This is the first part of a three-part article on Mehdi Hasan, senior editor (politics) of the New Statesman, by Harry’s Place guest writer Channel 4 Insider.
Since its foundation in 1913, the New Statesman’s journalism been marked by its rationalism, a consistent concern for the underdog and a healthy scepticism for all forms of authority – not least towards organised religion. This is not surprising. Many of the magazine’s founders were among the most prominent atheists and socialists of their era. At the same time, however, despite their strong ideas and beliefs, these men and women wrote with humour and with great respect for those whose ideas differed from their own.
For example, George Bernard Shaw, one of the New Statesman’s co-founders, frequently attacked religion and yet wrote of his desire to believe in God and also his belief that lack of belief in an all-powerful deity should not be a barrier to good works:
“I should like to believe my people’s religion, which was just what I could wish, but alas, it is impossible. I have really no religion, for my God, being a spirit shown merely by reason to exist, his properties utterly unknown, is no help to my life. I have nor the parson’s comfortable doctrine that every good action has its reward, and every sin is forgiven. My whole religion is this: do every duty, and expect no reward for it, either here or hereafter.”
One wonders what he would have made therefore of the foam-flecked denunciation of atheists and “disbelievers” given by Mehdi Hasan, the New Statesman’s recently appointed politics editor, in a vitriolic speech,’ From Jahiliya to Jahiliya’, given at the Al Khoei Islamic Centre in February 2009 (the speech has now been removed from the IUS website, but we have archived a copy):
“The kaffar, the disbelievers, the atheists who remain deaf and stubborn to the teachings of Islam, the rational message of the Quran; they are described in the Quran as, quote, “a people of no intelligence”, Allah describes them as; not of no morality, not as people of no belief – people of “no intelligence” – because they’re incapable of the intellectual effort it requires to shake off those blind prejudices, to shake off those easy assumptions about this world, about the existence of God. In this respect, the Quran describes the atheists as “cattle”, as cattle of those who grow the crops and do not stop and wonder about this world.”
It is one thing to argue about relative merits of atheism or religious beliefs and it is surely right to say that some atheists have become blind to the wonders of the world. However, it is clear from the way that Mehdi Hasan spits out the words “the kaffar, the disbelievers” and his spittle-flecked denunciation of them as “cattle” that he does not intent this to be a reasonable discussion of belief.
Indeed, he does not seek to persuade his Muslim audience that atheists, kuffar and disbelievers are “cattle” and “people of no intelligence” – instead he simply tells them this is an unquestionable fact merely because the Quran says so. Hasan’s blanket denunciation of these people as “of no intelligence” would however be less galling if he hadn’t elsewhere attacked the mass media for making generalisations about Muslims. Here is Mehdi Hasanwriting in The Guardian about the British media:
“I grow tired of having to also endure a barrage of lazy stereotypes, inflammatory headlines, disparaging generalisations and often inaccurate and baseless stories.
If Mehdi Hasan is upset by “disparaging generalisations” made about Muslims, then why does he himself then attack all atheists and “disbelievers” as being “cattle” and “of no intelligence”?
One suspects that if a prominent non-Muslim journalist gave a speech in a London church in which he attacked all Muslims as being “of no intelligence”, Hasan would be among the first to object. Why then does he think that he has right to stand up in a mosque and defame and insult others on account of their beliefs?
The next part of Channel 4 Insider’s article on Mehdi Hasan’s life and career by will be published online on Monday.