At the weekend I was on the BBC TV programme Sunday Morning Live. We discussed pilgrimages and the ethics of the banking industry. But the first debate was the most heated. It was titled, ‘Are Muslims being demonised?’
The Huffington Post’s UK political director, Mehdi Hasan, claimed that Muslims are indeed being demonised. For my part I argued that while there are serious reasons – principally terrorism and murder – to be concerned about some strands of Islam, those who would tar all Muslims with the brush of the extremists are doing something very wrong.
I thought it an interesting and lively discussion. However at the very end Mehdi Hasan told a smear which I think needs correcting. It came as a response to my own very brief reference [24 minutes in here] to a couple of Mehdi’s notorious online sermons. These include the one here in which he uses the bigoted slur-term ‘Kaffar’ to describe non-Muslims and goes on to refer to all non-Muslims as ‘cattle’.
Elsewhere on the web is a video of a sermon in which he says:
'We know that keeping the moral high-ground is key. Once we lose the moral high-ground we are no different from the rest, of the non-Muslims; from the rest of those human beings who live their lives as animals, bending any rule to fulfil any desire.'
Anyhow – I only mention this because when I raised the matter of his ‘cattle’ comments Mehdi responded with an extraordinary claim. He said that if people go online they can see me supporting the English Defence League. Which is news to me. Mehdi’s exact words were: ‘Just as you have defended the EDL online.’ In the resulting melee, as I tell him he is speaking nonsense, you can hear him try to say that I have praised them as a ‘grassroots response.’
After doing a little research I learn that this claim appears to be something of a meme among some on the far-left libel blogosphere. A brief search suggests that it is being driven by an individual who has been caught libelling me before. Sadly he appears incapable of learning the lesson of the time he was forced to publish a retraction, formally apologise and then pay what he could afford by way of compensation. The meme also appears to be getting pushed online by another disreputable individual I have written about before, who has now amusingly taken refuge in anonymous postings to propound his obsessive and erroneous claims.
Anyhow – I have dug up the alleged source of their claims here. It is a video of a panel discussion I did several years ago organised by the secular campaign group ‘One Law For All’. I was speaking alongside a number of Muslims and ex-Muslims and we were discussing where lines should be drawn in the fight against Islamist radicalism. We were all in agreement that racist groups could never be considered allies in such a struggle. I said:
‘I think everyone in this hall would be in agreement. The BNP is an overtly racist organisation. It always has been. There’s not going to be a moment when it isn’t.’
But, I went on to say:
‘We’re going to have to be extremely careful in who else we lump in with them.’
The EDL had recently emerged (I had already written about them very critically here). In the panel discussion I explained that we ought to be very careful in lumping any people in together. In particular I made the point that we should be careful to differentiate between different types of non-Muslims just as we should be careful in differentiating between different types of Muslims. Having reminded people that the EDL had only come about because of the government’s (then) inability to proscribe the Islamist group al-Muhajiroun, I went on to address some issues relating to this then nascent organisation. Here is what I said:
‘The English Defence League when they started protesting had banners saying things like ‘Sharia law discriminates against women’, ‘Sharia law is anti-gay.’ Well I’m good with both of those sentiments. I’m sure most people in this room are. If you were ever going to have a grassroots response from non-Muslims to Islamism that would be how you would want it, surely.
‘But of course we all know there are awkward things around this. There have been exposed links from the EDL with far-right organisations in individual cases and maybe – others will know more about this – wider than that. But for instance Louis Amis wrote a very interesting piece in Standpoint magazine some months ago after an investigation. He said – and others have said – that as far as they can see, within the EDL, they have tried to kick out BNP elements. Does that mean that they aren’t racists? I’m not making a definitive point. I’m just saying these things are extremely complex and we ought to be careful before dismissing whole swathes of people.’
To claim that this statement constitutes a ‘welcome’, expression of ‘support’ or praise of the EDL is to rather obviously ignore not only an ‘If’ and a crucial ‘But’, but everything else besides.
Nevertheless, the fact that I am no supporter of the EDL is clearly disappointing for some of my creepy and cowardly online libel-stalkers. As it is for the political director of the Huffington Post UK. Nevertheless it seems right to correct him when he makes such an error.