Smear and Distraction: a Mehdi Hasan Twitstorm

TwitstormTwitstorm, n: a cross between a Twitterstorm and a shitstorm.

On Tuesday 6 August I published a post about the journalist and commentator Mehdi Hasan. It got a very respectable amount of traffic, in large part because I tweeted it to Richard Dawkins who then retweeted it to around three quarters of a million people. I also tweeted it separately to the leader of the English Defence League, Tommy Robinson, who brought it to the attention of his followers – about 80,000 people.

Hasan then donned the headpiece of a certain detective who lives at 221B Baker Street and noted that Dawkins and Robinson had both tweeted the same link. Well suck me sideways, who would have guessed in a month of split moons that Hasan might do such a thing? Here’s a crash course in logicus Hasanus:

Observation 1
Dawkins and Robinson have both publicised the same link

Observation 2
Therefore it must follow from Observation 1 that Dawkins endorses Tommy Robinson personally and the EDL generally

Hitler liked German Shepherd dogs. So do I. Er sorry, what’s your point, Mehdi?

Hasan noticed I had previously written some positive things about the EDL and Robinson. Dawkins explained, perfectly legitimately, that he wasn’t promoting me as a person; rather he was just promoting a particular article I had written and which he had read. He also explained, again perfectly legitimately, that the blog post he had retweeted contained no reference whatsoever to the EDL and that he doesn’t have the time to read all my blog posts before retweeting one of them.

I freely admit it was a deliberate decision of mine to tweet Dawkins and Robinson separately. Was it underhand? I don’t think so. It was a way of ensuring a focus on the content of my post and the arguments within it because that’s basically all that matters in a debate: the arguments. The way Hasan pounced like a grassing schoolboy on a supposed Dawkins-Robinson-EDL axis of evil shows I was right to try and maintain attention on the post itself. And I didn’t exactly go out of my way to deceive: my tweets to Dawkins and Robinson were sent in very quick succession and both my EDL blog posts were still on my home page.

(In any case, I would like to apologise to Richard Dawkins for any trouble I may have caused. It was reading the God Delusion four years ago that woke me up from my own coma and I am a huge admirer of his, even though it’s becoming increasingly fashionable to hang him out to dry. Later on in the week he ran into some much heavier turbulence for calmly observing some uncomfortable truths about Nobel prizes and Muslims – or being racist as it’s called these days. The United Kingdom’s Dhimmi-in-Chief-elect, Owen Jones, has his take on it here – do please check out the comments under that piece if nothing else – but if the large organ inside your head is capable of processing more than one and a half facts an hour I’d recommend reading Dawkins’s own superb post-match analysis here.)

Bit of a tangent there. Talking of tangents, back to Hasan’s debating techniques when he finds himself in a tight spot. Hasan’s instinctive response tells us a great deal.

Firstly, he desperately tried to smear Dawkins by associating him with Robinson and the EDL, and also with me given my previous remarks about them. In so doing he demonstrated perfectly the point I had made in my first EDL post: if Robinson agrees with something it doesn’t make that thing factually wrong, or bad. That’s a simple point but it’s incredible how many people fail to grasp it.

Secondly – and much more significantly – all that time Dawkins was unnecessarily explaining he didn’t support Robinson or the EDL was time that the spotlight was generously moving away from Hasan. Remember, it was Cleric Hasan’s nervous breakdown captured on YouTube that had prompted my blog post that had kicked off the storm. Easy to forget that. Hasan succeeded in creating a sideshow; a sideshow built on sand and non-logic. It’s what he does best. Noooo-body does it bett-er…

I watched a video of Hasan’s Oxford Union debate on the motion “Islam is a peaceful religion” (I won’t tell you which side he was on). One of his opponents pointed out that Saudi Arabia was the birthplace of Islam and that Islam features pretty heavily there today, but that strangely the experience of living there couldn’t exactly be described as heaven on Earth.

Hasan responded that Saudi Arabia only came into being in the 1930s and that his opponent was therefore “only out by about 1300 years” – as though this changed in any way the point that had been put to him. Meanwhile, the drooling mass of highly-educated fools present at the debate gorged with a dhimmi’s zeal on the red herring Hasan threw at them, failing to realise he hadn’t dealt with the crucial and troubling point that had been raised. These literate morons, educated “way beyond their capacity” as the saying goes, were far too preoccupied massaging the ego of a journalist who was displaying a grasp of GCSE History to notice he had deliberately ignored a vital point. By the way, bear in mind this is the educational establishment that has produced two of the current leaders of our three main political parties. The third one, Nick Clegg, shattered the mould by going to Cambridge. If you were to guess wildly where our next crop of political leaders might be harvested from, what would you say? Rather depressing, isn’t it?

Watching the Oxford debate something else occurred to me. I strongly believe that a huge part of the problem with Islam is that people are so terrified – of terrorism and of being called racist – that they’ve become desperate to buy into the “religion of peace” and “moderate Muslims” clichés that are hurled at them, at absolutely any cost, and regardless of the facts. They’re eager to be convinced the problem rests only with a handful of haram apples who are misinterpreting an ideology which is at worst benign and at best wonderful.

The painful truth is that we are in deep, deep waters precisely because many Muslims are correctly interpreting an ideology which is demonstrably intolerant, disturbing and violent. People don’t understand just how poisonous this ideology is and they don’t understand the cancer of self-censorship and fear gnawing away rabidly at free speech, because they haven’t got even the slightest clue how important free speech is to our way of life. They think a drizzling of appeasement will do the trick. “Oh ok, so we can’t draw a cartoon of Mohammed, big deal I’m no cartoonist”, they’ll say. “Oh ok so we have to eat halal, who cares, it tastes the same and it all comes out as shit anyway”, they’ll say (and who cares that an increasingly large chunk of our food supply chain is fundamentally discriminatory because it’s creating jobs reserved for Muslims). “Oh ok so a bizarrely disproportionate number of grooming gangs are made up of Muslim men, it must just be a massive coincidence, hehe it’s a funny old world isnt it”, they’ll say. “Oh ok so they want to FGM their girls and have sharia councils, ah well that’s just their culture, we don’t want to be intolerant so we’d better just avert our gaze and leave them to it …” This is how freedom dies.

Bruce Bawer wrote a magnificent book called “Surrender: Appeasing Islam, Sacrificing Freedom” in which he argued that consenting to one Islamist demand merely hastens the arrival of the next one. Bawer is absolutely correct. That’s exactly what happens with appeasement, especially when the ideology is so gut-wrenchingly totalitarian and inhumane as this one.

Something else occurred to me during the Oxford debate. It led me to form my current diagnosis which is this: people subconsciously switch off when a white person is making arguments against Islam, even when those arguments are pretty much bulletproof as so often they are. “Post-Colonial guilt”, I believe is the term. And have you ever noticed that the terms “aggressive secularist” or “aggressive atheist” tend only to get slapped on to white men, rather than on to a heroic Pakistani girl who just wants to be educated without getting shot numerous times in the head, or someone who just wants to leave the religion of peace in, you know, peace?

People are so used to seeing the same white faces express these arguments (people like Dawkins, Sam Harris, Douglas Murray, Melanie Phillips and the late great Christopher Hitchens) that they assume it’s a race and/or class thing. To be clear: white people and even posh white people have as much right as anyone else to talk about Islam, but the game-changer for the average punter comes when they hear non-whites and especially ex-Muslims making these arguments (even, ironically, when those arguments are not so well-polished or well-delivered). That’s what makes people wake up, and at that point they tend to discard their fear of being called racist because they can clearly see right from wrong. It’s like snapping out of hypnosis.

Unfortunately the media doesn’t give ex-Muslims or non-whites (including genuinely liberal/secular Muslims, yes they do exist) who wish to speak out against Islam a particularly high profile. It just goes with the same few white faces. Why? Because it makes for good Punch and Judy television:

“And after the break, join us for posh white man in a suit vs. bearded Muslim cleric in adult pyjamas and a funny hat as WE ask: ‘Is it wrong to blow yourself and others to small pieces on a tube train, for religious reasons?’ Whatever you do, DON’T go away!”

[Now wink to camera, aaaaaaaand…CUT]

We can’t have people thinking for themselves based on the quality of the arguments presented to them, can we now? After all, we’re constantly told how we have extremely busy lives. Ooh look Big Brother’s on in a minute.

A note on Islam and Islamism

In some ways this distinction is important and in some ways it isn’t. Increasingly there’s very little difference between the two. In principle yes it’s Islamism that I really object to but in practice it’s virtually impossible to pinpoint where Islam ends and Islamism begins. They’re different, yes, but they’re…kind of the same. One morphs effortlessly into the other, especially as there’s such a hesitancy to talk openly about Islam, or Islamism, or whatever you want to call it (how about we mimic mafia bosses and just call it “the thing”?).

This unwillingness to engage in free enquiry is itself a defining characteristic of Islamism and sharia: thou shalt not criticise. As a result, even something at the lower end of the harm scale such as halal slaughter (which I wholeheartedly object to) becomes yet another facet of Islamism rather than merely Islam because everyone is petrified to talk about it and dinner ladies get sacked for serving non-halal meat by mistake.

When other religions intrude into the political sphere we’re not so generous to create a specific term for their political manifestation so as not to toxify the underlying religion’s precious brand value. But as with so much there is bespoke treatment for Islam. In this case we’re all forced to perpetuate a deluded collective denial that there’s nothing wrong with the religion of Islam by using the word “Islamism”. There is plenty wrong with Islam, just like there’s plenty wrong with all religions. It needs saying again and again and again: the key difference with Islam is that it hasn’t been secularised in the way other religions generally have. Islam’s poison still has its potency.

The focus on the Islam/Islamism distinction can end up being an academic pursuit. It’s the equivalent of rigorously using “he/she” instead of just “he” but not actually caring about sexism in practice.

People can get too obsessed with definitions rather than real stuff. I recently heard Liberty’s Shami Chakrabarti say she’s horrified whenever people talk negatively and, in her view, incorrectly, of “Muslims” rather than “Islamists”. Oh the fucking humanity, Shami! As though using the “correct” definition is the most important thing here. Duh, Islamists are Muslims you know, Shami, but not all Muslims are Islamists!

Surely we can just use words like “some” Muslims to make it clear we’re not referring to “all” Muslims? Can’t we just do that? Are we not that clever? Or maybe Muslims are just too sensitive for that BITTE NICHT SCHIESSEN! BITTE NICHT SCHIESSEN! sorry, I mean maybe SOME Muslims are just too sensitive for that.

Anyway, you won’t have to worry about the Islam/Islamism distinction for much longer. My prediction is that soon we won’t even be allowed to use the word “Islamist”. We’ll be assigned an offence-neutral, generic doublespeak alternative like “militant” or “extremist” (out of – more doublespeak here – “sensitivity”). You can tell your children you read it here first.

A note on the EDL

I admit I’m still not 100% comfortable with the EDL. But I’m really forcing myself to analyse them calmly and objectively and not just dismiss them out of hand simply because everyone else is. I would urge everyone to do the same. I don’t doubt for one second that there are racists and thugs who support the EDL but I can’t and I won’t dismiss the entire movement on that basis. And as I’ve said before, I have greater confidence in Robinson’s ability to root out and unequivocally condemn his bad apples than I do in Muslim leaders to do the same with theirs – and their bad apples tend to be far larger, more numerous and far more rotten than the EDL’s. All bad things are bad, yes, but there is a scale of harm. People must understand this. They must also understand that Islam (Islamism, the thing, whatever) pretty much needs its own scale.

There is much I see about the EDL that I like. It’s a grass-roots mass movement which is getting ordinary people interested in civil liberties, and especially free speech. Yes, some of their supporters have trouble posting a tweet with fewer than five typos but come on, WHO CARES? They often speak with more sense and more honesty about this fundamental issue of our time than our politicians or other over-educated stuck-up fools who are far too busy sneering at the typos and worrying about being seen to endorse anything the EDL are saying even to listen. Well I’m sure that smugness and sense of superiority will be very comforting to them when they’re living under full-fat sharia law rather than the current diet version they’re being gradually introduced to. Only at that point might they beg their unwashed underclass to fight this apocalyptic war for them. The only thing stopping them from asking now is that they’re too fucking stupid to realise we’re already at war.

I want to leave you with the closing section of a blog post from an EDL supporter, @VixxyLix. I recommend reading her whole blog post. Ignore the typos; it doesn’t change her message. If you can’t be bothered to read the whole post then just read the bit below. If you can choke back a tear when reading the last line then you’ll have done better than me. Goodbye.

There’s a problem within Islam, this is true, but unless people stop screaming racist, bigot, fascist, hate monger and resort to insults and threats at those who criticise/hold an opinion then we will never ever see peace in our lifetime, muslim population is less than 5% of the UK population yet it’s in our media and lives daily, what happens when it gets bigger? You may not care enough today, but what about tomorrow, if we don’t do something about our concerns today then next generations will say “what the hell did our parents/grandparents do”…

At least mine will say “she tried”