Opinion: Fear-mongering, negative stereotyping and abuse, even in polite society

Why, in a supposedly modern civilised liberal society, are some of our journalists having to put up with alarming levels of personal abuse?

Mehdi Hasan

It is not often that I agree or sympathise with the comments of Mehdi Hasan, a vehemently tribal Labour party supporting journalist previously working for the New Statesman and now with the Huffington Post UK.

But here, he talks about something I concur with – an issue which is not written about often due to the fear of public reprisal. It is an issue of real importance to be dealt with, if we are to maintain our strong credentials as a free and liberal society where journalists are not hounded due to their race, creed, belief and faith.

His article builds on the cross party experiences of high profile Muslims in political life and speaks of the daily pressure of anti-Muslim fear-mongering, negative stereotyping and abuse they suffer. He talks about his own experiences as a journalist and the pressure he faces to ‘conform’ and to not speak about ‘Islamaphobia’ for fear of being targeted by the constant barrage of negative comments.

Nobody should have to put up with what he and his family are experiencing. Regardless of whether we agree with his views or not, he is a citizen, a human being and a commentator who contributes to political discourse which is so important in underpinning our democracy with open and free debate.

As Liberal Democrats, we cannot continue to remain silent about this scourge of ‘acceptable racism’ – both silent and overt – taking place across Europe in a challenging post 9/11 world. It is surely not right to generalise and stereotypically label Muslims in public life who have something to say about our foreign policy, about extremism, racism, Islamaphobia or around the previously acceptable ‘war on terrorism’.

Incidentally, the English Defence League and the British National Party have also ‘adopted’ Islamaphobia as a more respectable campaigning position and one which they use effectively to recruit new members without ruffling too many feathers within polite society.

This is a Europe-wide phenomenon which must be seriously tackled with the same level of urgency as dealing with the racism heaped on the Roma Gypsy Traveller communities and with the evils of anti-semitism in Britain after the second world war.

As a Liberal Democrat, I am prepared to take up the challenge to speak more openly about the perils of the Mehdi Hasan experience …who else is with me?

* Issan Ghazni is Chair of the Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats and former National Diversity Adviser for the Liberal Democrats. Issan blogs here

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  • Elizabeth Grant 10th Jul '12 - 11:48am

    Well said! As a person of Irish descent I am well aware of the historical implications of this. Speaking out is vital.

  • The phobia – fear that is – has not appeared in a vacuum. You mention 9/11, but surely 7/7 is more relevant to Britain, given that it was Brits involved. Even at the height of the IRA campaign on the mainland I don’t recall police with submachine guns routinely deployed at transport hubs. After a number of attacks some degree of phobia is a rational response.

  • I read the Mehdi Hasan article yesterday morning. It’s garnered 1000+ comments already, the responses being overwhelmingly negative. Hardly surprising. The likes of Mehdi Hasan and Inayat Bunglawala are the worst examples of journalists who could defend Muslims, given their borderline extremist rants from the past.

    While I believe that the vast majority of Muslims are decent, law-abiding people, that doesn’t mean I have to agree with their religion. One which has aspects of misogyny, homophobia, hatred of apostates and non-believers. “Islamophobia” has become an all-encompassing term to censure even the most reasonable criticism of Islam (the faith, not Muslims themselves) despite living in a liberal democratic society. What does it say when even liberal and/or left leaning Guardian readers come out in opposition to the ideology?

    Race, gender, and sexuality are aspects of human beings which cannot be changed. Religion is a choice and if some Muslims can’t accept that there are people out there who have reservations about Islam, then they ought to take a look at those aspects of their faith again. There’s no smoke without fire.

  • Geoffrey Payne 10th Jul '12 - 1:23pm

    Liberals need to speak out against Islamophobia and support Hasan. There is no justification for Islamophobia, it is illiberal and we should say so.

  • I’m the author of a novel which addresses directly the topic of Islamophobia. The research I did into the topic revealed how casual and unthinking this prejudice is; it is illiberal and ignorant.

    As for the gentleman who believes that Islam is somehow akin to misogyny or homophobia; it’s like anything else, you can find acolytes of nearly any religion who propagate such beliefs – Google “Fred Phelps” if you don’t believe me. This is not to say that they represent the majority of Muslims or it is part and parcel of the faith itself.

    So yes, Mr. Ghazni, I’m with you.

  • toryboysnevergrowup 10th Jul '12 - 1:33pm

    Neil although I would agree with your criticisms of Islam – it is worth pointing out that all your criticisms could have also been levelled at Christianity in the past ( and indeed could be levelled at some of its proponents to day). That said religions do change and develop over time – and it does need to be appreciated that this process will only be speeded up by a dialogue with those who hold the beliefs you dislike – if you ignore those such as Hasan (who I agree says some things I disagree with very strongly) who are prepared to enter into such dialogue and who you has acknowledged has moved away from his past views then I’m afraid you will have no one to talk with and the whole reformation process will come to a standstill. And it isn’t a one way process – it would be silly to argue in the UK context that religious thought has not had an impact on secular thinking.

  • “This is a Europe-wide phenomenon which must be seriously tackled with the same level of urgency as dealing with the racism heaped on the Roma Gypsy Traveller communities and with the evils of anti-semitism in Britain after the second world war.”

    Actually I think a more pertinent comparison is with anti-semitism in Germany before the Second World War.

    Anyone inclined to think “it couldn’t happen here” should consider the way in which prejudice against Muslims in general has become acceptable in our society.

  • Richard Dean 10th Jul '12 - 2:05pm

    I find that I get abused when I irritate people, which is often. I wonder whether Mr.Hasan’s experience is the same – that the abuse is a consequence of his irritating people, rather than his association with Islam per se?

  • As a liberal:

    Racism is unacceptable.

    Criticism of religion is essential. Liberals must speak out against sexism and homophobia, and support equal rights.

    If Muslims want to reduce the legitimate fear about the extreme elements of their religion, they also should speak out against sexism and homophobia, and support equal rights. They should draw a line and make clear that they do not support those extreme views. This is how to become a modern, acceptable religion in a civilized, liberal society.

    Issan Ghazni, are you with me?

  • toryboysnevergrowup 10th Jul '12 - 5:25pm

    “If Muslims want to reduce the legitimate fear about the extreme elements of their religion, they also should speak out against sexism and homophobia, and support equal rights.”

    In many cases they do – doesn’t joining political parties or writing for magazines that have such a stance demonstrate something? But perhaps it needs to be appreciated that outright denunciations is somewhat harder given the communities in which they live, just as making denunciatons of racism can be a lot more difficult for those surrounded by racists in their daily life. The journey from A to B is hardly ever by a straight line.

  • @Geoffrey Payne – there is a clip on YouTube of Medhi Hasan talking about non Muslims translated as “living like animals”. I can’t tell whether its mistranslated – but if it is a fair translation – why do Liberals need to need to support Hasan? He comes across to me as being as extremist as EDL and BNP members – they can all say what they like but they don’t speak for me, and I hope not for you either.

  • It’s a difficult one. I sometimes thinks you will not get rid of “Islamophobia “unless you treat Islam as you would any other religion. The negative stereo -typing of Islam co-exists with a strand of thought that wants to give it a special dispensation from criticism .

  • We whites have a schizophrenic attitude to racism. We pride ourselves on having eradicated it.

    We no longer allow landlords to post notices that say “No Coloureds”. We don’t call people niggers any more. We come down like a ton of bricks on a footballer who shouts “black c***” instead of just “c***”, in the heat of the moment. We think we’re …. Oh, so civilised.

    Oh no, we’re not racist. It’s the other races who are racist. Those Muslims, they are fanatics, and they hate us whites with an irrational undying hatred – or, at least, some of them do. So, er, we don’t have to descend to the same level. We don’t have to adopt racist attitudes. We can simply and loftily condemn those who do.

    We’re so damn civilised, we can quietly assert a form of racial superiority, without actually having to do it explicitly. And then we can tell ourselves that our attitudes are faultless.

    White Britain too often still follows in Kipling’s footsteps!

  • Richard Dean 12th Jul '12 - 12:26am

    You whites seem to be rather blind, not even seeing that most of you aren’t like that at all. Maybe you’re just stressed out after a coalition fiasco? I happen to be white too, but I’d rather not be included in your minority “we” thank you very much indeed good night.

  • Stuart Mitchell 12th Jul '12 - 6:08pm

    David Allen: “We no longer allow landlords to post notices that say ‘No Coloureds’.”

    Not only that – we even stand back and allow ethnic minority landlords to carry on posting “No Whites” notices, just so we can have the satisfaction of basking in the glow of our “racial superiority”!


    Anyway, the big problem with Mehdi Hasan’s article is that he is forming an opinion of “society” based entirely on the garbage being written by newspaper columnists and Internet trolls. I hardly need point out the flaw in this argument. People on the Internet (and in newspapers) write nasty, invective drivel. This will never change, and if he were not Muslim, his assailants would sure as heck find some other stick to beat him with. (For example: There was a recent well-publicised case where a woman was subjected to a vicious on-line hate campaign after mentioning that she didn’t like a particular singer on The X Factor.) My advice to him would be to come out of his media/on-line bubble and get out in to the real world more, since the people there tend to be more civilised and indifferent to other people’s religions than the on-line trolls and Glenda Slaggs of this world.

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