Writer apologises for accusing journalist of 'worshipping paedophile'

Writer Julie Burchill apologises and pays damages to Muslim journalist she accused of ‘worshipping a paedophile’ in Twitter row that got her book deal cancelled

  • Julie Burchill has apologised to Ash Sarkar following ‘Islamophobic’ Twitter row
  • Writer accused journalist of worshipping ‘paedophile’ Prophet Muhammad 
  • Book deal got cancelled after publisher called her remarks ‘not defensible’
  • Ms Burchill has agreed to pay damages to Muslim journalist Ms Sarkar  

Feminist writer Julie Burchill today apologised ‘unreservedly and unconditionally’ to a Muslim journalist after she told her that her worship of the Prophet Muhammad was the ‘worship of a paedophile’. 

Ms Burchill also revealed in a statement published on Twitter that she had agreed to pay Novara Media reporter Ash Sarkar ‘substantial damages’ for the ‘distress’ caused by the Islamophobia row last December.

The spat began when Ms Burchill defended journalist Rod Liddle after Ms Sarkar criticised a 2012 article in the Spectator where Mr Liddle said he did not become a teacher because he would want to sleep with pupils. 

Ms Burchill had alleged Ms Sarkar’s worship of the Prophet was the ‘worship of a paedophile’, referring to the 7th-Century leader’s marriage to his third wife when she was around 10, and that she was an ‘Islamist’ and a ‘hypocrite’. 

Her book Welcome to the Woke Trials: How #Identity Killed Progressive Politics, which was due to be released this month, was quickly dropped by her publisher Little, Brown following the Twitter row.

The Hachette imprint called Ms Burchill’s comments ‘not defensible from a moral or intellectual standpoint’ and had ‘crossed a line with regard to race and religion’.

Ms Sarkar brought defamation complaints about the posts, claiming they played into ‘damaging tropes of anti-Muslim hate’. She also sought an undertaking or injunction to stop Ms Burchill from tweeting about her. 

In a statement today, Ms Burchill said she accepted that her statements were ‘defamatory of Ms Sarkar and caused her very substantial distress’ and agreed not to contact her directly except for legal reasons. 

Julie Burchill has apologised ‘unreservedly and unconditionally’ to a Muslim journalist after she told her that her worship of the Prophet Muhammad was the ‘worship of a paedophile’ 

Ms Burchill also revealed in a statement published on Twitter that she had agreed to pay Ash Sarkar ‘substantial damages’ for the ‘distress’ caused by the ‘Islamophobic’ row last December

‘I unreservedly and unconditionally apologise for the hurtful and unacceptable statements I made’: Julie Burchill’s apology  

On 13th December 2020 I made statements concerning Ash Sarkar in response to her comment on an article by my friend Rod Liddle. I alleged that Ms Sarkar worshipped the Prophet Muhammad, that she worshipped a paedophile (referring to the Prophet Muhammad), that she was an Islamist, and that she was a hypocrite (the allegations).

Although it was not my intention, I accept that my statements were defamatory of Ms Sarkar and caused her very substantial distress. I wish to make clear on the record that I do not believe, have never believed and never intended to make any allegation that Ms Sarkar is a promoter, supporter and/or sympathiser of Islamists or fundamentalist terrorism or to suggest that Ms Sarkar condones paedophilia in any way.

I also now understand that it is blasphemy for a Muslim to worship Prophet Muhammad and I had no basis for stating that Ms Sarkar does so.

I accept that there is no truth in any of these allegations, and I recognise that such comments play into Islamophobic tropes and did so in this case.

I also accept that I was wrong to continue to tweet to and about her after that date. I should not have sent these tweets, some of which included racist and misogynist comments regarding Ms Sarkar’s appearance and her sex life.

I was also wrong to have ‘liked’ other posts on Facebook and Twitter about her which were offensive, including one which called for her to kill herself, and another which speculated whether she had been a victim of FGM. I regret that I did not pay much attention to them at the time.

On reflection, I accept that these ‘liked’ posts included callous and degrading comments about Ms Sarkar and I should not have liked them. I can confirm that I have deleted all my posts and tweets and likes about Ms Sarkar.

I have also now seen messages that were sent to Ms Sarkar following my posts about her which are abhorrent, and I wish to make clear that I do not condone any such messages.

I did not know when I published my posts that Ms Sarkar had previously received death threats and other violent threats and abuse, some of which emanated from a far-right conspiracy theory circulating about Ms Sarkar during summer 2020, of which I had not been aware.

I deeply regret having reacted in the way I did. I accept that I should have behaved better. On reflection, I accept that I misjudged the situation, and made statements that simply are not true, which I now want to put right.

I also wish to make clear that I accept that Ms Sarkar did not call for my publisher to break ties with me and bears no responsibility for this.

I unreservedly and unconditionally apologise for the hurtful and unacceptable statements I made to and about Ms Sarkar, particularly those concerning her religion and Prophet Muhammad. I have undertaken not to repeat the allegations or any similar allegations about her, undertaken not to engage in any course of conduct amounting to harassment of Ms Sarkar, and undertaken not to contact her directly other than for legal reasons.

I have also agreed to pay substantial damages to Ms Sarkar for the distress I caused her and legal costs.  

She also said she now understands it is ‘blasphemy for a Muslim to worship Prophet Muhammad’ and that she had ‘no basis for stating that Ms Sarkar does so’.

The writer added that she accepts that ‘Ms Sarkar did not call for my publisher to break ties with me and bears no responsibility for this’.

Responding to her statement, Ms Sarkar said: ‘This outcome is a victory for anyone who believes that people shouldn’t have to face abuse, harassment or smears just because they are part of a minority community.’   

She also wrote in the Guardian that she received messages calling her a ‘dirty brown w****’ and that the ‘intensity of the abuse’  she received online ‘severely affected’ her mental health. 

The spat began on December 13, 2020, when Ms Burchill defended Mr Liddle after Ms Sarkar criticised an article where Mr Liddle said he didn’t become a teacher because he would want to sleep with pupils.

Mr Liddle wrote: ‘The only thing stopping me from being a teacher was that I could not remotely conceive of not trying to sh** the kids. 

‘We’re talking secondary level here, by the way – and even then I don’t think I’d have dabbled much below year ten, as it is now called.’ 

Posting a portion of the piece, Ms Sarkar commented: ‘It’s astonishing that both he and his editor thought guffawing about hypothetically being a paedophile made for a good article.’ 

In response, Ms Burchill said: ‘Can you please remind me of the age of the Prophet Mohammad’s first wife? Thank you in anticipation.’ She later added: ‘I don’t WORSHIP a paedophile. If Aisha was nine, YOU do. Lecturer, lecture thyself!’ 

Ms Sarkar subsequently accused Ms Burchill of Islamophobia, with the exchange shared widely on social media. Ms Burchill then claimed she had been ‘cancelled’ by her publisher following the row.   

Ms Sarkar had said she was ‘appalled’ by Ms Burchill’s comments, telling the Times: ‘It was quite upsetting to see that it’s not the first time she’s made derogatory insinuations about my faith.’ 

The Novara Media journalist brought defamation complaints against Ms Burchill, accusing her of ‘using her platform to make unprovoked allegations against an Asian Muslim woman that she is an Islamist who worships a paedophile [and] thereby combined two of the most damaging tropes of anti-Muslim hate: support for extreme fundamentalism and Islamic terrorism, and support for paedophilia and child sex exploitation/rape’. 

She said ‘such tropes incite religious and racial hatred against Muslims, and against Asian people who are perceived to be of Muslim heritage’. 

Ms Sarkar also brought a claim under the Protection from Harassment Act seeking an undertaking or injunction to stop Ms Burchill from tweeting about her after she continued to tweet disparaging remarks about her for weeks after December 13.

In her statement today, Ms Burchill said: ‘On 13th December 2020 I made statements concerning Ash Sarkar in response to her comment on an article by my friend Rod Liddle. I alleged that Ms Sarkar worshipped the Prophet Muhammad, that she worshipped a paedophile (referring to the Prophet Muhammad), that she was an Islamist, and that she was a hypocrite (the allegations).

‘Although it was not my intention, I accept that my statements were defamatory of Ms Sarkar and caused her very substantial distress. 

‘I wish to make clear on the record that I do not believe, have never believed and never intended to make any allegation that Ms Sarkar is a promoter, supporter and/or sympathiser of Islamists or fundamentalist terrorism or to suggest that Ms Sarkar condones paedophilia in any way.

‘I also now understand that it is blasphemy for a Muslim to worship Prophet Muhammad and I had no basis for stating that Ms Sarkar does so.

‘I accept that there is no truth in any of these allegations, and I recognise that such comments play into Islamophobic tropes and did so in this case.

‘I also accept that I was wrong to continue to tweet to and about her after that date. I should not have sent these tweets, some of which included racist and misogynist comments regarding Ms Sarkar’s appearance and her sex life.’

She went on: ‘I have also now seen messages that were sent to Ms Sarkar following my posts about her which are abhorrent, and I wish to make clear that I do not condone any such messages.

‘I did not know when I published my posts that Ms Sarkar had previously received death threats and other violent threats and abuse, some of which emanated from a far-right conspiracy theory circulating about Ms Sarkar during summer 2020, of which I had not been aware.

‘I deeply regret having reacted in the way I did. I accept that I should have behaved better. On reflection, I accept that I misjudged the situation, and made statements that simply are not true, which I now want to put right.

‘I also wish to make clear that I accept that Ms Sarkar did not call for my publisher to break ties with me and bears no responsibility for this. 

‘I unreservedly and unconditionally apologise for the hurtful and unacceptable statements I made to and about Ms Sarkar, particularly those concerning her religion and Prophet Muhammad.

‘I have undertaken not to repeat the allegations or any similar allegations about her, undertaken not to engage in any course of conduct amounting to harassment of Ms Sarkar, and undertaken not to contact her directly other than for legal reasons.

‘I have also agreed to pay substantial damages to Ms Sarkar for the distress I caused her and legal costs.’

Ms Sarkar’s solicitor Zillur Rahman, of Rahman Lowe Solicitors, said the case ‘really does highlight the dangers of people thinking that the law does not apply to them on social media – the costs could be severe’.

He said in a statement: ‘It shows that words have consequences. We nevertheless welcome Julie’s approach in making a prompt concession of the claim, and her fulsome apology which starts to make amends for the harm done.’

In an article for the Guardian published today, Ms Sarkar said she received a ‘barrage of abuse on social media and by email’.

She wrote: ‘People speculated about whether I was really a woman, and really a Muslim – and I was subjected to rape threats and threats of physical violence.

‘The intensity of the abuse, along with Burchill’s continuing derogatory posts about me, severely affected my mental health. 

‘I couldn’t sleep, and had bouts of trembling and heart palpitations. For the first time in my life, I was prescribed anti-anxiety medication.’

She added that ‘sometimes, the only thing that separates an anonymous troll and a journalist is a byline’. 

The rights for Ms Burchill’s book have been by Edinburgh-based indie publisher Stirling Publishing. It is due to come out later this summer. 

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