British journalist and commentator, Mehdi Hasan has written a comment piece in today’s Guardian on the Islamophobic and personal abuse that he and many other Muslim journalists and bloggers are subjected to online. He argues that such abuse hinders Muslims from entering journalism or engaging in discussion on online forums. He further argues that for Muslims, disengaging or censoring the voice of the voiceless would be to let the Islamophobes win.
From the Guardian:
“Have you ever been called an Islamist? How about a jihadist or a terrorist? Extremist, maybe? Welcome to my world. It's pretty depressing. Every morning, I take a deep breath and then go online to discover what new insult or smear has been thrown in my direction. Whether it's tweets, blogposts or comment threads, the abuse is as relentless as it is vicious.
“You might think I'd have become used to it by now. Well, I haven't. When I started writing for a living, I never imagined I'd be the victim of such personal, such Islamophobic, attacks, on a near-daily basis. On joining the New Statesman in 2009, I was promptly subjected to an online smear campaign, involving a series of selectively edited videos of speeches I'd delivered in front of groups of Muslim university students several years ago. I was accused of being a "secret" member of the extremist group Hizb ut-Tahrir, and a "dangerous Muslim shithead" in the "same genre" as the Nazis.
“Three years later, as I leave the New Statesman to join the Huffington Post UK, little seems to have changed. "Huffington Post's new UK political director brings pro-Iran baggage," screamed the headline on the Fox News website back in late May. My "baggage"? I once publicly praised a fatwa from Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, forbidding the production of nuclear weapons. Shame on me! Another ultra-conservative US news website, the Washington Free Beacon, referred to me as the "HuffPo's house jihadi".
Hasan explains how any mention of ‘Islam’ or ‘Muslim’ generates this type of vitriol. He illustrates by way of example a ‘light-hearted’ column he wrote in the Guardian on Ramadan and how Muslim athletes cope with fasting. The article attracted around 1000 comments, “the vast majority of which were malicious, belligerent or both.”
He continues, “it isn't just pieces about Muslims. A recent interview of mine with the shadow chancellor, Ed Balls, elicited the following response: "Get out of my country, goatfucker." How many other political columnists have to deal with such "feedback"? And how many of my fellow pundits in the British media get death threats in the post, warning them that "there will not be 1 live Muslim left in Europe when we have finished"?
Hasan divides British journalists into three groups- the ‘handful’ who speak out regularly against anti-Muslim bigotry; the group who see Muslims as ‘alien, hostile and threatening’, noting commentators such as Douglas Murray, Melanie Phillips and Charles Moore among this category; and finally, the third group which he describes as the biggest group: “those commentators who boast otherwise impeccable anti-racist credentials yet tend to be silent on the subject of Islamophobia; journalists who cannot bring themselves to recognise, let alone condemn, the growing prevalence of anti-Muslim feeling across Europe – or acknowledge the simple fact that the targeting of a powerless, brown-skinned minority is indeed a form of racism.”
Hasan argues that although Islam should not be exempt from public debate and criticism, “the fact is that you can now say things about Muslims, in polite society and even among card-carrying liberal lefties, that you cannot say about any other group or minority. Am I expected to shrug this off?
“… if those of us who try to participate in public life and contribute to political debate are constantly painted with a broad brush of suspicion and distrust, then what hope is there for the thousands of young British Muslims who feel alienated and marginalised from the political process? I used to encourage Muslim students to get involved in the media or in politics, but I now find it much harder to do so. Why would I want anyone else to go through what I've gone through? Believe me, Muslims aren't endowed with thicker skins than non-Muslims.
“To say that I find the relentlessly hostile coverage of Islam, coupled with the personal abuse that I receive online, depressing is an understatement….Perhaps, a voice at the back of my head suggests, I should throw in the towel and go find a less threatening, more civilised line of work. But that's what the trolls want. To silence Muslims; to deny a voice to a voiceless community. I shouldn't have to put up with this abuse. But I will. I have no plans to let the Islamophobes win. So, dare I ask: who's with me?”
Hasan’s claim of the increasing acceptability of Islamophobia in the public sphere and polite society, echoes those of Baroness Warsi who last year spoke of Islamophobia having “passed the dinner table test”. No surprise that among those who excelled in their criticism of Warsi’s claims on Islamophobia were Douglas Murray, Melanie Philips and Charles Moore.
Mehdi Hasan broaches an important subject in highlighting the challenges facing Muslims who show themselves above the parapet and engage in the public sphere. There is a degree of the pitfalls of the former Prevent strategy, and its attempts to delineate ‘moderate Muslims’ as those who are Sufi-inclined, in the current climate of demarcating ‘moderate’ and ‘extremist’ Muslim. But as Hasan contends, “…if those of us who try to participate in public life and contribute to political debate are constantly painted with a broad brush of suspicion and distrust, then what hope is there for the thousands of young British Muslims who feel alienated and marginalised from the political process?”
It is an issue which has been raised in the review of the Prevent strategy undertaken by the Communities and Local Government select committee and most recently in the report on the ‘Roots of Violent Radicalisation’ by the Home Affairs select committee. Hasan’s comment piece, and the conclusions drawn in the parliamentary reports, brings into sharp focus important questions on encouraging democratic participation. If parliamentarians recognise the need to counter radicalisation and improve political engagement by “ensur[ing] that there is a nonviolent outlet for individuals throughout society,” what hope is there of this being realised when Islamophobic abuse follows?
|< Prev||Next >|