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Mehdi Hasan Part II – Muslims and non Muslims

This is the second part of a three-part article on Medhi Hasan, senior editor (politics) of the New Statesman, by Harry’s Place guest writer Channel 4 Insider.

One of Mehdi Hasan’s favourite themes is “the Muslim World”: a concept that he strongly defends. Look, for example, at this attack on the Quilliam Foundation. Hasan is writing about a press release which praises Obama for talking about “Muslim communities” rather than the “Muslim World”. The press release continues:

Quilliam emphasises that there is no monolithic ‘Muslim community’ nor is there a singular homogenous entity known as ‘the Muslim world’, rather there are diverse and distinctive Muslim communities that need to be reflected in our discourse. Using the term ‘the Muslim world’ only serves to bolster the Islamist and Al Qaeda narrative of ‘the West’ against ‘Islam’ – of a battle of ‘us’ versus ‘them’ or ‘good’ versus ‘evil’.

Mehdi Hasan is deeply upset by this argument:

As someone who has often used the phrase “Muslim world” myself, I take great personal offence in now being told by Ed Husain and his patronising thinktank chums that I for one am bolstering the repulsive and divisive “al-Qaeda narrative” by doing so.

The idea of the “Muslim world” is central to Mehdi Hasan’s worldview.  At times, he falls into an “us” and “them” narrative: in which the Muslims are “us” and the “kaffar” is “them”.

I would like to revisit the talk, ‘From jahiliya to jahiliya’, that we considered on Friday. In the following extract Hasan  goes on to describe the “kaffar” as actively “covering up” and “concealing” truths, while seemingly endorsing a French scholar’s description of Quran as teaching that “disbelief” is “an infirmity” and “ a disease of the human mind”:

[15:37] “In Islam, to believe is to know. To disbelieve is not to know. That is what it fundamentally comes down to; it [to disbelieve] is to remain ignorant; to cover up knowledge. After all, what is ‘kaffar’? Kaffar comes from the root word which means to cover up, to conceal. The kaffar is the one who covers up that knowledge which is clear. The French orientalist scholar Lamens [?], he once wrote that the “Quran is not far from considering unbelief, disbelief as an infirmity, as an illness, as a disease of the human mind”. Subhanallah. Non-Muslims point this out to us.”

Although he was quoting a French non-Muslim, he apparently endorses the man’s points by saying ‘Subhanallah’, a term usually used to suggest approval.

Hasan’s apparent suggestion that “the kuffar” are deliberately “covering up” or “concealing” truth and that their disbelief as evidence of a “an infirmity” and a “disease of the human mind” is redolent with the implication that a non Muslim is something distasteful, and perhaps even – if the “kaffar” wilfully conceals a clear and divine truth -  a transgressor against God.

Hasan also speaks of  the Muslim and non-Muslim world as being in a state of conflict with each other. For example, in 2009, in a talk called ‘From Jahiliyah to Jahiliya’, the duty of Muslims to educate themselves is justified in terms of the need to win “battles” against non-Muslims:

[11:00] “It is no surprise that when we look at the Muslim world, you see that we 1.2 billion Muslims we have won just 10 nobel prizes to our name. Nobel prizes in whatever it is; economics, physics, literature etc. We have ten to our name despite the fact that we are 1.2 billion Muslims. Our Jewish brethren who we spend so much time fighting and arguing with: 12 million Jews in the world and 150 nobel prizes to their name. All Israel’s top 6 universities feature in the top 200 universities on earth – none of the Muslim world’s top universities feature in top 100 or 200 universities in the world and then we wonder why we are losing battles – we are not being out-fought we are being out-thought. We are not underarmed. We are undereducated.

If Mehdi Hasan does not believe in the ‘clash of civilisations’ narrative, why then does he frame a discussion of scientific research in terms of a conflict between “the Muslim world” and non-Muslims? And why does he believe it necessary to bring talk of Jews, battles and fighting into a talk about Muslim education? The answer, so it appears to me, is because he believes that “the kaffar” are actively opposed to Islam and Muslims, and he believes the “Muslim world”  must prepare to defend themselves.

Mehdi Hasan’s religious views also appear to play a role in shaping his statements about world politics. In the following clip, Mehdi Hasan speaks out against nuclear weapons, which he regards as  ‘haram’. However, the discussion is couched in terms of the difference between the values of Muslims and those of non-Muslims:

Once again, Mehdi Hasan draws the familiar distinction between the “moral” Muslims and the non-Muslims who are compared to animals:

“We know that keeping the moral high-ground is key. Once we lose the moral high-ground we are no different from the rest, of the non-Muslims; from the rest of those human beings who live their lives as animals, bending any rule to fulfil any desire.”

Because Mehdi Hasan has described Iran as a “dictatorial regime” with a “terrible human rights record”, it is particularly odd to hear the Senior Editor (Politics) of the New Statesman bolstering his argument against nuclear weapons with a religious ruling by Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic:

“Ayatollah Khamenei has issued a fatwa saying the stockpiling, the production, the use of nuclear weapons us forbidden under Islam. Spot on. Islamic Republic of Iran. The fatwa of the Supreme Leader.”

It it not clear to me what Hasan’s argument is here. Does he take the fatwa at face value? He doesn’t appear to doubt it. Indeed, he appears to be arguing that the fatwa from a senior Iranian Shia cleric and politician is a reproach to  Sunni Pakistan.

Hasan is not an Islamist. Indeed, he has clearly written and spoken of his opposition to the idea of an “Islamic State” as well as criticising Wahhabi and Takfiri groups. Nevertheless, he does repeatedly draw a sharp and often insulting distinction  between Muslims and non-Muslims. Non-Muslims are presented as infirm, ill, mentally deficient, of no intelligence, like cattle and animals: as the “kaffir”.  He also speaks of a conflict between “the Muslim world” and non-Muslims, which Muslims must prepare themselves to win by out-educating the non-Muslims.

That may not be Islamism, in its core sense. It is, however, most certainly sectarianism. It is unacceptable for public figures like Mehdi Hasan to give speeches describing the followers of other religions and none in these terms.

Some of you have disagreed. The argument is, essentially, that religious people naturally regard their faith as a good one, and can’t be blamed for saying so. That is true. However religious people who are liberals and pluralists refrain from expressing their religious differences in insulting, offensive, and confrontational terms.

Remember, Mehdi Hasan is not a cleric. He is a Senior Editor of a Left wing newspaper. So ask yourself how you would react if a prominent white, non-Muslim journalist gave a talk to a primarily white audience on the need for greater education in which he argued that “we whites should educate ourselves and embrace knowledge, otherwise we will be no better than Muslims” in which he also compared Muslims to “cattle” and “animals”. When examining the actions of public figures we should treat them equally, irrespective of their ethnicity and faith.

Part 1 is here.