If I were to write a list of things that could make life under a global pandemic lock-down exponentially more torturous, I doubt I’d have an imagination sadistic enough to conjure up the atrocities that have been inflicted upon us recent days.
First up was the news that the BBC were replacing Match of the Day with re-runs of Mrs Brown’s Boys: a bawdy and archaic cookie-cutter sitcom roughly as amusing as a cancer diagnosis in a Christmas card.
Next, a naked Madonna broadcasting from a candlelit bathtub full of rose petals, informing us from behind a mask of six figure Botox that we’re all in the same boat really.
Then a mawkish video of celebrities crooning along to John Lennon’s intensely rubbish hippy-hit Imagine began doing the rounds.
This was followed by the launch of a new comedy series starring Great British Bake Off hosts Mel and Sue as “hitmen” in an Alan Partridge program-pitch made reality.
And all of this was accompanied by the release of a new ballad about the Covid-19 crisis composed and performed by fucking Bono.
Just as I was wondering if lock-down life could get any worse, Guardian columnist Nesrine Malik has thrown her hat into the ring with a puff piece celebrating the life and works of insufferable Al Jazeera mouthpiece Mehdi Hasan.
The piece loosely takes the form of an interview with Hasan and sets about whitewashing his most undesirable traits and shameful proclamations whilst inadvertently showcasing some of them. For example, it begins with Hasan casually holding other U.S reporters complicit in the deaths of innocent people, in this instance for failing to match his lofty journalistic standards. In not challenging Trump’s lies about Coronavirus in real time, Hasan informs us that parts of the media are “partly complicit in those (Covid-19) deaths.”
It’s not noted in the article but this is something of a staple tactic of Hasan’s and one which has previously seen him insinuate that Sam Harris, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and Bill Maher’s criticism of Islam (or “Islamophobia” as he calls it) render them in some way culpable for violence against Muslims generally, and specifically in the murders committed by Christchurch terrorist Brenton Tarrant.
Yet Hasan is not overly keen on taking the same approach towards his own rhetoric, understandably opting to claim no responsibility in the mass shooting committed by Connor Betts, a left-wing Antifa supporter who had previously shared Hasan’s work, and responded to his article on how to remove Trump from the White House, with a call to arms.
The point is that Hasan is no stranger to behaviour that falls drastically short of the standards he sets for others. The Malik piece touches briefly on – and severely trivialises – one such infamous moment in Hasan’s career in which he was filmed making a series of hateful and borderline inciteful rants to an audience of Muslim students about the evils of homosexuality, the moral and intellectual superiority of Muslims, and the “diseased minds” of the “Kuffar” who conduct their lives in the manner of “animals”.
“Dog-lovers”, “music-lovers”, gay people, and atheists all came under grossly dehumanising fire from the “unabashedly left-wing” Hasan in terms that are indistinguishable from those of far-right ideologues and hate preachers.
Eventually Hasan got round to issuing something resembling a full-throated apology for these odious remarks last year, but seemed to do so in a largely cynical and self-serving manner which allowed him to more credibly dredge up historic “controversial” statements of Sam Harris’s for the proposes of winning a Twitter-spat the pair were engaged in.
Before this however, Hasan had spent a decade alternately downplaying, denying, and defending his bigoted remarks, claiming to have been taken out of context by a right-wing smear campaign, conceding only that his statements been poorly worded, and attacking anyone who had the temerity to mention these remarks disapprovingly.
A notable aspect of Hasan’s ensuing plea for forgiveness was the unashamed hypocrisy he displayed in attempting to disprove accusations of homophobia and atheist-hatred based on his conflation of gay people with paedophiles and atheists with cattle. Having previously accused Sam Harris of anti-Muslim bigotry and having giddily scoffed at his defence of having many close Muslim friends, you’d think Hasan might have opted for a different approach in attempting to defend himself against charges of bigotry:
Hasan’s apology also contained a less than subtle swipe at Muslim reformers, a move which also illustrated Hasan’s obliviousness to irony as well as his cynicism. Being that his initial defence of his bigoted attacks upon non-believers was that they had been lifted directly from the Qu’ran, and his claim to now reject such sentiments, perhaps Hasan could at some point make it clear as to whether he believes that such verses might possibly benefit from reform or revision or renouncement.
Maybe Hasan’s apology really was a sincere one, but his contempt for atheists – particularly “New Atheists” – remains a staple of his output, and his arguments against them are as disingenuous and inept as those of any two-bob religious apologist you might care to name.
“Can you prove he didn’t?” Hasan asks in response to Richard Dawkins questioning the veracity of the Islamic claim that Muhammad flouted the laws of physics and biology by piloting a winged-horse to heaven and splitting the moon in half. A child could understand the fallacy of Hasan’s approach here, and recognise with ease that his grasp on the burden of proof is about as robust as his grasp on reality, yet he unflinchingly employed this ludicrously fallacious line against Dawkins with predictably embarrassing results.
Yet Hasan is bizarrely celebrated in many circles for his quick-witted rebuttals, fierce intellect, and debating prowess, whilst his arguments are all too often textbook fallacies and straw men illustrative of an uninformed misunderstanding or a conscious misrepresentation of his opponent’s views.
One has to wonder, for example, which “New Atheists” he thinks he’s rebutting here by pointing out that religious people are capable of acts of decency, kindness, and self-sacrifice. I’d bet my life that it’s “New Atheists” who exist only in Hasan’s imagination.
Hasan’s Gish Gallop approach to arguing and his impressive if exaggerated sense of self-assurance allow the fallacies, misrepresentations, and logical dead-ends he confidently espouses to sail by effortlessly for many an audience. He spits out rapid-fire arguments that sound good in the middle of some showboating debate performance or another – but which do not survive even mild scrutiny when reassessed in the cold light of day. Hasan seems to wield a certain gift of the gab that even manages to dupe some atheists into thinking that his acknowledgement that he willing works for the state media of a country which persecutes gay people, for example, is somehow deserving of credit.
He’s also a master of the Tu quoque fallacy, a tactic he employs so frequently that I fail to see how it can be anything other than conscious deception. Listen to him debate, and when pushed into a corner, pay attention for a variation of the following rebuttal: “I’m not going to take lessons in X from somebody who once said Y.”
I’ll wager that if you’ve ever heard Hasan confronted in real time with one of his contemptible statements, then you have heard this line from him. It’s a transparent ploy to avoid addressing an awkward point by shifting scrutiny away from himself and onto his accuser. I can only assume that his fans appreciate having their intelligence insulted in this way.
And Hasan has no shortage of contemptible statements to confront. A contender for his worst was his response to the cold-blooded massacre of cartoonists by jihadists incensed over their blasphemy.
It should go without saying that any violence or intimidation in response to sacrilege is an attack upon free speech in and of itself, but that the Charlie Hebdo attack especially was conducted on behalf of a “prophet” with a long track record of gunmen and murderous thugs leaping to his defence.
Just within Europe; Salman Rushdie, Theo Van Gogh, and the staff of the Jyllands-Posten are testament to the violent intolerance some Muslims harbour towards speech they disapprove of, and many commentators correctly recognised the attack on Charlie Hebdo as an assault not merely upon a single publication but upon free expression as a value.
Hasan however was less concerned by this vicious slaughter and the ruthless ultimatum it represented. “Get a grip” he moaned. “This was not an act of war…none of us believes in an untrammelled right to free speech. We disagree only on where the lines should be drawn.”
In making this statement, Hasan has made it abundantly clear where he believes the line should be drawn, and it is at the desks of cartoonists caricaturing his prophet.
The Charlie Hebdo cartoonists had a “responsibility” according to Hasan, to not offend members of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula – or “disaffected young men” as he described them – and insisted that Islamic taboos on depicting Muhammad were not responsible for these jihadists screaming “we have avenged the Prophet” in-between bursts of gunfire. The causal factor was, as it always is in Hasan’s world, Western foreign policy.
Hasan followed up on these disgraceful remarks with a no less insulting appearance on Question Time where he complained that people “use free speech as a cover”. This is the standard line of those who simply don’t understand what free speech actually means and feel aggrieved that Freedom of Speech “provides a cover” for …speaking freely.
This appearance also saw Hasan flat-out lie about his objections to blasphemous cartoons. Jyylands-Posten, he claimed, had previously rejected some cartoons mocking Jesus, and Hasan bemoaned this as a double-standard which treated Muslim sensibilities as unimportant:
“All I’m saying is; let’s be consistent one way or the other.”
But that’s self-evidently not what he’s saying at all. Does Hasan seriously expect anyone to believe that he has no preference either way as to whether there is more blasphemy in the world or less, as long as it is consistently applied? That he would have no objection to Muhammad being relentlessly disparaged as long as ridicule of an identical scale were heaped upon Jesus?
This is transparent nonsense. Notwithstanding the fact that Jesus is also considered a prophet in Islam, commentators like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Bill Maher, who for years lavished scorn upon Christianity, were instantly held to be anti-Muslim bigots by Hasan the minute their gaze wandered towards his faith.
And even if it were the case that Islam is disproportionately ridiculed and criticised – which is certainly disputable – would Hasan not consider this a valid area of focus considering that Islam is the only religion which reliably responds to derision with murder, thuggery, and life-deranging intimidation? Would Hasan not understand the importance of breaking this taboo along with the iron grip of the single religion which still clings to it? Maybe not.
But then Hasan fails the test of moral consistency time and again, no more so than in a previous appearance on Question Time which saw him savaging The Daily Mail as an anti-British “immigration bashing, woman-hating, Muslim-smearing, NHS-undermining, gay-baiting” publication. In a hilarious rebuttal perfectly demonstrating Hasan’s world-beating hypocrisy and comically flexible principles, the Mail publicly revealed that Hasan had previously written a letter begging for a job at the paper, and published his nauseatingly sycophantic application which heaped praise upon the outlet’s social conservatism, moral integrity and “defence of faith in the face of attacks from militant atheists and secularists.”
When it comes to Islam however, Hasan is less malleable. “The No 1 issue in my lifetime right now is tribalism” he explains in the article, a statement which might be rendered slightly less accurate if he himself wasn’t one of the most overtly tribal commentators and excruciating practitioners of religious identity politics in the intellectual sphere today.
“As a Muslim…” is Hasan’s favoured way of beginning many a sentence, and one I suspect he’d struggle to so much as buy a loaf of bread without employing. In his self-declared role as “a representative of Islam, an ambassador for Islam, a believer in Islam, and a follower of Islam” Hasan spends an inordinate amount of his output attempting to disrupt and divert any scrutiny of his religion and its role in the behaviour of his fellow Muslims.
Not content with an intensely dishonest, obfuscatory, and patronising performance at the Oxford Union arguing that Islam is a religion of peace the day after Lee Rigby was decapitated by jihadists quoting Qu’ran verses, Hasan further created a 6 part video series for The Intercept, blaming the West for the terror attacks against it.
The underlying position in these videos is that if the West – and Israel as an arm of the West – refrained from intervention and occupation in “Muslim countries” then Islamic terrorists would stop being Islamic terrorists. Hasan’s instinct is to absolve jihadists of their agency and place the emphasis upon the Western “provocation” of these theocratic fascists in a way that would be utterly unthinkable if applied to non-Muslim terrorists
Imagine Hasan’s response if someone were to produce a video series explaining why if only Tommy Mair, Brenton Tarrant, Darren Osborne, and Anders Breivik had been listened to and placated with regards to their immigration concerns and other political grievances, we wouldn’t have to put up with innocent men, women, and children being cut down by “disaffected young men”.
There scarcely exists an Islamic atrocity that Hasan won’t fall over himself to misassign blame for. This is appeasement and masochism. It is capitulation to the demands of murderous bullies, and it is conducted out of a tribal concern for the reputation of his religion.
The same can be said for his propagation of conspiracies theories on mainstream, wide-reaching platforms. For instance, in the wake of the Christchurch atrocity, Hasan appeared on MSNBC to push the idea that there exists an Islamophobic plot within media and law enforcement circles to ensure that “the word terrorism is not used for people who are not Muslims”, a claim utterly rebutted by the very same terror attack he was commenting on.
The Christchurch shooter was universally described as a terrorist within minutes of his atrocity making the news, and was charged as such. This is invariably the case with other attackers whose motives are confirmed to be political but Hasan paid no attention to this repudiation of his preferred narrative.
He has also seemingly never considered that there are valid reasons why describing attacks as terrorism in certain cases, and prosecuting them as such, might legitimately be avoided. The comparative difficulty of such prosecutions in cases where an attacker has not explicitly pledged allegiance to a recognised terrorist organisation, the difficulty in securing terrorism prosecutions, the difficulty in ascertaining motive. All of this is absent from Hasan’s thinking and resultant commentary. He is simply engaged in a form of tribalism which takes the side of Muslim terrorists.
Hasan’s theory was again proven wrong as recently as this month when news broke that a white non-Muslim named Cody Pfister had been charged with terrorism for licking a supermarket shelf, whereas Hashem Abedi, the brother and co-conspirator of the ISIS-inspired Manchester Arena bomber was found guilty of murder, and whose conviction was reported upon in multiple MSM articles with nary a mention of the words terror, terrorism, or terrorist.
Hasan further stated in the same MSNBC segment that Muslims attackers are never considered as, or speculated to be, mentally ill in the way that their non-Muslim counterparts are. This again is utter nonsense which was thoroughly and calmly debunked by Stephen Knight in his excellent video on the topic:
“Most people ask the question and move on. I don’t” is the quote from Hasan that Malik decides to subtitle her article with, and it’s not a bad one. One thing I will say for Hasan, is that he’s a tough interviewer. Rarely will he let his guests get away with the kind of limp obfuscations and obvious equivocations that he so readily employs.
If Nesrine Malik were an interrogator with even an ounce of the no-nonsense obstinacy, ferocity and persistence that Hasan exerts in interviews, her article would have effortlessly revealed him as the duplicitous partisan hack he is.