This is a cross post by Melanie Phillips from the Spectator
On Friday, I wrote about the confused message being put out by the various groups which were taking to London’s streets yesterday, including one led by Inayat Bunglawala of the Muslim Council of Britain, to oppose the ‘sharia now’ demonstration by al Muhajiroun. My post provoked an unexpected reaction – an extraordinary ad feminam attack upon me, on the Guardian’s Comment is free blog, by the ‘reformist’ Muslim Ed Husain which accuses me of displaying
zealotry and ignorance
and being filled with
anger, venom and hatred
not to mention also being
Such fame! It could turn a girl’s head.
The first question is why Ed Husain was so exercised by what I wrote. After all, this was not his fight; I had made no mention of him or his ‘anti-Islamist’ Quilliam organisation. Much more astonishing was that he was leaping to the defence of none other than Inayat Bunglawala and the MCB. The MCB is an Islamist body which wants to theocratise Britain according to the precepts of Islam.
Last March, the government suspended links with it after its deputy Secretary-General, Daud Abdullah, signed a declaration that was seen as calling for violence against Israel and condoning attacks on British troops in Iraq. Earlier this year, it boycotted Britain’s annual Holocaust Memorial Day commemoration ceremony. Its Secretary-General, Dr Abdul Bari, has said Britain should adopt Islamic practices such as arranged marriages and that Britons should follow the teachings of Islam. Moderate it is not.
As I reported below, Bunglawala told me himself that he wants Britain to become an Islamic state. Yet Ed Husain, whose Quilliam organisation receives a great deal of money from the government in order to oppose Islamic extremism, actually extols Bunglawala for having moved to embrace liberal attitudes. Ed Husain, who in 2007 vividly described in his own book Bunglawala’s anti-Jewish attitudes, now says Bunglawala should not be held to account for remarks he made in 1993 in support of Islamist extremism and from which he has now ‘distanced himself’.
People must decide for themselves whether Bunglawala’s apparent conversion to the causes of gay rights and freedom of speech is genuine. But what about his declared aim of turning Britain into an Islamic state? Does Ed Husain now think this too is evidence of Bunglawala’s ‘liberal’ attitudes? Or must we assume that Ed Husain too must not be held to account for his previous opposition to this Islamist goal?
Now let’s look at what Ed Husain says about me. His article sits underneath a strapline, almost certainly written by the Guardian rather than by him, which says:
In her McCarthy-style paranoid parallel universe, the Spectator columnist views every Muslim a potential Islamist terrorist.
You really do have to rub your eyes at this. In my blog post which provoked Ed Husain’s article, I praised and welcomed those truly moderate Muslims who were mounting a counter-demonstration against al Muhajiroun, particularly the group British Muslims for a Secular Democracy. I have never said or implied that ‘every Muslim’ is a ‘potential Islamist terrorist’. On the contrary, in everything I have ever written about the subject I have emphasised that there are many Muslims who sign up to secular western values and who are themselves victims of the jihadis.
I have always emphasised that, while jihadi Islamism is a particularly troubling interpretation of Islam because it is based on theology and backed up by the history of Islamic conquest, it is only one interpretation and there are other Muslims who interpret their religion in an entirely peaceful and unthreatening way. To suggest that I have ever said otherwise is not only a demonstrable falsehood but is a smear which is likely to incite hatred against me.
But it is Ed Husain’s account of how we first met and what followed that utterly destroys any claim he has to integrity. This is what he writes:
I first met Melanie two years ago at the Richard and Judy show. Unaware that she was a last-minute, unexpected guest, and aware of the prejudiced views that she has expressed about Muslims in the past, I was unwilling to appear beside her as a complementary contributor; I made my excuses to Richard and left the studio.
However, I believe in the human ability to change and, in that hope of helping Melanie see the flaws in her analysis, I met with her several times in private and appealed to her to stop blaming Islam and Muslim scripture for (the decidedly un-Islamic phenomenon of) terrorism. Why would she and her acolyte Douglas Murray not cease attacks on Muslim scripture that were based on bin Laden’s understanding of Islam? And why would they not support Islam’s inherent pluralism and recognise that Islam per se is not the problem, but iconoclastic interpretations of it.
I would not normally ever reveal what takes place in private conversations. But since Ed Husain has grossly abused this confidence by misrepresenting these exchanges in order falsely to blacken my reputation, I will now reveal what actually happened.
We did indeed first meet in July 2007 in the hospitality ‘green’ room of the Richard and Judy Show, where we were both due to appear on a panel. Upon my arrival in the green room, however, Ed Husain immediately said he would have to leave. I was taken aback, since I had admired his position as a practising Muslim who had renounced his former membership of the jihadi Hizb ut Tahrir and was now fighting Islamist extremism. When I asked him why he felt he could not appear with me, he told me that he could not risk the damage this would do to his reputation amongst other Muslims.
‘They already call me a Zionist’, he said. Of course he was anything but. What he meant was that Islamists who were out to destroy him were using the most lethal form of demonisation that they knew. If he opposed Islamic extremism, he had to be a ‘Zionist’ stooge. He had in fact recently written an article for the Guardian which troubled me very much, in which he wrote:
Zionism and Islamism are both political perversions of ancient Abrahamic faiths of Judaism and Islam… Prior to the Holocaust, Zionism was a pariah movement among Europe’s Jewish communities. Rabbis chastised Zionists for abusing religion and religious identity. And yet, with the inhumane onslaught against European Jews in the 1940s, Zionism gained acceptance and respectability.
I asked him whether the reason he had written this article was similarly to fend off the taunt of ‘Zionist’. ‘Of course’, he said. He was, he said, on the point of encouraging more defections from Hizb ut Tahrir and could not afford to allow anything to jeopardise this delicate mission. So he had written this article mainly as a tactical ploy to deflect the charge that he was a ‘Zionist’ stooge.
‘But’, he added, ‘it was not altogether wrong. There is a core of truth in what I wrote’.
I was appalled to hear this. Cynical, tactical use of anti-Israel and anti-Zionist bigotry to save his own skin was bad enough. But for him to believe that Zionism really was a perversion of Judaism suggested to me that, even though he had renounced the jihad, he was still in the grip of the poisonous Muslim delusions about Israel and the Jewish people.
So it was I who suggested we should meet, in order to discuss this. He enthusiastically agreed; he made plain he had no quarrel with my position on Islam. He appeared keen to strike up a friendly relationship, and wanted to know more about my views on Israel and Zionism which were clearly a point of contention between us. So we met in a cafe, chosen at his request to be in an out of the way place where he would run no risk of being seen with me by anyone who could use this against him.
I gave him a quick history of the Jews and their ancient relationship with the land of Israel, explaining to him the symbiotic relationship between the people, the religion and the land. I ran through the development of political Zionism in the 19th century, the decision by the world community after World War One that the Jews had an unchallengeable and unique right to the land of Palestine where their ancient national home should be reconstructed, and the subsequent attempt by the Arabs to frustrate this aim, the actual cause of some nine decades of conflict in the Middle East.
He was – at times, literally – open-mouthed at all of this. He had clearly never been told any of it before. It threw him. He cavilled at parts of it, not because he had any contrary information but because, he said, he just ‘couldn’t believe it’. But there was one thing I said to which he responded with enthusiasm.
I remarked how amazing it was that the anti-Israel ‘progressive’ Left supported ethnic cleansing in the putative state of Palestine through their core demand that the Israeli settlers had to be removed from that territory. After all, there was in principle no reason why the settlers couldn’t just be left there and become citizens of a state of Palestine whose boundaries could simply be drawn around them. This was impossible, however, because the Palestinian position was that no Jews could be citizens of Palestine – a racist position supported by the ‘anti-racist’ Left.
‘You are absolutely right!’ he exclaimed. ‘What a brilliant point! Why don’t you make it more vigorously?’
We met subsequently on a couple more occasions. The conversation did not return to the subject of Israel but was largely about Ed Husain’s difficulties in fending off the onslaught from Islamists who, he said, were using every trick in the book to isolate, bad-mouth and destroy him, and the manoeuvres he was having to use to outwit them; and how frustrated he was that the government refused to listen to him about the dangers of employing Islamist advisers — and about how imperative it was not to treat the Islamists of the MCB as legitimate interlocutors, since by doing so ministers were cutting the ground from under his own feet. He was anxious; I was sympathetic.
The last such discussion that I had with him some months ago was very different. He tried to persuade me that a certain Islamist who was working as a civil servant in Whitehall, and who I believed to be as dangerous as the government was deluded about him, was a reformed character and had turned into an anti-Islamist activist. I thought Ed Husain had finally been got at by the Muslim Brotherhood who had succeeded in bamboozling him. But I also wondered – as I had done uneasily right from the start – whether, although he had denounced violence, he had never properly renounced Islamic extremism because he could not bring himself to acknowledge its true religious source.
Whether he was a ‘holy fool’ or something worse, it became clear to me at this point that Ed Husain could be viewed no longer as a weapon against Islamist extremism. He should be regarded instead as a potentially lethal boomerang by which the Muslim Brotherhood could bamboozle and manipulate ministers and government officials who had Ed Husain-shaped stars in their eyes – and who were throwing money at him on the basis that he would serve to inoculate young British Muslims against the Islamists.
Let me reiterate that – contrary to his assertion in his Cif article – at no point in any of our discussions did he ever accuse me of ‘blaming Islam and Muslim scripture for (the decidedly un-Islamic phenomenon of) terrorism’ or for not recognising ‘Islam’s inherent pluralism’. On the contrary, it was a given between us that, unlike some other anti-jihadis who did indeed regard all Muslims and Islam as one homogeneous threat, I drew a distinction between moderate Muslims and Islamists and did allow for differences in interpretations of the religion.
The question remains, though, quite why Ed Husain feels so viciously towards me. I think it is indeed because of my support for Israel, on which subject he appears to be unbalanced and obsessional. In his Cif piece about me, he claims of me that anyone
who opposes her views on Israel is either an Islamist or ‘in the Islamists’ camp’.
This is an absurd misrepresentation of my views. What I do say, however, is that anyone – Muslim or not — who endorses and promulgates lies and bigotry about Israel and the Jewish people, scapegoating them for crimes of which they are not only innocent but are in fact the victims, cannot be a true ‘moderate’ or an ally of the free world against the enemies of civilisation.
A number of anti-jihadis told me from the start that my support for Ed Husain was misplaced because he had never properly renounced Islamist extremism. To begin with, I defended him as a naif. Even when he came out with boilerplate bigotry against Israel, I put it down to the fact that he had been brought up in that kind of milieu. He was on a steep learning curve, I said. Everyone can change for the better.
It was I who was naive.
Picture: Goya’s ‘The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters’