In the wake of the incident of the “Allahu akbar”-shouting Olympic torch-snatcher in London, the headline on a July 8 article in the Guardian by a British Muslim journalist named Mehdi Hasan may seem, shall we say, a mite ironic: “We mustn't allow Muslims in public life to be silenced.” The piece was a bid for pity. “Have you ever been called an Islamist?” it began. “How about a jihadist or a terrorist? Extremist, maybe? Welcome to my world....Every morning, I take a deep breath and then go online to discover what new insult or smear has been thrown in my direction....the abuse is as relentless as it is vicious.” Hasan's claim is that this “abuse” – mostly by readers commenting online on his articles – is evidence of “Islamophobia” and is part and parcel of a widespread, insidious attempt to suppress the voices of Muslims in the public square.
Hasan says that he has been targeted throughout his career in journalism by this repulsive effort to silence Muslim voices. “On joining the New Statesman in 2009 [as political editor], I was promptly subjected to an online smear campaign....Three years later, as I leave the New Statesman to join the Huffington Post UK [as political director], little seems to have changed.” If anything emerges clearly from Hasan's plaint, it's that if anyone's trying to silence him, it sure ain't working. Au contraire – this guy's journalistic career is thriving. Though he's leaving the New Statesman as editor, he'll remain in its pages as a weekly columnist. He's been a welcome regular contributor to the Guardian for some time now. He appears frequently on the popular political talk shows Newsnight and Question Time. And he's just been given his own series on – where else? – Al Jazeera. In short, despite the supposed campaign to “silence” him and other Muslims, Hasan has held top positions at some of the top media organizations in Britain – few (probably none) of which would ever dream of hiring anyone remotely critical of his religion.
One reason for all the vitriol directed at him, Hasan insists, is that “Islamophobes” have misrepresented his views and twisted his words. But the evidence is out there, and the facts are plain – and damning. In a 2009 talk to a group of his fellow Muslims, Hasan disparaged non-Muslims as “animals, bending any rule to fulfill any desire.” In another 2009 talk to a similar audience, he called atheists “cattle” and “people of no intelligence.” Last November, in an essay for the Guardian, he turned the truth about Iran's nuclear ambitions on its head, defending that country's desire for an H-bomb by depicting Israel as an aggressor out to destroy Iran and representing Iranians as consequently, and understandably, “fearful, nervous, defensive.” As for Hasan's contributions to The New Statesman, Douglas Murray summed them up in 2009 with the wry observation that “Hasan appears to be doing everything he can to chase any non-Muslim readers away from [The New Statesman]....[he] has a dim view of the worth of us non-Muslims.”
None of these facts, however, kept Hasan's fellow Guardianistas from taking his side against the evil Islamophobes. In a July 10 piece, Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland offered as proof of the validity of Hasan's lament the “vile” reader comments on the lament itself. Among the comments Freedland considered “vile” were those “branding Islam backward or denouncing its beliefs and practices as 'odious,' and culminating in an ultimatum by which Islam's, and therefore Muslims', place in Britain was deemed conditional on adaptation to suit the critics' tastes: 'If Islam is to be truly accepted as part of British society it must embrace science. It must embrace rationality, sexuality and reason.'” Freedland lambasted all this as “racism.” In Freedland's eyes, indeed, even the critics of Islam who, as he put it, “dress up in progressive, Guardian-friendly garb – slamming Islam as oppressive of gay and women's rights, for example,” are, deep down, nothing but racists: “the thick layer of bigotry is visible all the same.”
Given how sensitive Freedland is to purported prejudice against Muslims, it is interesting to see how easily, and sneeringly, he dismissed concerns about Islamic prejudices as a question of “taste” and a matter of bigots cynically “dress[ing] up in progressive...garb,” as if there were no legitimate reason whatsoever for such concerns. Freedland admitted, to be sure, that he had “felt uneasy at some of the language [Hasan] used a few years back, when he appeared to describe non-Muslims as 'people of no intelligence' and as 'cattle.'” But he went on to say that he found Hasan's “explanation” for those incidents “pretty plausible” (it wasn't) and to give Hasan credit for “conced[ing] that his 'phraseology was ill-advised and inappropriate.'” Mind-boggling. What to make of a man who, after seeing Hasan's “cattle” and “animal” videos, can still call readers racists for taking those videos seriously, characterizing them fairly, and responding with fully appropriate moral outrage to Hasan's unambiguous – and explicitly faith-based – contempt for his non-Muslim fellowman?
Freedland's piece wasn't the end of this snow job. On July 11, the Guardian ran brief contributions by Inayat Bunglawala, Huma Qureshi, Simon Woolley, Nadiya Takolia, and Bim Adewunmi under the headline “Online racist abuse: we've all suffered it too.” (There's no room here to go into all of these people's backgrounds; suffice it to say that the first person on the list, Bunglawala, the public face of the Muslim Council of Britain, has praised Osama bin Laden as a “freedom fighter,” called Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman “courageous,” and savaged the British government – in the Guardian, naturally – for denying a visa to Yusuf al-Qaradawi. Apparently readers who were troubled by any of that are racists, pure and simple.) On July 12, Gary Younge, another Guardian columnist, offered a few hundred words of vapid hand-wringing about the ugliness of many reader comments online, with an emphasis – again – on “racism.”
The next day Gavan Titley and Alana Lentin served up a plateful of multicultural clichés (the “colorblind” ideal is flawed because “[b]eing blind to race often involves being blind to racism”; “racism has not been overcome because a black President was elected, but the legitimacy of analysing society in terms of race has been undermined”). And on July 16, Rob Berkeley lamented the “vitriolic abuse” Hasan allegedly “receives when he seeks to address issues of anti-Muslim discrimination on the basis that he is homophobic – well he must be, he is a Muslim after all and everyone 'knows' Muslims are homophobes. Presumed guilty, he is asked to prove his liberal credentials before his reasonable arguments are even given a hearing.” Disingenuous claptrap. Anyone who has watched Hasan's videos knows he's not just hostile to gays – he thinks all infidels are, as they say, pigs and dogs.
Yes, as we all know, there are plenty of people out there who post comments online that are nothing more than ugly personal attacks or expressions of one variety or another of repellent prejudice. It's not pleasant – but it's not the end of the world, either. It's simply the small price we all pay for the extraordinary freedom to exchange ideas in the (so far) uncensored international forum that is the Internet. What this flurry of Guardian pieces represents, quite plainly, is a nefarious contribution to the ongoing effort to discredit as sheer racism even the most straightforward truth-telling about Islam (which, of course, the Guardian's lexicon to the contrary, is not a race) and to foster a mindset on the web that is reflexively censorious toward any expression of disquietude about the ideology of Islam. In short, if there's a campaign underway to silence anybody, it's not targeted at Muslims but at those of us who dare to speak the truth about their religion – and one of its headquarters, as has now yet again been amply demonstrated, is the Guardian.
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