I am Neuroscience PhD, a humanist, skeptic, feminist, avid reader, science enthusiast, woolly-liberal über-nerd, and, as of October 2015, father to the Lykketroll.

I moved from England to Norway in January 2012 and live in Lørenskog with my wife, the Lykketroll, and our two aging rescue cats, Socrates and Schrödinger. 

I am on paternity leave from the 4th of July to the 18th of November. 

The job I am on leave from is as an  Associate Professor and Head of Studies at the Oslo and Akershus University College of Applied Sciences. My background is in child neurodevelopment (my PhD looked into the relationship between fatty acids like omega-3 and cognitive development in young children) but I now work on a hodge-podge of things roughly within the field of Universal Design of ICT 50% of the time, the other 50% of my time I am Head of the 'General' Studies (Allmenn in Norwegian) Unit, which is comprised of around 24 academics within a range of fields, including mathematics, physics, Norwegian, and technology and leadership.

In between working and doing the usual dad things,  I like hiking and running in the beautiful Norwegian outdoors, cooking and playing video games. 

If I believed in souls I would say that mine was born in Norway. 

I plan to sleep when I'm dead.

This blog could stop Dadbladet from parroting the Daily Mail's shoddy journalism*

I've mentioned to my wife that far too many articles in the Norwegian tabloids start with ‘the Daily Mail reports that…’. A quick search of the Dagbladet website shows that around three stories a day reference the Daily Mail (37 in total since the start of October; for the sake of comparison, there are only nine articles referencing the Guardian in the same period), which is surprising as, according to Wikipedia at least, the paper is ostensibly politically neutral, with perhaps slightly liberal leanings.

Most of the articles referencing the Mail are celebrity guff or sports, but there was one article in Dagbladet this week that really caught my eye and got me thinking about just what it means to be referencing articles from a conservative paper like the Daily Mail, which has earned the monikers Daily Fail and Daily Heil.

The story was about Newcastle United Football club’s controversial £24m, four-year sponsorship deal with Wonga, a pay-day loan company that charges an interest rate the equivalent of 4,214% APR. Annual rates of interest are a little misleading because Wonga is a short-term money lender (they ‘only’ charge 1% a day, 30 days at a time), but here’s a fun bit of maths: an unpaid £100 Wonga loan leaves you owing £4,200 at the end of a the year and £23.5 trillion after 7 years.

I followed the story on Football365 and the Guardian, who ran lots of articles on Tuesday, reporting the criticism the club received by local MPs and debt experts for associating  themselves with a company dubbed ‘legal loan sharks’, in an area with one of the highest personal insolvency rates in Britain.

Wednesday’s Dagbladet article, however, made no mention of the financial and ethical concerns raised about Newcastle’s association with Wonga, but instead went with ‘Newcastle’s Muslim stars could end up in trouble over new shirts’, reporting that several of the clubs biggest stars (Demba Ba, Papiss Cisse, Cheick Tiote and Hatem Ben Arfa) could refuse to wear the shirt because promoting money lending with interest contravenes sharia law. When my wife mentioned the story to me, I was a little puzzled, because this was the first I’d heard that Muslims had anything to do with it, but once I read the article and saw the reference to the Daily Mail, a few things clicked into place.

I went back to the original Daily Mail article and marvelled at how, away from my typically liberal news cocoon, the story had morphed into something about a Muslim boycott.

The religious angle stems from Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra, assistant secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), who is quoted in the Independent as saying:
"There are two aspects to this. We have the rulings of the religious law and we have the individual’s choice and decision on how they want to follow or not follow that rule. The idea is to protect the vulnerable and the needy from exploitation by the rich and powerful. When they are lending and are charging large amounts of interest, it means the poor will have short-term benefit from the loan, but long-term difficulty in paying it back, because the rate of interest is not something they can keep up with. The Islamic system is based on a non-interest-based system of transaction.”

"Freddie [Kanoute, who played for La Liga team Seville] was allowed to wear a top without 888.com and that is a reasonable request to be made by the player," added Mogra. "Assuming all four are on the pitch at the same time, if you have seven out of 11 [who have the advertising on their shirts] you have sufficient coverage. It is not asking too much, I believe."

Here is Mogra is talking to the BCC, actually quite sensibly about the matter, making the very good point that this is not actually a religious issue but of the wider ethical implications of promoting a company that takes advantage of the vulnerable, and explaining that he and the MCB have “no jurisdication over the lives of Muslims” and “cannot dictate or impose on people the rules of Islam”.

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From the headline onwards, the Daily Mail article is full of hedge words (‘Cisse and Ba could lead a boycott’, ‘Newcastle's Muslim stars could refuse’, ‘They may follow the stance of former Tottenham and West Ham striker Freddie Kanoute’, which imply that Newcastle’s Muslim players are going to kick up a fuss and disrupt the team, without having any actual evidence – say a quote from an actual player – that they’ve even given the matter a second thought.

The Daily Mail article led with the religious angle, but at least had something on Wonga's predatory scheme; the Dagbladet article made no mention of this and instead led with ‘Muslims might boycott the shirt’.

As an aside, it’s also odd that when I first read the article in the Independent the headline read ‘Muslim players told: Don’t play in Wonga tops’ (my italics; here’s a screenshot from the Evernote I saved below), which is an odd thing to say given that the quote the headline is based on says “…we have the individual’s choice and decision on how they want to follow or not follow that rule”. When I go back to the article now, the headline has been changed to ‘Newcastle's Muslims faced with shirt dilemma over Wonga’.

Why is this important? Well, because, as trivial as it might seem, articles like this –based on complete conjecture– gives people, who probably don’t even need them, more reasons to think that Muslims are acting up again. It puts the Muslim players in a no-win situation: either they ignore the sharia law on money-lending and interest (which they are perfectly entitled to do according to Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra) and become practicing Muslims who ignore bits of their religion as it suits them (not ‘proper’ Muslims), or they act like proper Muslims, boycott the shirt and kick up a fuss over their beliefs.

It’s bad enough that they kill people over badly made films and shoot girls in the head for wanting an education, but they can’t even get on with playing football, for god’s sake. Just read the comments below the articles to get an idea of what this kind of conjecture-ridden non-story can lead to.

* It probably won't, but it could.

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