Martin Derek Bright (born 5 June 1966) is a British journalist. He worked for the BBC World Service and The Guardian before becoming The Observer's education correspondent and then home affairs editor. From 2005 to 2009, he was the political editor of New Statesman. He had a blog for The Spectator, and was The Jewish Chronicle's political editor from September 2009 to March 2013. In 2014 he took a position at the Tony Blair Faith Foundation, but resigned after five months over a lack of editorial autonomy.
Since the late twentieth century, he has particularly covered the rise of Muslim extremism, terrorist attacks in Britain and abroad, and aspects of British governmental relations with the Muslim community in the United Kingdom.
In 2009 Bright founded New Deal of the Mind, a charitable company to promote employment in creative fields and working with organisations, government and all political parties.
In 2001, Bright wrote "The Great Koran Con Trick", an article in the New Statesman about the work of the Islamicist scholars John Wansbrough, Michael Cook, Patricia Crone, Andrew Rippin and Gerald Hawting, associated in the 1970s with the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). He reported the work of the scholars as "revisionist history" of Islam. They have developed new techniques of analysis, in some cases adopting methods from earlier biblical studies and using a wider range of sources, including non-Muslim, non-Arabic texts. Their conclusions have included:
- little is known about the life of the Muslim prophet Mohammad;
- rapid expansion of the religion could be due to its appeal "of conquest and jihad for the tribes of the Arabian peninsula;"
- the Koran as known was likely compiled, or written long after Mohammad's death in 632AD. (This is similar to what is known of the Gospels of the New Testament.)
- Arabs and Jews were allied against Christianity in the earliest days of Islam; and
- some scholars have suggested that Islam, like Christianity, may be considered a "heretical branch of rabbinical Judaism."
Bright’s arguments were ridiculed and debunked by the very scholars – including his own former SOAS tutor, Professor Gerald Hawting - whose work he drew upon to support his crude cover story. Three of these scholars wrote to the New Statesman raising objections to the article with one commenting that the "spurious air of conspiracy and censorship conjured up in Martin Bright‘s article is nonsense".
New archeological finds, such as scraps of manuscript at the Great Mosque of Sana'a in Yemen, have supported suggestions of the development of the Koran over time. Some of the scholars reportedly disagreed with Bright's characterization of their work. The article was considered controversial among traditionalist Muslims. The Muslim intellectual Ziauddin Sardar argued the SOAS scholars approached the material from a Eurocentric point of view.
In a documentary, Who Speaks for Muslims? (2002), and When Progressives Treat with Reactionaries: The British State's flirtation with radical Islamism (2006), a report for the Policy Exchange, Bright has examined issues of the contemporary Muslim community in the United Kingdom and the government's relationship with its constituencies. This has been a focus of his journalism.
Bright left the New Statesman in January 2009, and began writing a blog, "The Bright Stuff – Dispatches from Enemy Territory," for The Spectator.
In January 2009, Bright formed New Deal of the Mind, a coalition of artists, entrepreneurs, academics and opinion formers working to boost employment in Britain's creative sector during the recession. The organisation was launched formally at Number 11 Downing Street on 24 March 2009. The launch seminar was attended by more than 60 of Britain's leading creative industry figures, as well as several ministers and politicians from across the political spectrum.
In January 2014 he took a position at the Tony Blair Faith Foundation, as editor of a new website on religion and globalisation produced in conjunction with the Harvard Divinity School. He resigned after five months, feeling Blair did not give him the autonomy he needed.
Marriage and family
- He was presenter of Channel 4's 30 Minutes documentary, Who Speaks For Muslims? (2002), about the Muslim community in the United Kingdom. The Muslim Council of Britain sent a letter to Channel 4 protesting what it described as several errors in the documentary, as well as a generally negative tone suggesting it supported radical Islam.
- Bright wrote When Progressives Treat with Reactionaries: The British State's flirtation with radical Islamism (2006), a report exploring British state funding of political Islam and Foreign Office overtures to radical groups. It was published by Policy Exchange, which Bright described as a centre-right thinktank.
Legacy and honours
- 2009, Bright was on the journalism long list for the Orwell Prize.
- Martin Bright, Special Report: "The Great Koran Con Trick", The New Statesman, 10 December 2001
- Letters,New Statesman, 17 December 2001, p.61
- Martin Bright (7 March 2013). "Farewell from a front-row seat at impressive displays of solidarity". Jewish Chronicle. Retrieved 2 January 2014.
- Martin Bright (30 January 2014). "Working for the JC has changed the way I think". Jewish Chronicle. Retrieved 3 February 2014.
- Martin Bright (24 January 2014). "Finding nuance in religious debate? I've got quite a job". Jewish Chronicle. Retrieved 3 February 2014.
- "Inside Blair's lair". Mail on Sunday. 2 August 2014. Retrieved 3 August 2014.
- Rowena Mason (3 August 2014). "Tony Blair lambasted by former employee over role in own charity". The Guardian. Retrieved 10 August 2014.
- Letter of 21 March 2002 to Channel 4 TV, on Who Speaks for Muslims?, Muslim Council of Britain, accessed 6 March 2013
- Martin Bright, When Progressives Treat with Reactionaries, Policy Exchange, 2006
- Martin Bright, "Right showing left the way on radical Islam", The Observer, 29 July 2013, accessed 6 March 2013
- Martin Bright, "The great Koran con trick", The New Statesman, 10 December 2001