Mehdi Hasan is a recently appointed senior editor covering politics at the New Statesman magazine. I mentioned a week go that a minor kerfuffle blew up last week when an article he wrote about biased coverage of terrorists in the media was questioned by Harry’s Place blog.
He gave a stinging response. Obviously not happy with the way he had come back at them – it looks like now HP is running a smear campaign against him. Over the weekend they ran a post titled: ‘Mehdi Hasan Exposed. Part I â€“ Atheists and disbelievers are â€œcattleâ€ and â€œof no intelligence‘.
It’s worth pointing out that I don’t know Mehdi Hasan and apparently I met him years ago but don’t recall the incident. But it’s worth while deconstructing the post itself for the absurd question it raises.
First: It looks obvious his comments are being taken out of context. Hasan is specifically relating what the Koran says. There’s a matter of what he believes in himself, and another matter of how he interprets the religious allegories. Anyone who spends even five minutes reading religious texts knows that they are full of analogies and allegorical references. This point is clearly missed by the anonymous ‘Channel 4 insider’.
People of all religions keep re-interpreting and arguing over religious texts as time goes on. To assume there is only one meaning to a paragraph taken from a religious text – and then to assume it should be taken literally is probably pretty idiotic too.
The full speech is actually more critical of Muslims than than the west – and uses the word ‘cattle’ of unthinking Muslims too. Here are some more key quotes:
We just follow the crowd, we are the cattle that Allah condemns in the Quran, and we canâ€™t be. We canâ€™t be. We have to acquire knowledge every day, night and day. And Rasoollah [the Holy Prophet] saysâ€¦you have to go as far afield as China.
I watched this programme [â€œScience and Islamâ€, BBC4] and I really enjoyed it: a well-made programme, presenter very goodâ€¦and yet I watched it with a sense of despair and a sense of sadness. Because this programme was pure history, every contribution was from the past, and the elephant in the room is the current Islamic contribution to knowledge and science and learning. Where was that in the series of programmes? It wasnâ€™t there because fundamentally there isnâ€™t one. That is the tragedy of our community today.
The Middle East, despite all its oil wealthâ€¦is an intellectually stagnant area of the world, where one in three Arabs, 65 million human beings, Muslims, are functionally illiterate, of which two thirds are women. 10 million children in the Middle East have never stepped foot inside a classroom, inside a school. That is the modern Muslim legacy. The Middle Eastâ€¦is now intellectually closed off to the outside world. … Closed off to the world – and let s not hear any of this nonsense about foreign literature, or foreign books, or foreign languages, being alien to Islam. It is the only way to learn, to open your minds to non-Muslims, to open your minds to other cultures, to learn foreign languages.
It is no surprise then that when you look at the Muslim world you see that we 1.2 billion Muslims have just 10 Nobel prizes to our nameâ€¦.and our Jewish brethren who we spend so much time fighting and arguing with, 12 million Jews in the world, they have 150 Nobel prizes to their nameâ€¦.We are not under-armed, we are under-educated. We have lost our ability to think, to acquire knowledge, to advance intellectually, and then we wonder why our community is in such decay, why globally wherever you find Muslims we have such problems. Itâ€™s not a secret, itâ€™s not a conspiracy, its clear to anyone who looks at the numbers.
Do those words sound like that of an Islamist? That is not the kind of person Hizb ut-Tahrir would have in their camp.
Second: it’s about the kind of debate that HP has – which is basically ‘debate by condemnation and association’. Using a 45 second clip from a 45 minute speech to imply that the guy is an Islamist and all sorts (just read the comments) is precisely the kind of politics and smearing that Robert Spencer at Jihad Watch has done for years. The left is supposed to be about nuance – not the simple right-wing nuttery that paints the entire world as good guys V bad guys.
But this sort of tactic is designed to promote the racist notion that all Muslims, even the mainstream ones working at national titles, are closet Islamists. The word ‘taqqiya’, used to imply that a person is hiding their true beliefs, constantly pops up in the comments of that expose.
It’s the ‘Islamists under your bed’ narrative that unfortunately Harry’s Place has descended into over the last few years.
Third: There is a legitimate debate to be had about the choice of words that Mehdi Hasan uses. The word ‘kuffar’ is seen by many non-Muslims as derogatory like ‘golliwog’ (though you see an amazing number of right-wingers still defending those words) – and we should have a debate about whether it’s acceptable language even in wholly Muslim company.
But editors on HP and their friend Martin Bright are essentially saying that the New Statesman should not emply such a person, which is a deeply undemocratic and censorious position to take.
It’s also a character assassination to try and ruin someone’s career. This is especially odd since only a couple of months ago when a group of us challenged Nick Cohen’s attempts to malign the liberal-left, Martin Bright said we were trying to get him fired and said that was wrong. These are unequal standards being applied here.
Fourth: – I’ll take the general hatred of religious people in another article because that is a topic for another day. The killer argument here seems to be: well this is what the Qu’ran claims to say about non-religious people. And since this guy believes in religion he must believe in that and therefore he’s a nutjob! The HP hatchet-job feeds into the tendency among many atheists to automatically see religious people, and especially Muslims, in the worst possible light as if they’re all raging homophobes and misogynists if they’re slightly religious. But if you read the full speech – you see that his ire is reserved for Muslims, not non-Muslims.
Fifth: Possibly the worst thing about this ‘Islamists under your bed’ narrative is that it not only polarises people, but also allows the real nutjobs to get away with stuff while the likes of Harry’s Place are running their witch-hunts.
Last week I pointed out how the extremist group Hizb ut-Tahrir was trying to muscle in on the consultation around sex-education. This is the sort of work that Islamists are trying to do today – focusing on the cultural issues and promoting segregation. This kind of ‘gotcha’ politics aimed at mainstream figures doesn’t help – it actually plays into the hands of people like Hizb ut-Tahrir who say that the establishment will always find ways to malign and get rid of Muslims who get too uppity.
If the New Statesman editor gives in to this hatchet job then its feeds into a debasement of our political culture, where witch-hunts like the kind constantly seen on neo-con hubs like FrontpageMagazine.com become the way our politics is conducted.
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Filed in: Current affairs,Islamists,Media,Middle East,Religion