[Former Dean of RAF College Cranwell Dr Joel Hayward has won substantial libel damages after being branded “The Ayatollah of the RAF” by The Mail on Sunday.]
By Zahra Al-Kateb
A former Dean of RAF College Cranwell, Professor Joel Hayward, has won substantial libel damages after being branded “The Ayatollah of the RAF” by a national newspaper.
The Mail on Sunday ran a story on August 7 and 8, 2011, suggesting that Hayward, a Muslim, had criticised NATO air strikes in Libya, had claimed that Nazi gas chambers were British propaganda and compared Churchill to Muhammad.
Hayward also sued over an online version of the story.
The Daily Mail accepted the allegations were untrue and paid Hayward damages as well as legal costs. They also published an apology on their website:
“On 7th and 8th August 2011 we suggested that the beliefs of Professor Joel Hayward, then the Dean of the RAF College Cranwell, prevented him from fulfilling his duty of impartiality and fairness as a teacher in the RAF by causing him to show undue favouritism to Islamic students and spend too much time on Islamic activities.
“We now accept that these allegations are untrue. We apologise to Professor Hayward and have paid a substantial sum to him in damages.”
The Daily Star also printed a similar story for which they have also issued an apology.
Professor Hayward said: “It was completely devastating to me to read the false allegations that were published by Associated Newspapers and by the Daily Star, and to be attacked for my deeply-held religious beliefs. It was even more devastating to know that my family, friends and colleagues had read them.
“Although the matter was dragged out for over a year by Associated Newspapers, which I often felt was using its financial muscle to intimidate me, I am hugely relieved and pleased that they have done the right thing and settled the case by apologising, and paying me damages and costs.
“More generally, I can only hope that my case and others like it may result in a more balanced and fair portrayal of Muslims and the Islamic faith in certain sections of the British press in future.”
Speaking to The Muslim News, Hayward said: “I’m still shocked that the Mail chose so zealously to go after me of all people. I am a quiet and bookish scholar and poet, not a young activist.
“My conversion was not dramatic and involved no abandonment of the values instilled in me by my parents. In other words, I quietly immersed myself in my new faith, wrote poetry about Allah’s radiance, and did not seek to make waves or gain publicity.”
He also added: “The newspaper seemed really bothered that someone in my position – Dean of the Royal Air Force College – had chosen Islam. It tried to present my faith as immoderate; which is completely different to the moderate and inclusive reality.
“I see myself as a balanced and politically liberal Muslim who chose to embrace the faith of Islam because of its powerful spiritual truths, its emphasis on peace and justice, its racial and ethnic inclusiveness and its charitable spirit towards the poor and needy.
“I devote my free time and energy to anti-radicalisation work, and trying to foster harmonious relations between the great faiths. I thus thought I’d be the last person anyone would feel threatened by. But the tabloids like stories more than the truth.”
Hayward said he hopes that eventually a better portrayal of Islam and Muslims will appear in the UK press.
“At the moment it’s an unbalanced portrayal, because of 9/11 and 7/7 and other wretched acts by misguided and malevolent individuals.
“Hopefully it will change as Muslims continue to contribute to British society in a positive way, and those prejudices will slip away.”