Martin Bright

When Lefties Fall Out We Do It In Style

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Stephen Glover had an interesting take on the row between NIck Cohen and Sunder Katwala, head honcho at the Fabian Society, in his Independent column this week. Just to recap, Nick accused Sunder of being part of the left-wing consensus which failed to recognise the seriousness of the threat of extremist Islam. Sunder then gathered a group of writers and activists together to sign a letter to the Observer suggesting that Nick "needs to find another column to write", a strangely ambiguous turn of phrase.

I agree with Glover when he says the following: "Journalists should not sign letters to newspapers which might possibly be construed as an attempt to have another journalist sacked, and that, whether we agree with him or not, we should all defend Mr Cohen's right to continue to have his say." 

I would defend Sunder Katwala's right to sign a letter complaining about Nick Cohen and defending the honour of his organisation. What I found bizarre was the fact that he got others to sign it too. This struck me as a deeply hostile collective act which amounted to bullying.

You might have expected the Observer to defend its own journailst. But instead the readers editor Stephen Pritchard wrote a strange piece in defence of its decision to publish the letter. This decision was heralded by the otherwise temperate Sunny Hundal at Liberal Conspiracy with the horrible headline Readers' Editor Smack Down Nick Cohen. Sunny is one of the signatories to the original letter of complaint and the language of the headline suggests I was right about the bullying nature of the original letter.

Sunny returns to the theme on his Pickled Politics website where he says that it is conspiratorial to equate “Nick Cohen needs a new column to write” with “Nick Cohen should be chucked off the Observer”. My point is that the letter writer and letter signers should have made that crystal clear when they put pen to paper.

My other serious objection to the mini-mob who signed the Observer letter is that they were prepared to keep company with individuals who have links to institutions set up in Britain specifically to promote the right-wing Islamist party Jamaat-i-Islami (a minority force in Pakistan and Bangladesh for too long given credibilty by ministers in Britain). Asim Sidddiqui of the respected City Circle Muslim discussion group takes issue with this point in his Guardian blog. His point is that Dilwar Hussein and Yahya Birt - both alumni of Leicester's Islamist Islamic Foundation - should not be judged by the institution's past links to Jamaat-i-Islami.

"Just by being associated with a foundation founded by an Islamist more than 30 years ago is enough to dismiss their arguments – even if that institution encourages diverse views that challenge its old school Islamism?," says Siddiqui.  "Holding institutions hostage to their past and ignoring direction of travel and progress doesn't suggest much of an ear to the ground."I do think the Islamic Foundation is pretty much beyond redemption. It claims to be an academic institution but it was set up as the British ideological arm of a right-wing religious party. I'm sure the younger generation are trying to reform it, but they really should set up their own institution. And if they want to build up their credibility as defenders of free speech they should probably avoid signing letters which can be interpreted as trying to silence their opponents.