Mehdi Hasan has written a piece for the Guardian about racist abuse. The occasion is that he is leaving the New Statesman and moving on to the Huffington Post. It has generated quite a lot of comment, much of it critical. For example, over at Shiraz Socialist it has been analysed in pretty negative terms.
I think there are a couple of quite different issues that the piece has thrown up that need to be teased out and separated. At the moment I think some of the analysis is in danger of confusing them.
Firstly the obvious. Not everything that Mehdi Hasan says is completely agreeable. He has made comments and written pieces whose sentiments I don’t particularly share. The Shiraz piece goes through point by point some of the problems with his views, many of which are valid observations.
To be honest though I don’t think that is the real issue. The second question that this throws up is the significant one, and why I think Hasan’s piece is extremely important. And for that we need to leave aside Hasan’s views for a moment, as to be honest they aren’t actually relevant to the debate at hand.
Hasan’s argument that he and Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, Britain’s most prominent Muslim comment writers and probably those most publicly associated with ‘the left’ are forced to endure a level of abuse that non-Muslim journalists (with or without similar views to Hasan and Brown) simply do not.
Just read the comments beneath any of their pieces online. For the most part they aren’t serious political criticism or analysis of what Hasan or Brown are saying. They aren’t honestly engaging with the ideas that the writers are putting forward, whether or not they agree. Most of them start from the fact that YAB and Hasan are Muslims and anything they say must be viewed through that prism. YAB is denounced as ‘anti-British’ and is frequently told to ‘go back where she came from if she doesn’t like it here’ (I’m only paraphrasing). With Hasan many of the comments allege he is a dyed-in-the-wool Islamic fundamentalist, has a deep hatred for Western civilisation and believes in the establishment of the global caliphate. Anything he says that they object to (particularly on the subject of the Middle East) is evidence of his Islamist tendencies.
In short, they are both trolled on an industrial scale and the people trolling them are just nasty, racist, right-wing inadequates.
Whatever I think of Hasan’s and YAB’s views, it is wrong that they have to endure such a torrent of abuse every time they dare to offer an opinion on anything.
The wider question is that it is widely seen as ok for Muslims and Islam to be singled out for special treatment. If one substituted ‘Jew’ for ‘Muslim’ and ‘Zionism’ for ‘Islamism’ in the many troll-analyses that appear online (and a lot of wider discourse around Islam and Muslims in the UK) there would be a cascade of abuse and accusations of anti-semitism, and quite rightly so. I have no time for Islam but my objection is to it is as a religion that I despise as much as all the others. It isn’t uniquely bad and its practitioners aren’t uniquely malignant. And yet they are treated as such.
A confession. I had planned to write a series of pieces attacking Baroness Warsi in the most unflattering terms, especially when the stuff about her having her hands in the till came out, but I left it at just the one when I saw some of the other stuff appearing online. Much as I was appalled by her corrupt behaviour and dreadful politics, there was a witch-hunt atmosphere that I had no interest in being a part of. She isn’t/wasn’t an exceptionally amoral British politician compared to many current MPs and peers but she was being absolutely crucified as if she was. Why was that I wonder? It doesn’t take a genius to work it out………..
At a time when our whole political class has been shown to have their hands in the till, the relentless focus on one Muslim woman appeared to me to be quite deliberate. There are dozens of other Tories who could have warranted day after day of press intrusion into their financial affairs. It doesn’t make what she has done ok, but the fact that the white men have by and large got away with equally egregious avarice worries me.
So in summary, one doesn’t have to always agree with Hasan to acknowledge that he has written an important, and basically correct article this time around.