Given that Interpol has an arrest warrant on charges of terrorism for the CEO of the U.K.’s “Islam Channel,” and that this channel broadcasts a pretty unvaried diet of Islamist propaganda, it is not the sort of place I tend to hang out. But when I was invited to speak on it a year ago, the discussion was about an especially egregious piece of journalism and I felt bound to respond.
Chaired by the Muslim Brotherhood-inspired Islamist Anas Altikriti, the discussion was with the makers of the previous evening’s Channel 4 Dispatches documentary on ‘Islamophobia’. The documentary not only looked as if it were a positioning exercise by Channel 4, but also as if it were against writers like me that the positioning was being done.
Having done so much good work the previous year with ‘Undercover Mosque’, Channel 4 clearly felt forced to try to undo its good work by presenting a documentary in the same series in which Islam’s militant followers and the critics of those followers could be portrayed as - at best - moral equals.
The presenter of the program, called "It shouldn’t happen to a Muslim," was the journalist Peter Oborne. Aired to coincide with the third anniversary of the 2005 London tube and bus bombings, the documentary and accompanying pamphlet were not just questionably timed, implying as they did that it was the Muslim ‘community’ who had truly suffered from those Islamist bombs rather than the people of all backgrounds on the actual trains and buses. It was also journalistically shoddy:
The makers managed to find a Muslim man who had had his house attacked and who turned out, though the makers didn’t know this, to be a fan of public floggings a la sharia. The program-makers managed to drag this and other distasteful acts into a narrative that portrayed Britain’s Muslims as being in a state of near-siege. The program used flimsy evidence to build up a case which ignored the issues of bombs, terrorists and extremists whilst deeply exaggerating and misrepresenting the press and public reaction to these issues.
It turned out that as well as Oborne, I also had against me someone called Mehdi Hasan, the young man who had commissioned the Channel 4 programme.
It seemed clear from the outset that Mehdi Hasan was not a journalist, but a propagandist. Peter Oborne had a desire to stand by his work, but he was also able to take on criticisms of it. Hasan could do no such thing. Granted that commissioning editors don’t like to just see their programs attacked, nevertheless there is a difference between defending a piece of work and arguing a cause. Hasan was arguing a cause and that was the cause of an Islamic fundamentalist.
Oborne put it to me that the flogging comments read out from one of his primary sources were attitudes which might be shared by many London cab-drivers. I agreed but pointed out that the government goes some way to avoid listening to cab-drivers’ political opinions, and certainly doesn’t invite them into Downing Street, pump tens of millions of pounds into their pet causes and in other ways proselytise their opinions. Oborne found the point interesting. Hasan found it frustrating. I also mentioned that if it were true that terrorism occurred because its perpetrators were the victims of discrimination why are there no gay terrorist gangs in the UK? Gay people in Britain get more ‘looks’ and ‘discrimination,’ let alone violence, in the streets than most Muslims have ever got. Yet gay men and women do not target ‘straight’ sites with bombs. Oborne found the point interesting. Hasan found it frustrating.
By way of rebuttal, Hasan delved into a speech of mine given in Holland some years ago in memory of the assassinated gay politician Pim Fortuyn. He quoted excerpts which detractors of mine seem to take constant delight in. He said that I wanted conditions for Muslims in Europe to be ‘made harder across the board’ - something which only makes sense if people knew that I had earlier explained why Muslims shouldn’t receive the ‘special rights’ which some were increasingly demanding and indeed receiving and that, in other words, they should have their welfare and legal provisions brought into line with everyone else’s.
Hasan wasn’t bothered by this context. Nor was he bothered when I pointed out that he was quoting another writer’s words (Mark Steyn’s as it happens) as mine, as well as misrepresenting them. For somebody who was supposed to be a journalist. He seemed remarkably untroubled at exercising any journalistic standards. Indeed he seemed intent on only three things: to portray those who had bombed the underground three years earlier as cringing victims, to portray the society they had attacked as oppressors and to portray people like me who note this oddity as the real threat to society.
I found it interesting to note subsequently that this Channel 4 commissioner was appearing on The Guardian newspaper’s website trying to pretend that violent verses in the Koran are simply not there. You can read this piece of sophistry here (link: http://blogs.guardian.co.uk/quran/2008/07/a_guest_blog_from_mehdi_hasan.html)
All of which would be so much (personal) history if it were not for the fact that a few months ago Hasan became the senior editor (politics) of Britain’s foremost left-wing political magazine, The New Statesman.
And then the tapes started to emerge.
Suddenly Hasan has become very interested in the concepts of mis-quotes, quotes out of context, and the quoting of works not by the author.
In recent days a prominent left-wing British blog put tapes on its site, from February of this year, (just before Hasan started at The New Statesman), of Hasan addressing an audience of fellow Shia Muslims in London. In the tapes he refers to non-Muslims as ‘cattle’ and as ‘kaffar’. ‘Kaffar’ is the derogatory name which jihadis and Islamists use to describe non-Muslims. No unbiased Muslim would use the term. Indeed such Muslims recoil from it. Hasan uses it repeatedly. In one particularly special excerpt he says:
The kaffar, the disbelievers, the atheists who remain deaf and stubborn to the teachings of Islam, the rational message of the Quran; they are described in the Quran as, quote, “a people of no intelligence”.
There is more in the same vein.
Since these tapes have come to light, Hasan has attempted to claim that he is being ‘quoted out of context’ - as if there were a context in which abuse of non-Muslims as animals is perfectly alright. He has also attempted to find cover in the claim that the most hate-filled parts of his speech are quotes from the Koran. That will be the same Koran he has previously tried to claim contains no such hate.
As it happens, hate-filled quotes that come from a book you think especially special are still hate-filled quotes. A British judge pronounced as much in the UK courts in 2002. After being convicted of stirring up racial hatred, it was explained to Iftikhar Ali by Judge Jeremy McMullen QC that:
‘There is no defence for the charge put to you that you were relying on religious texts. Words created 1,400 years ago are equally capable of containing race hate as words created today.’
For eight years it has been the contention of portions of the media in Britain that the major problem we face is not the harbouring of racist, sexist and homophobic views by a religion whose adherents repeatedly deny that such views even exist, let alone thrive, among that faith's aherents. Nor is the problem people in positions of responsibility failing to use their positions to address the problem. No - rather, they share, the problem is people pointing out or criticising the problem.
If I had even pointed to the existence of the portions of the Koran that the political editor of The New Statesman has quoted so approvingly I would be an ‘Islamophobic bigot’. If he quotes them, he is being a good Muslim. If one points out this oddity, one is back to being an Islamophobic bigot. Needless to say, if I were ever to describe any group of people as ‘cattle’ or any of the unimaginably horrible non-Muslim equivalents of the term ‘kaffar’, then Hasan and his friends would be all over me (though, given the views Hasan holds of gays as evidenced in his tapes, not in the literal way).
Hasan himself is perfectly permitted to continue the protestations he has made since being exposed as a bigoted sectarian. And he is perfectly entitled to further demonstrate the self-pity which appears as the follow-up act to his bigotry. Whether The New Statesman should continue to host him while he plays this unedifying game is a matter for that magazine. I do not try to shut writers down. Which is more than can be said for Hasan and his friends. For my own part, I am simply pleased that Hasan has been exposed as the sectarian that he is. He has been treated far better than he treated those of us he smeared in his program last year, and some of us - belligerent, yet gracious, cattle that we are - will not tire of pointing out that fact.