Aristotle once said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” And so endeth the sabbatical.
Thursday, 30 May 2013
This weekend saw a resurgent far right nationalist movement mobilise across the country on a largely pro-forces and anti-Islam platform.
It is an incredibly divisive and dangerous message of schism which our elected officials have been complacent towards by allowing it to take-root so significantly.
My activism against the far right English Defence League (EDL) has been well charted in the public domain. My BBC1 debate with Tommy Robinson last year lead to face-to-face private discussions over a meal. No stone was left unturned in those three hours and despite being left dumbfounded and contemplating whether I had been “reading a different Quran” to others, since coming out of prison he has redoubled his efforts. Woolwich has resulted in a fivefold increase in support for his group and a tenfold increase in anti-Muslim attacks and incidents. Our paths crossed again over the May Bank Holiday weekend in a heated clash of words on the backstreets of Newcastle ahead of the EDL demonstration last Saturday, which I estimate was at least 7,000 strong; notably four times the official estimates from Northumbria Police. In light of the subsequent public reaction to our meeting, and the disappointing response from some prominent commentators on the left, my statement on social media dealt with the myths, clarified that ‘hug’ and being ‘papped’.
Despite that picture and the story printed in the Sunday Mirror, there is a human and personal side to this war of wills which many forget about. It is as much my faith as it is my sincere belief, that we cannot elevate, educate or enlighten those on the far right by demonising them, denying them a platform to engage or by attempting to crush them. There must be positive dialogue – albeit challenging and highly critical – to bring about change. We must move towards a peaceful settlement founded on tolerance and ultimately love for our fellow man and our communities, if we ever wish to hope to improve our condition.
As sickening and heinous as the killing of Lee Rigby has been, it is an utter disservice to his memory, to our forces and to his family, for the far right to be allowed to exploit this situation for their own ends. The societal impact and creation of rifts of intolerance makes it arguably more abhorrent than the disrespect shown to those passing through Wootten Bassett. The move by Help for Heroes and the statement from founder Bryn Parry to refuse donations from Tommy Robinson and the EDL has been a severe blow to the imprimatur of faux-credibility of far right nationalist extremists and their everyman Englishman delusion. They have not, and remain not, a friend to our forces. Woolwich must not be allowed to become a trigger moment for the EDL and other far right groups to mobilise their forces against the perceived common enemy of Islam, an ‘identified enemy’ in a ‘war’ as the leader of the far right recently described. This must be considered by some distance as equally extreme and as equally dangerous rhetoric, as any coming from the mouths of those preaching hate. We now face some fundamental questions about the shape our society needs to take moving forward from this – how we balance the freedom of speech and expression, especially where it is non-violent, against the interests of the state apparatus and the need for peaceful community relations.
In the past I have certainly called for the EDL to be proscribed, I make no secret of this. Those public calls were made at a time when the Home Secretary had taken the unprecedented decision to ban extremist Muslim groups who were fomenting hate and hostility. At that time and still now, I see no argument why that should not have extended to the EDL when applicable to others. Peddling a twisted ideology based on hate, intolerance and a fundamentally flawed view of reality is always dangerous and an undeniable gateway to appalling crimes. To not have done so was to not only pander to the far right for politicking but to send a clear signal to British Muslim communities: your right to a safe, peaceful and tolerant existence in British society is not a priority interest for this government. Government paralysis over the actions of the far right will continue to result in attacks as numbers swell. It is an absurd appeasement with direct parallels to the darkest of times in the 1930s.
I worked extensively on local, regional and national programs to counter extremism and delivered findings relating to both strategic communications and community engagement at the earliest inception of the Channel program. Those of us, who have actually delivered, know what works and also what clumsy, ill-informed, knee jerk reactions can do to increase radicalisation, marginalisation and disaffection. This is not the time to move towards easy and lazy Quilliamesque Peter King McCarthyism, where they become self-appointed arbiters and gatekeepers of the acceptable and unaccepted, but rather to take the best of the learning we have, the best of what has been delivered and the exemplars of best practice.
From the drum beats it seems that our betters will be shortly deciding to lower the bar on tolerance, for the sake of the common good, against those who spread extremism and hate in our society. If it transpires that the PM and Home Secretary choose to ignore the far right at this time, it will set a dangerous precedent for the future of community relations and sends a further worrying signal – that the rise of the far right will not be opposed by our elected officials. It is a mistake we have made before and cannot afford to repeat.
[Cross posted on the Huffington Post]
Saturday, 30 March 2013
The morning I had my heart attack, I was preparing to head off to New Broadcasting House to do BBC World News that afternoon.
In that huge list of ridiculous things that happened that morning, I had first tried dealing with the chest ache with a small glass of milk and a lemon fancy. No. Cake is not the answer to a heart attack. Aside from my woeful misdiagnosis of 'some acidy thing', the fact that I had anticipated still making the 11.08 to Waterloo, having just been dropped off at the hospital by ambulance at 8am, I hope speaks to my optimism more than anything else.
Its odd what you think about whilst sat in a hospital bed waiting to hear about troponin levels. For me, I was keen to rip the line out of my arm and was badgering my wife on the logistics of getting out of Dodge and upto London. She seemed unimpressed. I had wondered whether she had actually listened to my mad rantings at 5am about how I was going to tackle Rupert Shortt that afternoon on his book 'Christianophobia'.
As lovely as she is, I wasn't sure how Rabbi Glasner was going to get a word in edgeways. Attacks on Christians are heinous and to be completely condemned, however the figure being banded around of 200 million persecuted faithful was appalling. Not for the scale, nor for what it says about our current geopolitical situation but for the fact it was utterly nonsensical. I was going to tell him how that figure had been regurgitated since the early 90s and how Ken Roth from Human Rights Watch had discredited it. How the figure was based on a late 80s estimate of a Chinese Christian population which was anywhere between 14m - 100m. I was also going to tell him that Shea (whom he called a civil rights activist) was a neocon GOP stooge and how she with Michael Horowitz had been outed as wanting to not only wage war on 'the liberal elite' in the US, but they had admitted and Jeffrey Goldberg had established in the New York Times in Dec 1997, that the Christian Coalition was working to lobby Congress - the persecution narrative was entirely political. Even Nelson Graham (Rev Billy Graham's son) had called it a 'destructive political tool'.
Shortt was peddling a 20 year old narrative that we had imported from the US, based on a flawed and politicised narrative from Paul Marshall via the World Evangelical Alliance feeding the fundamentalist far right of US Christian politics, which had been used to devastating effect in train-wrecking legislation and ousting the Democrats to bring GW Bush into office. It was the precursor to the Tea Party and a golden period for the GOP and neoconservatism. Aside from that I wanted to hear from Shortt on his speech at St Michaels College, Cardiff a couple of weeks previous, where he had repeated the same mantra of attacking the liberal elite media. I thought it was about human rights.
And where was God, tolerance and bridging the gap with the Muslim world in amongst all of this? Working towards understanding and peace, not using the insidious, dangerous and reckless language of division and absolutism. I had wanted to know about connections, philosophical or otherwise to Nina Rosenwald and Gatestone, a spin off from the Hudson Institute. Rosenwald had been called the 'Sugar Mama of anti Muslim hate' by Max Blumenthal, was hugley influential in funding pro-israeli and anti-Muslim organisations, and had previously rolled out the red carpet for Geert Wilders. I had wanted to know what Shortt thought about his work being commented on by as varied luminaries such as Pepintster but also Frank Gaffney Jr.
I had wanted to know how he felt being a poster boy for this unholy alliance of anti-Muslim activists and intolerant Christian fundamentalists, and how even the US National Council of Churches had warned about this persecution complex giving rise to pre holocaust Nazi ideology. I had wanted wanted to know how he responded to the idea of widespread anti Muslim action, a hardening in the West and how there is almost no populous country on the planet where Muslims are able to live free and unfettered by either political social or economic oppression.
But that was rather a lot to squeeze into a small discussion slot and I wasn't entirely convinced Mishal Hussain was going to allow it. In fairness, this stuff is enough to give anyone a heart attack, let alone a morbidly obese political commentator of Asian extraction. I had better take my meds. Visiting hours soon.