When is a moderate not a moderate?
To many observers the journalist and commentator Mehdi Hasan represents everything a moderate Muslim should be: well-dressed (no hooks for hands); well-spoken; well-educated (and impeccable left wing credentials coming courtesy of Oxford University, via private school); successful (political director of the Huffington Post in the UK); and…moderate.
But hold your winged horses for just a second. Is he in fact moderate? As ever, when it comes to religion and particularly Islam, things are never that simple. You have to use that big old lump between your ears and see where it takes you. Luckily we have the gifts of free conscience and free speech – for the time being at least. Let’s use them here and see what happens, shall we?
It’s fair to say that many people wear a different hat depending on their given audience. I know I do. No matter how much we like to convince ourselves otherwise, we all tend to speak very differently depending on whether we’re amongst friends, family, colleagues or strangers. But Mehdi Hasan seems to take this principle a bit further than most by deploying the cunning “Islamist mind trick” of toggling effortlessly between calm, articulate public discourse with the outside world and barking mad religious intolerance in the company of co-believers.
There’s a fantastic clip on YouTube which demonstrates this point rather perfectly. I really do urge you to watch it. Trust me, you’re not that busy. It switches beautifully between one of Hasan’s many appearances on BBC’s Question Time and what can only be described as a foam-mouthed tirade of undiluted Islamic hate.
In the clip Hasan talks of kuffar (infidels) as “cattle of no intelligence”. He’s not exactly going to win many awards for interfaith outreach with that one, is he? Similarly, he refers to kuffar as “animals, bending any rule to fulfil any desire”.
Pleasant chap, that Mehdi. Very moderate. Must remember to invite him over for a slice of lemon drizzle cake one of these days.
He also talks of how Islam must never bend, which isn’t the kind of language I like to hear from moderates. One of the key problems with Islam is that it’s often perceived as an “all or nothing” religion (and often it is indeed practised that way, with devastating consequences). This is something I explored in a previous post.
To hear a supposed moderate saying Islam must not bend doesn’t fill me with confidence. That’s because Islam needs to go through exactly the same process that other religions have generally gone through: it needs an Enlightenment and it needs to be secularised. Those things can only happen if Islam “bends”. And let’s just say that time is of the essence here because the most pressing question for us in practical terms is whether this happens before boneheaded jihadis get their paws on an atomic weapon (or, given their intellectual shortcomings, an unsophisticated dirty bomb).
At this point I must do the decent thing and record that Hasan has claimed he was taken out of context in the video through a “hatchet job”, and that he even offered something comparable to an apology. But hang on, why do you need to apologise if you’re taken out of context? Realising that the clip didn’t exactly do his “Everyone’s Favourite Moderate Muslim” image too many favours he went to great lengths to explain how he was…also referring to his fellow Muslims as cattle who bend any rule to fulfil any desire! Well that’s ok then! That makes him, er, more moderate, right? Or does it make him less moderate?
Presumably then, Hasan considers as inferior beings not only those humans who aren’t Muslims, but he reserves identical intolerant contempt for Muslims who don’t share his beliefs or who don’t practice his tolerant and peaceful religion in the same way he does. Considering the most heinous infringement of Muslims’ rights generally tends to come at the hands of other Muslims and in the name of Islam, rather than from non-Muslims, I don’t see how Hasan is being a useful ally to his fellow Muslim brothers and sisters with that kind of approach. He’s demonising (and literally de-humanising) Muslims. Hell, people have been called “Islamophobic” for less.
Hasan is entitled to his beliefs, you might retort. And of course you would be absolutely correct. The thing is, we’re entitled to form an opinion on Hasan based on what he says. My opinion is that he’s a very unpleasant individual; the proverbial wolf in very well-tailored sheep’s clothing. He submits constant complaints of racism, intolerance and “Islamophobia” when people merely have the temerity to discuss Islam (the cheek of some kuffar, honestly). This not only unfairly smears those who simply seek to exercise their freedom of speech to question what is often a highly disturbing ideology, but it also helps shut down any criticism or even discussion of Islam. This makes life even harder for liberal and secular Muslims who want to practice their faith as individuals because it reinforces the very notion that any criticism of Islam is haram.
There’s an incredibly simple rule you have to remember which will serve you well in any interaction with Hasan: any criticism of Islam or Muslims has to be on Hasan’s terms, and preferably by Hasan himself. After Hasan had penned a surprisingly candid and encouraging piece acknowledging the very real problem of anti-Semitism amongst many of his co-religionists, the excellent Douglas Murray, Hasan’s long-time sparring partner, laid on some heav(il)y (ironic) praise before sweeping in for the knockout:
“I didn’t think I would ever agree with so much of an article written by Mehdi. But this is no time for gloating. Mehdi should be congratulated for breaking the silence on this subject. It might have been broken a long time ago, but every time somebody tried to make these same points they kept getting dismissed as a racist or ‘Islamophobe’.”
This, in a nutshell, is one of the main stumbling blocks to any improvement of the situation we currently find ourselves in. It is the idea that only Muslims are entitled to have a view on Islam and Muslims. It is the idea that any non-Muslim wishing to express even the mildest disapproval of Islam or Muslims can only be motivated by hate or racism. And it’s people like Hasan who perpetuate this folly.
Ultimately, effective and lasting change will only come from Muslims themselves but those of us on the outside looking in are absolutely entitled to contribute to this vital discussion because Islam affects everyone, Muslims and kuffar alike. And by playing a full part in that debate we will also demonstrate our support for decent Muslims, because we’ll help create a wider environment where people can scrutinise Islam without everyone going bananas.
Hasan has written about how he struggles “as a Muslim” with the idea of homosexuality (that’s where I got the idea for this post’s title, clever eh?!) But seriously, I happily give him credit for having the honesty to express those views. I said earlier that we’re entitled to form an opinion on Hasan based on what he says. We’re also entitled to form an opinion based on what he doesn’t say. In his YouTube meltdown Hasan refers rather unfavourably to someone as “a corrupt individual, a tyrant, a killer…a homosexual, a paedophile, a sexual deviant, someone who slept with his own mother”. If you’re a homosexual, or if like me you’re straight and you don’t consider homosexuality to be immoral, you might be surprised to see homosexuals uttered in the same breath as those other categories, and with the same hatred evident in Hasan’s voice. Worryingly, Hasan didn’t deal with that point at all in his context explanation piece. What, if anything, may we infer from that? Are homosexuals up there with those other people? It might be useful to know.
It’s a grave error to assume Muslims need spokespeople who assume authority to speak on their behalf. They don’t. However, to the extent any Muslim does want a spokesperson they deserve better than this. There are brave and intelligent Muslims who would serve them far better than Hasan. Here’s just three off the top of my head, and in no particular order: Maajid Nawaz, Tarek Fatah and Raquel Evita.
As for Hasan, I suggest we now all leave him alone so he can try and reattach his fast-slipping mask in peace. As for me, I think I’ll run a book (sorry Mehdi, I know that’s haram) on what name he calls me first: Islamophobe, racist, bigot, troll, kafir, hater, cattle, person of no intelligence, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera…