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Silencing dissent: Hasan and Freedland

A few months ago this comment appeared under one of Mehdi Hasan’s articles in the Guardian. (The focus of Hasan’s piece, ‘This brutality is not Islam’ was the sentence for apostasy against Pastor Nadarkhani in Iran):

“Yet again, the Islamophobes are mirroring the Islamists they supposedly hate in their anxiety to insist that the most unaccommodating version of Islam is the correct one. I’m not a big fan of MH but people were snarkily asking (in the New Statesman) if he was planning a piece on this – and now he’s done one. Would those who are now grumbling prefer it if he’d written a piece *approving* the death sentence?”

This comment seems reasonably in tune with the kind of complaints made by Mehdi Hasan in his recent article, and echoed by Jonathan Freedland.  It’s not simply a complaint against anti-Muslim bigotry of the kind no one here would I am sure condone – it’s a complaint about the way some people view Islam itself – and maybe some readers here wouldn’t be inclined to go along with that element of the comment.

It’s actually my own comment, and one of the main things I had in mind when I wrote that I wasn’t exactly a fan of MH was the famous ‘cattle’ clip, and I quote myself here to demonstrate that it is quite possible to be against, not just foul abuse of Muslims, but even (up to a point) criticism of Islam, and yet still just not be that into Mehdi Hasan.  Criticism of Mehdi Hasan, even when it may in some broad sense relate to Islam, need not be Islamophobic.  It’s this fact which both Hasan and Freedland fail to acknowledge fully in their articles.

I did not realize that Mehdi Hasan had made some kind of apology for the ‘cattle’ clip until I read Freedland’s piece.  He has acknowledged that his words were ‘ill-advised and inappropriate’. That’s good.  My misgivings about him aren’t confined to that incident – but I by no means always disagree with him, and I wouldn’t say, as Rod Liddle does, that he was a ‘fabulously stupid Islamist’.  As I said on Pickled Politics during a wrangle about cattle ‘I don’t think this makes you an Islamist – I just think it makes you rather rude’  (It might have helped if he’d said back then that his words had been ‘ill-advised and inappropriate’.) And I tweeted my approval for his recent good piece on Turkey.

So why, seeing by his own admission that that cattle speech wasn’t his finest hour, does Hasan conflate people – and blogs – who criticised his own bigotry, with other people who engage in the nastiest kind of abuse?  The term ‘goatfucker’ – one of the insults he quotes – is simply unacceptable whoever it is is aimed at.  It is horrible and racist (except when amusingly applied to a particularly ghastly CiF regular by an HP regular BTL yesterday!)  If he hadn’t invoked the cattle clip, and its critics, in that article, I would have had no special problem with his complaints about vicious anti-Muslim bigotry.

Jonathan Freedland’s article was simply infuriating in the way it weaponised an entirely reasonable point – I’m sure Mehdi Hasan did attract some foul comments the other day which we’d all condemn – to brush aside the problem about silencing fair criticism – silencing people like Quizblorg. Here’s a slippery section about bigots:

… but the subtler ones are not much better. They can be confusing, because they often dress up in progressive, Guardian-friendly garb – slamming Islam as oppressive of gay and women’s rights, for example – but the thick layer of bigotry is visible all the same. Call it progressives’ prejudice.

Yes, some people do invoke progressive causes yet are still bigots.  But surely Freedland isn’t saying that all discussion of these issues in relation to Muslims or Muslim countries is bigoted?

I’m not sure I buy the explanation canvassed on this thread that Quizblorg’s comment was deleted because s/he had been banned, and s/he was trying to evade the ban.  His/her other comments are still up there, as others have noted.  There is no evidence of any deleted comments in the profile.  Even I have one of those – funnily enough, it was under a piece by Mehdi Hasan …