We feared it would happen, and now it has. Centrists have emboldened the right to launch a fresh attack on British Muslims. They are not just ‘terrorist sympathisers‘, as The Sun newspaper once lied. According to conservative magazine The Spectator, they are also now the primary source of antisemitism in the Labour Party. And sadly, this is not an isolated incident, but a wider pattern of anti-Muslim views in the liberal and right-wing media.
Racist rent-a-rant Rod Liddle may well write his columns in crayon, but that doesn’t exempt him from the responsibilities of adulthood. Liddle was booted out of the Labour Party for Islamophobia. And now, he considers the antisemitism row a personal vindication. How? He explains this leap of logic in his latest Spectator excretion – The Origins of Labour’s Racism:
I was kicked out of the party a year or so back for having suggested that the rising tide of anti–Semitism within Labour was a consequence of its growing Muslim membership and also the radical, white, pro-Palestinian far left (which of course now runs the party). We know why the Muslims are anti-Jewish — it’s all there in Muhammad’s hadiths and in the Quran. But how have the whiteys got themselves transformed into racist bigots?
For Liddle, not only are *all* Muslims antisemitic, but they’ve gone and brainwashed white people into it as well.
This historically ignorant brain-guff entirely overlooks the relatively peaceful coexistence of Muslims and Jews across the Middle East for millennia. Meanwhile, white Europeans have literally marched Jewish people into gas chambers.
Liddle then attacks the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement to isolate Israel while it illegally occupies Palestine. This was how anti-racists isolated apartheid South Africa in the 1980s. But Liddle writes:
The BDS will tell you that it is anti-Zionist, not anti-Jewish. But it is explicitly anti-Jewish.
What evidence does Liddle have for this? That the BDS movement doesn’t target Arab/Muslim Israelis. Liddle neglects to mention that it also doesn’t target anti-Zionist Jewish Israelis; and that it has the support of anti-Zionist Jews across the world. By Liddle’s logic, BDS against apartheid South Africa was racist because it targeted white South Africans (the oppressive group) and not Blacks (the oppressed group).
All eyes on Andrew Neil
People took to social media to demand answers from Spectator chair and BBC presenter Andrew Neil.
Disgusting from @spectator to platform such anti-Muslim bigotry. Do the editors not recognise the appalling prejudice in the statement by Rod Liddle: "the Muslims are anti-Jewish"? There is little doubt we need a review into #Islamophobia in the press. https://t.co/GGaEGvYL64 pic.twitter.com/gNjtwlT44V
— Miqdaad Versi (@miqdaad) April 30, 2018
Neil is the host of the BBC‘s Daily Politics and Sunday Politics shows. He is also chairman of Press Holdings – a company registered in the tax haven of Jersey. The company (owned by the billionaire Barclay brothers) owns a number of conservative media outlets, such as The Telegraph and The Spectator.
The tip of the iceberg
These same Islamophobic views are being promoted across liberal and right-wing media outlets. Here is UKIP leader Gerard Batten giving the same spiel on Robert Peston’s show, unchallenged:
The reason you’ve got this degree of antisemitism in the Labour Party, in my view, is because it very much depends upon Muslim voters in inner cities. And the Islamic religion is inherently antisemitic.
And Maureen Lipman, the serial Labour Party quitter beloved by Labour centrists, also threw her Islamophobic hat in the ring recently.
Lipman left Labour in 2014 when Jewish Labour leader Ed Miliband backed recognition of a Palestinian state. She said at the time:
The Chuka Harman Burnham Hunt Balls brigade? I can’t, in all seriousness, go into a booth and put my mark on any one of them.
Four years on, she is hand-in-hand with the ‘Chuka’ brigade. And without a hint of irony, she announced she was leaving again. This time over alleged antisemitism, despite YouGov data showing a decline in antisemitism in the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn. Lipman’s real problem seems to be about holding Israel to account, which is a political stance, not a religious or cultural one. Her willingness to engage in anti-Muslim tropes also undermines her claims to care about racism more widely.
Speaking at a rally against Labour antisemitism in early April, she implied that racism against Jewish people was worse than Islamophobia because… well… Muslims sort of deserve it. She told Sky News:
We don’t want to make a fuss…
We have not committed thousands of appalling crimes. And yet antisemitism is going up. We haven’t done anything…
We’re citizens. We contribute. Why should we have to fight antisemitism? We’re not bombing and beheading and the rest. We’re not doing anything!
Anyone with a commitment to anti-racism would call this (at least) dogwhistle racism. But her ‘liberal’ supporters called it ‘pertinent’.
Maureen Lipman said something very pertinant in her recent interview.
She said* "You can easily be Antisemitic & call yourself Anti-Racism & that's what he's doing."
*56 seconds into the clip. pic.twitter.com/nRtYbwTuGe
— Stephen #PeoplesVote #ABTV #FBPE #OFOC 🇪🇺 (@TheStephenRalph) April 9, 2018
Our Islamophobic press
And of course, this is just part of a wider media landscape which is almost universally hostile to Muslims.
After Muslim Conservative peer Baroness Warsi spoke of “weekly” incidences of Islamophobia in her own party, the Muslim Council of Britain called for an inquiry. When Labour faced antisemitism claims, it held a formal inquiry and continues to expel members found guilty of such conduct. In stark contrast, the Tories wheeled out party deputy chair James Cleverly to deny this problem exists.
The MCB called for an inquiry into Islamophobia in the @Conservatives Party back in 2016 and then 2017. @SayeedaWarsi mentioned weekly occurrences of Islamophobia within the party just a few days ago. Will there be an inquiry? https://t.co/OcbyccJXXX
— MCB (@MuslimCouncil) April 29, 2018
There was no Labour centrist rally outside parliament, there was no wall-to-wall media coverage, there was no listing of Islamophobic comments on social media. There was nothing but contemptuous silence. Why? Because Muslims are still considered fair game in this country. And that is not a situation any decent, fair-minded person should be willing to tolerate.
Enough is enough
My wife is Jewish and anti-Zionist. She has countless examples of being fed this same Islamophobia from ‘liberal’ friends and acquaintances. When she marched against the invasion of Iraq in 2003, she was told by white liberals how ‘brave’ she was, considering all the Muslims joining the march. The subtext to their statements was that these people were inherently antisemitic, and she was putting herself in peril simply by walking near them. And as a light-skinned woman of white and Caribbean heritage, I am often mistaken for Muslim. My anti-apartheid views on Israel are expected, and assumed to be rooted in some mythical ancestral hatred of Jewish people. Not by frothing right-wingers; by supposed liberals.
It really beggars belief that white racists like Liddle are using Jewish people as human shields against accusations of Islamophobia. And it is unforgivable that centrist liberals are providing them with moral cover. Instead of liberals condemning such bigotry in the strongest terms, they welcome it as truth-telling.
Anti-Muslim attitudes in our society and our press are endemic. And yet an unhealthy number of people who are rightly outraged by antisemitism are simultaneously promoting Islamophobia.