*NOTE: Irritatingly enough, since writing the below article I have become aware of a similarly themed essay written by Robert Spencer. Some of the points I make are covered more comprehensively in Spencer’s piece and some are covered more fully here. I therefore offer the below as a companion piece to Spencers’.*
You may be forgiven for thinking that my agenda with this blog is to simply issue character assassinations of the more prominent and mainstream Muslim spokespeople in Britain. My first post was in response to a ridiculous piece of Anti-Western propaganda written by co-founder of the Muslim Public Affairs Committee UK – Asghar Bukhari (who has since blocked me from his Twitter feed.) My second was a more generalised and admittedly Ad hominem hatchet job on the duplicitous “Twitter celebrity” Mohammed Ansar (who blocked me from his Twitter feed seemingly not long after the invention of the microchip.)
Perhaps there is an element of truth to this notion but, in my defence, it is born less out from any real agenda of malice and more due to the fact that I simply find it easier to make my point when I have an antagonist to rebuke and therefore actual arguments to respond to. And since the careers of these spokespeople are based on issuing their often flawed opinions across British media platforms, I think that their words and actions are probably fair game for criticism.
The following then, is a dissection of the statements made by Mehdi Hasan at a debate held at the Oxford Union last year in the wake of Fusilier Lee Rigby’s brutal murder. Hasan, among others, was arguing for the motion “This House believes Islam is a religion of peace” against the opposing arguments of Anne-Marie Waters, Daniel Johnston and Peter Atkins.
Hasan and his co-panellists won the debate and I find it slightly troubling that his sophomoric and easily refuted arguments could have had such an impact on the audience of a leading British university. For reference, Hasan’s speech can be seen here.
Whether or not Islam can or should be held at least partially responsible for the atrocities committed in its name is a complicated topic and one that has been the basis of some very serious and heated discussions. For some, it is self-evident that a holy text which contains apparent incitements to heinous acts is wholly liable for the actions of those who hold to the view that these words are divine in origin. Others argue that religion has absolutely no bearing on the behaviour of its followers unless of course we happen to find that behaviour agreeable, in which case religious ideology is paradoxically given credit. Some argue that the problem of terrorism has its basis in political grievance and that religious ideology is irrelevant, whilst others argue that a combination of the two factors is more likely. Some argue that those who commit base acts of criminality whilst citing religious justification are misreading or misinterpreting their texts, whereas others argue that they are following those texts to the letter.
Hasan, it appears, falls into the camp of wanting to credit Islam only with its positive contributions to history and global society on the one hand and on the other, laying the blame for any of its negative impacts at the feet of some other influential factor.
His opening statement is essentially a crass distortion of the arguments against his position, an outright dismissal of the entirety of those arguments and an overtly sarcastic and insincere apology for the role of Islam in religious violence.
In typically mocking tones he characterises the argument of religious cause and effect as inseparable from an attack on all Muslims as people. This trite and disingenuous parody of a legitimate position, often held by people who repeatedly go out of their way to differentiate between a religio-political ideology and its adherents, is not only a cynical dismissal of a valid and complex dispute but also a disruptive attempt to equate any investigation into the causes of religious violence as a broadsided, bigoted attack against a cowering minority.
He goes on to launch into an Ad hominem attack upon the previous speaker, Anne-Marie Waters, by claiming her argument as indistinguishable from those made by the British National Party, the implicit connotation being that to point out the harm caused by religious fundamentalism is to hold to a surreptitiously racist point of view.
It’s probably worth mentioning that this debate was held the day after Lee Rigby’s brutal murder in South London and as such, addressing this highly relevant topic with an immediate resort to smears and cheap jibes represents an exercise not only in infantile point-scoring but also, I would argue, in tastelessness.
Mehdi’s proceeding argument comes in the form of another point-scoring attempt against Waters by insisting that to claim Saudi Arabia as the birthplace of Islam is drastically ahistorical by a factor of One Thousand Three Hundred and Twenty Two years. This is a purely semantic game. Hasan knows full well that the birth place of Muhammad and the location of the Prophets first supposed revelation was the city of Mecca, which is located in the region now known as Saudi Arabia. His issue with the phraseology used by Waters is petty and detracts nothing from her broader point. For Hasan to waste his limited time addressing such a non-issue smacks to me of either an unwillingness or an inability to refute her actual argument in any meaningful sense.
As mentioned previously, Hasan is predisposed towards crediting Islam itself with the achievements and contributions of its more humanitarian adherents but absolving Islam entirely for the actions of its militants and fundamentalists. In his attempt to refute an argument put forward by absolutely no-one, he explains that the pioneer of algorithms was a follower of Islam and that several Muslim philosophers and scientists have contributed positively to global society. What this has to do with the inherent violence in Islamic scripture and tradition or with the hateful preachments made by its authorities is anyone’s guess.
In 2013 Hasan wrote a really rather courageous and forthright article for the Huffington Post in which he highlighted the prevalence of Anti-Jewish sentiment within the Muslim community at large and exposed the hypocrisy of Anti-Semitic attitudes among Muslims who are quick to accuse others of religious and racial bigotry. However, in his terse elaborations on this article during the debate, Hasan casually applies an offhand dismissal towards any notion that Islam itself has an undercurrent of Anti-Semitism running through it and proceeds to blame the Anti-Jewish attitudes of Muslims on the history Judeo-Christian Europe.
He states: “Anti-Semitism in the middle east was imported from Judeo-Christian Europe, where I believe some certain bad things happened to the Jewish people.”
This remarkable argument suggests that Muslims as a group are somewhat uniquely susceptible to the influence of Hitler and the Third Reich and that these influential factors should be held solely responsible for the resulting Anti-Semitic attitudes within the Muslim community. Whereas the vast majority of people would point to the Nazi holocaust against the Jews as perhaps the single most abhorrent and horrendous atrocity in recent history, Hasan’s implication is that many Muslims, through no fault of their own, somehow misinterpret this disgraceful episode as in fact a commendable example of the correct attitude to take towards Jewish people. The bigoted prejudices held by Muslims, in other words, are the fault of other people.
Conveniently, Hasan either forgets or deliberately ignores the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem’s proactive collaboration with the Nazis as ideological bedfellows, sharing a rejection of democratic values with a hatred of Jews and Zionism. Hasan also ignores the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood’s promise of alliance with Rommel in the killing of the Allies in Egypt. There are, in fact, a multitude of passages littered throughout the Quran and Hadith which cast Jews in a negative light but Hasan decides to make no mention of this scripturally mandated anti-Semitism whatsoever, presumably because to do so would undermine his argument somewhat.
Hasan continues by accusing atheism of being a position that regards any and all religions as “evil, violent and threatening.” This is simply, factually incorrect. What Hasan describes is actually more closely associated with antitheism.
As Christopher Hitchens has stated: “I’m not even an atheist so much as I am an antitheist; I not only maintain that all religions are versions of the same untruth, but I hold that the influence of churches, and the effect of religious belief, is positively harmful.”
The position of atheism however, is nothing more than the withholding of theistic belief in the absence of supporting evidence. Since Hasan had interviewed Richard Dawkins at length not long prior to this debate taking place, I find it very difficult not to suspect him of knowingly and deliberately misrepresenting the position of atheists for the purposes of winning another inexpensive point.
Indeed Douglas Murray is mentioned as having had to pull out of the debate at the last-minute and is implicated as someone who would necessarily conform to Hasan’s simplistic stereotype of atheists as haters of all religion. I can’t be sure if Hasan is aware of this but in fact Murray actually took place in a debate early last year in which he argued against the motion that religion has no place in the 21st Century on the side of Archbishop Rowan Williams and Muslim spokesman Tariq Ramadan – their opponents on that occasion were three well-known atheists including the afore-mentioned Richard Dawkins.
Being someone who regularly accuses others of singling out Islam as uniquely evil, on this occasion Hasan instead decides to pay a backhanded compliment to his opponents for what he perceives as an equal-handedness in their contempt for religions of all stripes. Interestingly it seems Hasan is able to refrain from making accusations of Islamophobia when it serves his argument to do so, if only temporarily.
He cites the presence of the Bismillah at the opening of each chapter of the Quran except one, as proof that the god of Islam is one of compassion and mercy. However, he then does his best to neglect mentioning the One Hundred and Nine verses of the Quran that contain prescriptions for war with non believers for the purposes of Islamic dominance, the brutality contained within the one chapter that omits the Bismillah (Surah At-Tawbah) which is essentially one long call to murder infidels, and the mass of ferocious immorality contained within the Hadith.
Indeed the only time that he acknowledges the violence within Islamic Holy Scripture is to accuse the world’s suicide bombers and terrorists of taking it out of context. Since he then goes on to argue that these terrorists are not inspired by religion whatsoever, accusing those same terrorists of religious misinterpretation would seem a rather self-defeating argument to make.
The studies of Political Scientist Robert Pape are wheeled out next due to Pape’s conclusion that religious inspiration was not a factor in any of the 315 cases of suicide terrorism carried out between 1980 and 2005. Again Hasan concentrates only on the evidence that supports his argument and completely neglects any data that challenges it. Sam Harris, Scott Ashworth, Joshua D. Clinton, Adam Meirowitz, Kristopher W. Ramsay and others have published rebuttals and criticism of Pape’s conclusions as well as of the potential flaws inherent in his methodology. Perhaps it would have been a nice touch of honesty if Hasan had mentioned, as a footnote to his comments, that there is some controversy and disagreement surrounding Pape’s work on this subject.
Furthermore, this particular appeal to authority addresses only attacks that could be labelled as “suicide terrorism” and disregards the abundance of other violent practices associated with the religion of Islam. Since Pape’s studies have nothing to say on the subject of Female Genital Mutilation, for example, Hasan likewise avoids addressing this phenomenon. Terrorism lacking a suicidal element, persecution of minorities in Islamic countries, schismatic violence between sectarian forces in the middle east, rioting and murderous uprisings in response to free expression, rape/grooming gangs, so-called honour-killings and human rights abuses the world over are all similarly absent from Hasan’s remarks.
Bafflingly, Hasan then proceeds to point out that the opposition in this debate and the terrorist forces of Islamic jihad share the same view of Islam, both interpreting it to be an expansionist religion of subjugation and violence. In some inconcievable way, Hasan decides that this is a point which is supportive of his argument rather than a point against it. In the space of less than a minute Hasan has gone from claiming that Islamic violence has nothing to do with the religion of Islam, to stating outright that “Muslim terrorists” and “Al Qaeda types” commit these atrocities due to a warped interpretation of their religious faith. That this fatuous contradiction of his previous arguments went completely unnoticed by the audience is a testament to Hasan skills in presentation and showmanship, and perhaps to the biases of the assembly.
A Gallup Poll conducted in 2008 suggested that 93% of Muslims expressed a rejection of suicide bombings as well as the conduct of the terrorists on 11th September 2001. Hasan cites this poll as if it was suggestive of a complete rejection of religiously inspired violence by the vast majority of the global Muslim community. The fact is that this statistic says absolutely nothing about the teachings of Islamic doctrine or Islam as political and religious ideology nor does it cover the other forms of Islamic violence I previously referenced. Moreover, there is reason to believe that this particular figure may not actually be as comforting as it first appears. The conclusions of the poll, as published in a book by Gallup Press, have been the subject of a vicious rebuttal by the executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Robert Satlof. In his article he points out several methodological flaws with the poll and subsequently claims that the actual number of Muslims that believed the 9/11 attacks were in some way justified is not 7% as published, but is actually closer to 37%. In terms of numbers I would calculate that figure to equate to approximately Five Hundred and Ninety-Two Million people. Suddenly the “only a small minority” argument seems to lose some of its credibility.
In another rather strange turn of events, Hasan opts to cite a Pakistani politician named Muhammad Tahir ul-Qadri and his public denouncement of terrorism and suicide bombing as another example of Islam’s peaceful nature. Whilst it’s true that Muhammad Tahir ul-Qadri did issue a fatwa denouncing terrorism, he was also responsible for shaping Pakistan’s highly controversial Anti-Blasphemy laws, as well as publicly expressing the opinion that anyone found committing an act of blasphemy deserves to be “killed like a dog”. That Hasan would invoke the name of this cretinous ideologue as an example of one of Islam’s more peaceable devotees is farcical.
By this stage of the debate Hasan is in full flow and effortlessly moves from one catastrophic blunder to the next, this time deriding Anne-Marie Waters for her criticisms of Sharia. He uses the fact that there is no single interpretation of Sharia as indicative of its merit, rather than an inherent weakness which allows a multitude of interpretations (including violent interpretations) to be viewed as equally legitimate. The fact that obscene human rights abuses are a prominent feature of countries that use Sharia as the sole basis of their legal system is more than suggestive of the attitude that should be taken towards this element of Islamic culture. Moreover, in his apparent support for religiously based law, Hasan at the very least displays an element of contempt for the secular, democratic values he lives under.
Like a true showman though, Hasan saves his best ‘till last. That is to say that he waits until the final segment of his allotted speaking time to present his most moronic, clichéd and patronising handful of statements thus far.
He casts doubt over the Islamic motivations of Muslim terrorists such as Faisal Shahzad, Richard Reid and Michael Adebolajo. Perhaps Hasan needs reminding that Reid referred to himself as a “Soldier of God” and that Adebolajo mentioned the Quran, Allah, Muslims, Sharia and the Prophet Muhammad eleven times during his 80 second monologue prior to murdering Lee Rigby and quoted directly from Islamic scripture. Maybe he also needs reminding that Time Square Bomber Faisal Shahzad spoke of his willingness to “sacrifice a thousand lives for Allah” and made the following statement upon his arrest: “…you shall see how the Muslim war has just begun and how Islam will spread across the world.”
His penultimate argument is essentially that if Islam were indeed responsible for the violence and terror attributed to it, what are we to make of the overwhelming majority of Muslims that do not engage in such hateful behaviour. The fact that many Muslims are inclined to view Islam as a religious ideology rather than an overtly political one; that many Muslims are just as capable of eschewing literalism and of ignoring and reinterpreting elements of their scripture to the same extent that followers of all other faiths do, is a conclusion that seems to escape him. This point is so elementary as to barely require explanation and yet Hasan tries his hardest to appear genuinely mystified by this apparent anomaly.
As if to go out with a bang (if you’ll excuse the pun), Hasan chooses to close his remarks with an absolutely jaw-dropping example of hypocrisy. In surmising his view of the debate, he simplistically divides the argument into two camps with “peaceful, non-violent, law-abiding Muslims” on one side and “phobes, haters and bigots” on the other. Having done this he then proceeds, almost in the same breath, to accuse his opponents of an agenda of divisiveness. As if the juvenile slurs and generalisations in his closing statement were not enough of an indication of the weakness of his position, he attempts to reinforce the flimsiness of this non-argument with a startling display of unintentional irony.
Mehdi Hasan is a very deft and impassioned public speaker who exudes confidence. He is equally adept at putting on a charismatic performance at the Oxford Union or addressing a Question Time audience as he is at ranting about Kaffirs, homosexuals and dog lovers in front of an assembly of Muslims. But for all the showmanship and performance skills he displays, the actual content of his arguments often consist of “a mixture of just cherry picked quotes, self-serving and selective facts and figures”, some might even go so far as to say “A farrago of distortions, misrepresentations, misinterpretations and misquotations.” In other words, his arguments, in this debate at least, are replete with the kind of dubious self-refuting falsehoods he readily accuses his detractors of.
The charming Islamic practice of lying to non-Muslims with a view to furthering the cause of Islam is known as Taqiyya, and for the entirety of this debate, Mehdi Hasan has provided an exemplary illustration of this disingenuous practice in action. That a significantly non-Muslim audience would vote to pass the motion in the face of this barefaced and audacious dishonesty makes them gullible at best and “people of no intelligence” at worst. Maybe Hasan is correct to some extent after all – perhaps the most appropriate description of these people would be simply “cattle”.