'Muslims are the new Jews' is Another Excuse for Islamists by HuffPo's Mehdi Hasan

On May 29th, Huffington Post UK 'Political Director' Mehdi Hasan published another piece about Islamophobia. It came in the wake of alarming gains made by far-right parties in the European elections. As acknowledged by its author, it also came in the wake of a shooting at a Jewish Museum in Brussels in which an Israeli couple and a Belgian woman were shot dead. A fourth victim, critically injured during the shooting, succumbed to his injuries as I was drafting this post.

The only suspect in the shooting, an Islamist jihadi and French national named Mehdi Nemmouche, was not identified and arrested until the day after the publication of Hasan's article. However, similarities to the shooting carried out by Mohammed Merah at a Jewish school in Toulouse in 2012 were already apparent, as was the attack's probable anti-Semitic intent.

Nevertheless, Mehdi Hasan thought that now would be good time to say this:

In some respects, Muslims are the new Jews of Europe. The vile shooting at the Jewish Museum in Brussels on 24 May, in which three people were killed, might make this statement sound odd. Anti-Jewish attacks are indeed on the rise in Europe, which is deplorable and depressing, but thankfully anti-Semitism is now taboo in mainstream political discourse in a way in which Islamophobia isn't. These days, most anti-Semitic attacks are carried out by second-generation Arabs and are linked to anger over Israeli policies.

For whatever it's worth, I do not believe that Mehdi Hasan is himself an Islamist. By which I mean that I have seen no evidence that he wishes his own freedom to be subject to the demands of State-imposed Islamic Law of any kind. That said, he displays a disturbing readiness to endorse Islamist arguments and talking points, the chief function of which is to re-describe the victimisers as victims.

Hasan's reference to the "Jews of Europe" is historically imprecise, but the phrase most immediately evokes the Nuremberg Laws, concentration camps, and gas chambers. In light of Nemmouche's arrest, and the revelation that he is probably a member of the al Qaeda splinter group ISIS, this sounds not merely "odd", but deranged. The qualifier offered by Hasan - that Muslims only resemble the Jews of Europe "in some respects" - is being asked to do more work than history or common sense will allow. The respects in which Muslims living in European democracies today are plainly not like the Jews of pre-war Germany so vastly outweigh the similarities that they invalidate the comparison.

But the real function of this risible meme is not to draw a historically literate comparison but rather to circulate the idea that Muslims have now replaced Jews at the top of a perceived hierarchy of suffering. For if Muslims are the "new Jews", then the Jews' own claim to this perversely coveted title must have, by definition, expired. To use the words "but thankfully anti-Semitism", a mere five days after an anti-Semitic multiple murder, strikes me as unwise. To do so as the basis from which to argue that Muslims have a superior claim to victimhood strikes me as political, a feeling confirmed by Hasan's next observation that attacks on Jews no longer come from the nationalist far-right but from "second generation Arabs and are linked to anger over Israeli policies".

I'm afraid I'm unable to see why being targeted by the Islamist assassins of al Qaeda is an improvement on being targeted by the nationalist far-right. And what exactly is the nature of this mysterious "link" by which Hasan connects the continuing occupation of the West Bank to the murder of two Israeli tourists in Belgium, who - for all Hasan knows - may have hated the Netanyahu government?

In their co-authored book, Myths, Illusions and Peace, the former Middle East negotiator and analyst Dennis Ross and the journalist David Makovsky describe this kind of "linkage" argument as "the mother of all myths" about the Middle East. Having examined the ways in which Arab governments have instrumentalised the conflict in Palestine as a means of pursuing their own political and geopolitical agendas, Makovsky and Ross turn to the matter of terrorism:

[The linkage idea] has also been used as an explanation for terrorism. By anchoring political violence to grievance, terrorist perpetrators sought not only to justify their actions, but to neutralise those who would oppose them.

The authors remind us that, in his earliest fatwas, Osama bin Laden displayed scant interest in the Palestinian conflict. He was instead preoccupied with forcing the removal of "crusader" (ie: American) soldiers from sacred Saudi Arabian soil, with toppling the illegitimate Saudi monarchy, and with re-establishing the Holy Islamic Caliphate under a particularly austere and cruel reading of Sharia Law. But...

. . . after 9/11, bin Laden discovered the utility of the Palestinian issue. Suddenly, he began more openly trying to tie his actions to the cause of the Palestinians. In one videotaped message after 9/11, he declared, "Neither America nor the people who live in it will dream of security before we live it in Palestine."

As Ross and Makovsky point out, if this ex post facto rationale for the premeditated murder of almost 3000 people is to be believed, it must be reconciled with the knowledge that the 9/11 atrocity was being planned as talks to resolve the conflict in the Middle East were ongoing. Besides which, al Qaeda's broader revolutionary agenda includes a non-negotiable rejection of a Jewish State on Muslim land in any form. It defies plausibility that, had a conflict-ending agreement been signed at Camp David in July 2000, the mission would have been called off. Nonetheless, the idea persists that the conflict in Palestine is responsible, at least in part, for Islamist terror directed at diaspora Jews.

It remains to be seen whether or not Mehdi Nemmouche, the alleged Brussels assassin, decides to invoke the suffering of Palestine in his own defence. But during the siege following the shootings in Toulouse and Montauban in 2012, the assailant Muhamad Merah, also a self-described member of al Qaeda, let it be known that he had shot 3 Jewish children and a rabbi dead in order to avenge "Palestinian children".

The French Party of the Indigenous of the Republic [PIR] (about which I have written previously) responded by releasing a statement, which read in part:

We also feel anger and bitterness at the act of a young man claiming to support the cause of Palestinians and Afghanis. His act distorts the goals of these just causes, muddies the message and reinforces the side he claims to oppose . . . However, it would be wrong to believe that Mohamed Merah’s vengeful fantasies came out of nowhere. The terrible violence that he displayed this week was fed for years by the cold reason of the murderous wars being led by major powers in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere with the support of the Israeli state. How could we not predict that all this would lead one day to violent actions in which Jewish French people, constantly linked by French propaganda to Zionism, would be the target? . . . How could the possibility of the growing Islamophobia expressed ad nauseam, and becoming a major electoral refrain this year, moving some members of violent sects to action be ignored? Such a political-ideological context could not be ignored.

Mehdi Hasan would, I think, struggle to disagree with any part of this sophistical attempt to reclothe a murderer of Jewish children in the rags of political martyrdom. After all, the same two mitigating elements deployed by Hasan post-Brussels are present and correct here: injustice in Palestine and Islamophobia at home.

Unexamined "root cause" arguments for Islamic terror are highly expedient to Islamists who target civilians - they provide a comprehensible explanation for apparently arbitrary acts of savagery; they help disguise Islamism's supremacist agenda beneath a counter-narrative in which Islamists cast themselves as history's most abject victims; and they shift the focus - and ideally the blame - from the assassins themselves onto the policies to which they object.

And they are, of course, also highly convenient to mainstream commentators like Mehdi Hasan, and the broadsheet Left's perverse Noam Chomsky tendency, since they add ballast to their own anti-war arguments. But what makes "root causism" dangerous is that it encourages the idea that democracies are to blame for the political violence committed against their citizens, and that foreign and domestic policy must therefore be altered to meet terrorist demands. This is what's also known as appeasement.

Mehdi Hasan's defenders will object most strenuously (they always do) that he has spoken out about what he called the "dirty little secret" of Muslim anti-Semitism, and that he received considerable abuse from his co-religionists in general, and Islamists in particular, for his trouble.

Indeed he has, and indeed he did. And returning to his 2012 article on the subject today, it should be noted that some of the language he used to describe the problem remains striking and emphatic:

It is sheer hypocrisy for Muslims to complain of Islamophobia in every nook and cranny of British public life, to denounce the newspapers for running Muslim-baiting headlines, and yet ignore the rampant anti-Semitism in our own backyard.

Upon publication, Hasan's courage in addressing this taboo topic was applauded by many unaccustomed to agreeing with him (including me). However, what's odd about the piece on reflection is the absence of analysis. Having publicly identified the problem and listed a handful of anecdotal examples, Hasan neglects to explore it:

The truth is that the virus of anti-Semitism has infected members of the British Muslim community, both young and old. No, the ongoing Israel-Palestine conflict hasn’t helped matters. But this goes beyond the Middle East. How else to explain why British Pakistanis are so often the most ardent advocates of anti-Semitic conspiracies, even though there are so few Jews living in Pakistan?

It is interesting to note that in 2014 Hasan argues that European anti-Semitism is largely the product of "Arab anger at Israeli policies". But in his piece about Muslim anti-Semitism a year earlier he had argued that the Middle East was a subordinate factor - something that "hasn't helped" but which does not, by itself, explain the conspiratorial Jew hatred which he tells us is "rampant" in Muslim communities. He was closer to the truth the first time around. But as for "how else" to account for this poisonous phenomenon, no answer if forthcoming. Having opened his inquiry, Hasan abruptly abandons it when its conclusions threaten to become toxic.

*     *     *

It seems to me that there's a struggle going on within Islam to which Hasan has been paying insufficient attention. It is one in which embattled reformers could use his solidarity and support. For such people, the spread of religious veiling and gender apartheid are neither benign nor desirable phenomena, but sinister developments to be resisted in the name of secularism, female autonomy and gender equality.

But those Muslims mobilising against Islamism tend not to benefit from Hasan's sympathy. Time after time, most recently during the row over the Jesus and Mo cartoon fiasco, when multicultural controversy erupts, he has reflexively lined up with the reactionary tendency, recycled their mitigating excuses, and rehearsed their diversionary arguments from victimhood.

*     *     *

Hasan's bitter denunciations of the country in which he lives and for which he affects to feel such pride ("My seven-year-old daughter is counting down the days until she can watch England play in the World Cup" he offers), betray a childish and self-pitying ingratitude.

Contemporary Britain, for all its faults and imperfections, has been good to Mehdi Hasan. It has offered him the opportunity of a world-class education (he's an Oxford graduate) and a successful career as an influential journalist, broadcaster and opinion-former, and it has affording him complete freedom of conscience as a Shia Muslim to believe, profess and worship, something he would not be afforded in many Muslim majority countries. Not only that, but in spite of his constant bleating about 'Islamophobia', polite society has been exceedingly forgiving of his own bigotry, freely expressed when he thought no-one who would mind was listening.

This post was first published at the Unrepentant Jacobin blog and has been edited from its original. To read the original, click here


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