise that infects the press. Just as the press sacrifice the truth for giving their readers what they want to hear, politicians either say what they think voters want to hear, taking the lead of the lying tabloids to guage exactly what that might be; or they believe the reports they read about things without checking the source, which is becoming an increaingly stupid option.

Ironically, this is an example of how Political Correctness works in the opposite direction to the one we're always told it does. Here we have someone in a senior position threatened with sacking for saying something rightwingers don't like, and calling for equality of a sort (with the Orthodox Jews who are allowed to use Beth Din courts).

Doubly ironic is the fact that in all of this, the only person speaking honestly and attempting to look at the issue logically is the country's chief witch-doctor.

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