Smarting from being outed as a foe of the freedom of speech, the UK Islamic supremacist Mehdi Hasan has come back with a defensive, self-pitying, whiny piece that claims to rebut the contention that he wants to “block all criticism of Islam or Muslims in the press and, effectively, ban free speech,” but in fact only reinforces it.
“Hiding Anti-Muslim Bigotry Behind ‘Free Speech’ Won’t Work,” by Mehdi Hasan, Huffington Post UK, November 19, 2014:
Oh dear. What I am being accused of, and attacked for, now?
Awww, poor victim!
Apparently, I want to block all criticism of Islam or Muslims in the press and, effectively, ban free speech.
“A lie,” as the old saying goes, “will go round the world while truth is pulling its boots on.” Never has that particular statement been more apt and accurate than in today’s era of social media, of Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp, in which a lie goes round the world three or four times before truth has even bothered to go looking for its boots.
First, some background: I gave a talk at Mindshare UK’s ‘Huddle’ in London on 13 November – a talk that I also gave at the Wilderness Festival in August, incidentally – in which I outlined the various ways in which sections of the British press routinely demonises, discriminates against and fearmonger about British Muslims, especially in the form of inaccurate, misleading and dishonest headlines, images and stories. (You can see for yourself a selection of the hysterical and flat-false front page headlines that I presented, via Powerpoint, here.)
Hasan made this claim in his first piece. It is just as much hysterical nonsense and manipulative propaganda in this one as it was in that one. In reality, the British press, and the press in all Western countries, is extremely careful not to write anything negative about Muslims, and routinely ascribes Islamic jihad activity to “Asians,” “youths,” “insurgents,” “militants,” and the like — any word will do as long as it obscures the Islamic inspiration and goal of jihad violence.
I suggested that, in the context of an ongoing British debate over the best form of press regulation, there needed to be tougher action by any proposed new regulator against the promulgation of falsehoods and smears against marginalised minorities of all types – Muslims, Gypsies, asylum-seekers, etc. I made no mention of the religion of Islam, to beliefs, practises, theology and the rest. In the Q&A after my talk, while thinking aloud, I said I genuinely couldn’t think of any way of changing press attitudes and practises that didn’t involve some sort of sanction or penalty, maybe in the form of pressure from consumers or advertisers. I was referring here specifically to the campaign against the Daily Mail‘s homophobic response to the death of Stephen Gately in 2009. To be clear, the background and context to all my remarks was the Leveson-inspired debate over press regulation in the UK; I wasn’t advocating new laws or financial penalties or restrictions on speech – nor did any of the audience members present at either Mindshare or Wilderness interpret my remarks in that way.
The fallacy here is that Hasan and his comrades regularly tar any analysis of how jihad terrorists use the texts and teachings of Islam to justify violence and supremacism as “the promulgation of falsehoods and smears” against a “marginalised” minority. Yesterday on Twitter I asked Hasan to clarify the distinction between legitimate criticism of Islam and Muslims and the “promulgation of falsehoods and smears,” specifically by giving an example of criticism of Islam that he did not consider to be a hateful example of “anti-Muslim bigotry.” He did not, of course, respond, and he could not — because there is no criticism of Islam and Muslims that he actually considers legitimate. In a similar way, the UAE-designated terrorist organization Hamas-linked CAIR claimed a few years back that there was legitimate criticism of Islam and Muslims that did not constitute “Islamophobia,” but this was just window dressing for the gullible; in reality, neither Hasan nor Hamas-linked CAIR has ever spoken or written approvingly of anyone who utters the slightest negative word against jihad terror and Islamic supremacism.
Nevertheless, across the pond, right-wingers of varying hues – taking their lead from this news report in the Guardian and this spin-off report on Mediaite – took great offense at my remarks. CNN’s conservative host S.E. Cupp claimed I wanted to “censor anti-Muslim speech”. Michael Moynihan, a libertarian writer and editor at The Daily Beast, decided I had “come up with a really stupid and dangerous idea”.
Note his characterization of his critics as “right-wingers”: this is just semaphoring to the easy marks who read the Huffington Post UK — “These are the bad guys. Do not agree with them or you will be cast out of polite society.”
JihadWatch’s Robert Spencer declared: “Mehdi Hasan goes full fascist, calls for sanctions for criticism of Muslims”. (The “fascist” charge is deliciously ironic, given the fact that Spencer, oft-quoted by Anders Breivik, has been banned by the Home Office from entering the UK due to his far-right views on Islam and Muslims.)
Regarding the Breivik smear, see here (scroll down). As for the Home Office, in their letter to me they said I was being banned for saying, “[Islam] is a religion and is a belief system that mandates warfare against unbelievers…” In other words, they banned me for enunciating a manifest and obvious fact. (To be sure, it is a fact that Mehdi Hasan disputes; I refuted him here.) Is it a “far-right” fact? A “far-left” fact? Neither. It is just a fact. Do I hold to “far-right” views — say, the infringement of the freedom of speech to placate a ruling elite, and the denigration of those outside the group as subhuman “animals”? No, that would be Mehdi Hasan.
Egged on by Spencer and co, the Muslim-baiting trolls on Twitter and Facebook went further, falsely claiming that I wanted to “silence” and “punish” critics of Islam by introducing “genocidal blasphemy laws” and angrily demanding I be “shot” for my supposedly illiberal views. “It would appear that the Huffington Post has been infiltrated at the highest office by Islamists,” wrote one charming Facebook commenter.
Note once again that Hasan tries to defect legitimate criticism of his far-right, fascist views by caricaturing his opponents as “trolls” who want to see violence done to him.
Why on earth would I want to punish or prevent “criticism” of Islam or Muslims? I spend a good chunk of my time as a writer, commentator and TV presenter criticising and condemning the behaviour of certain Muslims, certain Muslim groups, certain Muslim-majority countries – see here, here, here, and here. Oh, and here, here and here. Would I really call for a “penalty” on myself? Really?
Note the sleight of hand. He asks, “Why on earth would I want to punish or prevent ‘criticism’ of Islam or Muslims” and protests that he has been busy “criticising and condemning the behaviour of certain Muslims, certain Muslim groups, certain Muslim-majority countries” — but not, conspicuously, Islam itself. And there’s the rub. Anyone who dares to notice how groups like al-Qaeda and the Islamic State use the texts and teachings of Islam to justify violence and oppression would be, in Hasan’s view, promulgating “falsehoods and smears against marginalised minorities.” If we say, “That Islamic State is terrible, and look how they’re hijacking the Religion of Peace!,” that would be just fine with Mehdi Hasan. But if we say “That Islamic State is terrible, and look how they’re basing all their actions upon the Qur’an and Sunnah!,” he will want us shut down as purveyors of “hate speech.”
But what if they really are basing all their actions upon the Qur’an and Sunnah?
Now, am I guilty of making off-the-cuff and perhaps clumsy remarks, during a brief audience Q&A, followed by an even briefer and impromptu interview with a Guardian journalist in the crowd? Yeah, in hindsight, probably.
Translation: “I know I have been caught dead to rights on this one, and am trying to slither out of it somehow.”
But am I guilty of trying to shut down debate or limit free speech on this issue? To quote the great champion of free speech, the late Christopher Hitchens: “Don’t. Be. Silly.”
Yes, he is. Read on.
I have a long history of defending, and promoting, free speech and open debate – especially (especially!) within Muslim communities. In October 2012, for example, I published an open letter to “Muslim protesters” who were rioting over the controversial YouTube movie about the Prophet, urging them to value free speech and tolerance while denouncing their violent antics.
I also happen to present a discussion show on Al Jazeera English, called ‘Head to Head’, in which my guests have included high-profile and very robust critics of Islam and Muslims – including atheist Richard Dawkins, ‘Muslim refusenik’ Irshad Manji, feminist Mona Eltahawy and Israeli settler Dani Dayan. None of them complained afterwards that they had been censored by me; in fact, Manji welcomed the opportunity to set out her stall on Islamic reform on one of AJE’s most-watched programmes. I disagree with much of what she says but I not only defend to the death her right to say it, I even offered her a global platform on which to do so (to the annoyance, I should add, of many of my fellow Muslims).
Hasan actually only allows for a very small spectrum of thought on his show. Eltahawy is as much of a fascist and foe of free speech as he is. When he has Ayaan Hirsi Ali — or me — on his show, then he can talk about defending to the death his opponents’ right to speak.
So, as I say, I support free speech, free expression, open debate. Apparently, you’re not allowed to add a ‘but’ after this statement. Hmm. The problem is that there is no such thing as an ‘absolute’ or untrammelled right to free speech. That’s not a controversial or provocative thing to say. It’s just a fact. People – especially journalists, ‘The Hitch’ or otherwise – who suggest otherwise are either being naive or just plain disingenuous.
Consider the European Convention on Human Rights: the ECHR in article 10 says “everyone has the right to freedom expression” before going on to add that “the exercise of these freedoms… may be subject to…restrictions or penalties”. Even in the United States, exceptions to the First Amendment include, among other things, incitement to violence, obscenity and child pornography, slander and defamation, copyright and patents and national security. Oh, and don’t get me started on John Stuart Mill and the ‘right’ to shout ‘fire’ in a crowded theatre…
None of these, you’ll notice, come close to justifying restrictions on criticism of Islam.
Regardless, my talk had nothing to do with free speech, or restricting free speech. I was making a much broader, more moral point: you may have a right to be offensive and bigoted towards a group of people, but why should high-profile newspapers and media organisations exercise that right only in relation to one particular community, i.e. Muslims? Does S.E. Cupp want CNN giving TV shows to 9/11 ‘truthers’ to present? Does Michael Moynihan want The Daily Beast to give Holocaust deniers or KKK members a regular column? Why is it that there’s outrage when papers are racist or anti-Semitic or homophobic, but not when they’re Islamophobic? Why the double standard?
Once again: the problem here is that Mehdi Hasan and his ilk tar all counter-terror analysis that examines the motives and goals of jihad terrorists, which are rooted in Islam, as “offensive and bigoted.” Then he says that what is “offensive and bigoted” should not be given a platform. But who should be given the power to determine what is “offensive and bigoted” and what isn’t? Mehdi Hasan? Whoever would have that authority would wield enormous power, as he or she would effectively have the power to control the public discourse. And that’s the idea. What Mehdi Hasan is advocating here is quintessentially fascist.
As my good friend Nesrine Malik argued in the New York Times in April, liberal commentators’ “preciousness about the right to offend won’t be credible until they advocate extending it beyond Islamophobes — to racists, anti-Semites and homophobes, too”. Those who “fancy themselves defenders of free speech,” she concluded, “must be consistent in their absolutism, and stand up for offensive speech no matter who is the target”.
Attacking me for my off-the-cuff remarks and poor solutions is a nice and neat way of avoiding the problem that I highlight: you can now say things about Muslims that you cannot say about any other minority community, and such an egregious double standard is both morally wrong and, from a counter-extremism and counter-terrorism perspective, completely counter-productive. Can we deal with this point please? Rather than sticking our heads in the sand?…
You can’t really say anything about Muslims at all that people like Mehdi Hasan would deem objectionable and offensive. As I have shown many, many times here, the mainstream media is a one-party state. If it runs an article headed, “Is Islam a Religion of Peace?,” the only answer you will ever see is “Yes.” If it runs an article entitled, “Was Bill Maher right that Islam is inherently violent?,” you can be sure it will be saying that Maher is wrong. The only place where the truth is still allowed is on the Internet, in places like Jihad Watch. But even that small blade of grass through the concrete drives Mehdi Hasan crazy, and he wants authorities to “deal with this point,” rather than sticking their “heads in the sand.” They are in the sand indeed — but that is because of the active efforts of Mehdi Hasan and his allies.