A professor at an Abu Dhabi university has won a libel claim against a British newspaper that called him the “Ayatollah of the RAF”.
Dr Joel Hayward, a defence and securities expert who teaches at Khalifa University, successfully sued the Mail on Sunday over the article from 2011. At the time, Prof Hayward – a Muslim convert – was the head of studies at the Royal Air Force (RAF) pilot training college in the UK.
The article, which has since been removed from the Mail Online website, claimed Prof Hayward encouraged students to take a “softly-softly line” when writing about Islamist terrorism, according to the New Zealand-born academic. He took legal action to set the record straight.
“I just felt like there was enough of this Islam-bashing,” he said. “Islam is a beautiful religion, it’s a wonderful thing. The characterisation by the Mail of my faith was just so inaccurate. It presented Islam as something so extreme and dark. I thought that if I let this pass, they’ll continue to attack everyone who embraces Islam.”
Prof Hayward moved to the UAE to work as director of the Institute of International and Civil Security and the chair of the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences at Khalifa University. He said the environment here was much more friendly toward Muslim converts.
“It’s quite difficult to live as a Muslim in Britain, unless you live close to a mosque,” he said. “Here there’s a mosque on every corner. Here the Islam that’s practised is gentle and moderate. It’s a beautiful experience to live as a Muslim in the UAE. It’s liberating and wonderful.”
Prof Hayward said he won “substantial damages” from Associated Newspapers, the publisher of the Mail on Sunday, in the action pursued by legal firm Carter-Ruck. He declined to say exactly how much.
“It’s not enough to place me in any rich list but I hope it’s enough for the Mail to think twice about doing something similar in future,” he said. “I hope that eventually a better portrayal of Islam and Muslims will appear in the British press. At the moment it’s an unbalanced one, because of 9/11 and 7/7.
“Hopefully that will change as Muslims continue to contribute to British society in a positive way, and those prejudices just slip away. If my case has helped speed up that process, I’d be very happy.”