The editorial thick-Sheiks at Sydney’s tabloid Daily Telegraph yesterday issued a fatwa declaring that Islamic taxi-drivers are anti-guide dog.

Yesterday’s editorial, entitled “Faith dogged by shame’s shadow”, concerned a story about Human Rights & Equal Opportunity Commissioner Graeme Innes’ difficulties having his guide dog ride with him in a taxi to and from work.

The actual report said Commissioner Innes “has been told on a number of occasions that it would be against a driver’s religion to allow a dog in the cab”. No specific religion was mentioned.

Here’s what Commissioner Innes told me this morning: “If religion was used as an excuse by a cab driver, it was maybe mentioned once out of twenty times. The cab driver never mentioned any particular religion and just said it was for religious reasons. I never mentioned any specific religion and never intended to cast aspersions on any religion. I have spoken to the Telegraph editor yesterday and expressed my concerns about how the editorial focussed on a particular sector of society while I expressed frustration with taxi drivers across the board.”

The Tele report cited Vision Australia’s policy and advocacy head Michael Simpson: “It is fair to say that the (Islamic) religion has made the problem worse in the metropolitan areas than regional areas, where I’ve found taxi drivers are generally excellent” (emphasis mine).

I presume there isn’t much difference between how lawyers and journalists interview witnesses. In my 12-plus years in the law, I’ve never interviewed anyone who used brackets in their speech. I’ve seen brackets appear on SBS subtitles. If Michael Simpson is a native English speaker, and if he intended to mention a specific religion, he’d have said so.

The religion’s name is in the brackets because the story’s writer or editor inserted it, enabling Mufti Penberthy or one of his junior sheiks to issue this fatwa: “… that Jordie is unclean and some sort of affront to their faith. Their faith? Islam – it goes without saying.”

If that was the case, why didn’t Mr Simpson just say it? Maybe because he knows something I also know – that Islam isn’t the only religious tradition whose ceremonial and hygiene rules generally forbid proximity to dogs. Fear of dogs is common among Middle Eastern and African cultures.

So why is the Tele pretending it’s all about Islam? Why does their editorial read like some of the comments left on the Tele Opinion Editor’s blog?

And more importantly, why did the Tele put words into the mouth of a Human Rights Commissioner as if to suggest he shares a common sectarian agenda?