Nick Cohen

Who is the greater hypocrite: Mehdi Hasan or the British left?

Who is the greater hypocrite: Mehdi Hasan or the British left?
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As displays of duplicity go, Mehdi Hasan’s performance on the BBC discussion show Question Time seemed hard to beat. Hasan delighted leftists by hounding the Daily Mail. Who really “hated Britain”? he asked. Not Ed Miliband’s father, as the Mail had claimed, but the “immigrant-bashing, women-hating, Muslim-smearing, NHS-undermining, gay-baiting Daily Mail.”

How the audience clapped and cheered. How they loved the sight of a principled left-wing journalist taking on the “Daily Hate” without fear of the consequences. Unfortunately for everyone concerned, the Mail showed within a day that Hasan’s outrage was phoney: a piece of cynical crowd-pleasing by a manipulative hack. He had sent Paul Dacre a begging letter asking for work. Although he was on the left, Hasan said, he admired the paper’s

"passion, rigour, boldness and, of course, news values. I believe the Mail has a vitally important role to play in the national debate, and I admire your relentless focus on the need for integrity and morality in public life, and your outspoken defence of faith, and Christian culture, in the face of attacks from militant atheists and secularists.”

The Mail attracts writers, who ought to oppose it, because it pays them top rates on one condition only: they say exactly what the editor wants them to say. You can get at least £1,000 for a morning’s work, and Dacre will fill your pockets even if he decides not to use your piece. Writers will bark like a performing seal for money as easy as that. My colleague Polly Toynbee once revealed that Geoffrey Wheatcroft, an author she regarded as a friend, produced a “stinking” attack on her at the Mail’s behest. He then “had the nerve to write me a cringing [private] letter claiming his copy had been doctored and, anyway, he had a lot of little Wheatcrofts to keep in shoe leather”.

Wheatcroft was being too modest. If you obey orders at the Mail, you can keep them in Louboutins.

But leftists should pause before denouncing Hasan as a charlatan and a sell-out. They are the purer hypocrites and greater fools. Hasan is from the Islamist religious right. He disputes how closely he has pushed up against the extremes – ever the politician, he says that old clips of him denouncing non-Muslims as “cattle” have been “taken out of context”. But he was being sincere when he told Dacre he was

“attracted by the Mail’s social conservatism on issues like marriage, the family, abortion and teenage pregnancies”.

Of course he was attracted. He is a religious reactionary. I have no doubt either that if Dacre had offered him work, he would have taken it and the opprobrium that would have followed, not only for the money but for the love as well.

If Dacre had had any sense, he would have hired Hasan for strategic reasons. He should have known that social conservatism would be a far stronger force if white rightists could overcome their dislike of immigrants and unite all conservative forces in a common front against liberalism.

As things stand, the world remains upside down. The left rather than the right defends reactionary religion, as long as the reactionaries do not have a white skin. You should never tire of pointing out that they are complicit in an enormous betrayal of progressive principles. Women, gays, secularists, liberals and socialists from ethnic minorities ought to be able to turn to British liberals and leftists for support against the patriarchal men, who seek to control them. Rather than fraternal greetings, they find indifference and hostility. The mainstream of liberal-left opinion in the universities, media, civil service, and Labour and Liberal Democrat parties has convinced itself that it is culturally imperialist to demand that members of minorities should enjoy the same freedoms as the rest of us.

This is why there has not been one prosecution for female genital mutilation. This is why, when 15-year-old white schoolgirl runs off to France with a teacher, the story leads the news, but when the parents of a Pakistani girl pull their daughter from class and force her to marry an old man —that is, when they organise her abduction and rape— liberal society stays silent. I should not need to add that multiculturalists who deny rights to people on the grounds of their ethnicity are every bit as racist as the white supremacists they profess to oppose.

To understand how deep the rot has set consider the story of Deepika Thathaal, better known as Deeyah, “the Muslim Madonna”. She ought to have been in the news this week, but I doubt you have ever heard of her.

Deeyah was brought up in Norway and launched herself as a beautiful and talented pop star. Old Muslim men thought that “their” women should not sing and dance. They persecuted her and her family, and drove her out of the country. Never mind, thought Deeyah, I’ll come to liberal Britain, where surely I will find a welcome. Exactly the same thing happened. Men threatened to cut or kill her if she did not stop performing, and their intimidation drove her underground yet again

As I said in a profile of Deeyah I wrote last year

I am not being fanciful if I imagine that had her tormentors been Norwegian neo-Nazis or the BNP, Deeyah would have become an anti-racist heroine: a Muslim Stephen Lawrence. Artists would make her struggle against prejudice their struggle. Politicians would invite her to Westminster and the European Parliament. The BBC would see to it that she was never off air. Liberal society would embrace her and define itself by its response to prejudice and violence.

The men who persecuted Deeyah in Norway and Britain were every bit as prejudiced and violent as neo-Nazis, but as it happens, they rallied under the banner of radical Islam rather than the swastika. A tiny difference, you might think. A mere trifle. But that tiny difference made all the difference in the world. No one came to Deeyah's defence. Not liberal-left or compassionate conservative politicians. Not the BBC or liberal press. Not Amnesty International or the "concerned" artists who take up so many leftish causes. No one cared. To defend an Asian woman from unprovoked attacks by Asian men was to their warped minds a racist or Islamophobic act. Unprotected and unnoticed, Deeyah slunk off to live in an anonymous suburb of Atlanta, and begin the long task of pulling herself together.

I am delighted to say that she did pull herself together. She gave up performing and became a feminist filmmaker. The first result of her change of career was Banaz, a documentary about Banaz Mahmod, the daughter of Kurdish parents, who lived in South London until her family organised her murder for running away from an arranged marriage. Last week her film won the 2013 Emmy for Best International Current Affairs Documentary. Deeyah was shocked but I was not surprised when Britain still refused to recognise her. With the honourable exception of my Observer colleague Tracy McVeigh, who never runs with the pack, the old indifference still stands. Neither right nor left wants to know. As for the centre, Emmy or no Emmy, no one from the BBC has ever interviewed her apart from the host of a World Service show. Even the supposed feminists on Women’s Hour have steered clear.

When set against the double standards of the liberal mainstream, the perfidies of Mehdi Hasan are trivial. We ought to talk about the hypocrisies at the heart of British society rather than another chancer looking to plump his bank account. For shamefully transparent reasons, however, we are more comfortable denouncing the Mail instead.

Written byNick Cohen

Nick Cohen is a columnist for the Observer and author of What's Left and You Can't Read This Book.

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