The Left’s Witch Hunt Against Muslims
If there was anything we learnt from McCarthyism, it is that compiling lists of our political foes is a malevolent, nefarious, and incredibly dangerous thing to do. But this terrible tactic to simplify and reduce our political opponents to a Rogue’s gallery of “bad guys,” is not solely the domain of the right-wing. As the political horseshoe theory attributed to Jean-Pierre Faye highlights, if we travel far-left enough, we find the very same sneering, nasty and reckless bully-boy tactics used by the far-right. The two extremes of the political spectrum end up meeting like a horseshoe, at the top, which to my mind symbolizes totalitarian control from above. In their quest for ideological purity, Stalin and Hitler had more in common than modern neo-Nazis and far-left agitators would care to admit.
It was with little surprise therefore, but still a great deal of disgust, that I came across a sprawling list of “anti-Muslim” campaigners, published by an organization that I had hitherto—albeit cautiously—respected.
Hope Not Hate is a left-wing London-based group that bills itself as “anti-fascist.” Their list, complete with profile photographs and career details, includes 920 organizations and individuals in 22 countries, all of whom it deems to be “anti-Muslim.” Don’t get me wrong, this list includes many people that I personally do hold to be unpalatable anti-Muslim bigots, people I would only meet at the other end of a debating table, if even that. But then … that’s just my opinion. I’m not going to compile all the people I don’t like by name in one place, using a subjective criteria that I invented but no-one is privy to, label them, and then publish my hatred, so that everyone else can share in dart throwing, or more seriously bullets and daggers, in their direction. It doesn’t take too long before “bad people” lists become hit lists.
Hope not Hate (their name has now unfortunately developed Orwellian overtures in my mind) had forewarning of the dangers of this. In 2013 they compiled a similar, shorter list, which included the Danish author and journalist and Islam-critic Lars Hedegaard. Lars was later subjected to an assassination attempt. Just imagine, then, how ex-Muslim and Islam critic Ayaan Hirsi Ali must feel to be included in Hope Not Hate’s list, after her colleague Theo Van Gogh was murdered on the streets of Amsterdam in 2004 with a warning pinned to his dead body that she was next on their list?
Hope Not Hate cannot escape the fact that there are people in their list who are also listed by some of the world’s most determined terrorists, who want them dead for the very same reason—daring to criticize Islam.
In today’s climate of vigilante violence, far-right and Islamist terrorism, being included on such lists can forever change the lives of any one unlucky enough to be deemed from high above as “anti-Muslim.” The two unaccountable—but never mind for they are righteous—comrades who conferred upon themselves this power to irrevocably alter people’s lives at the click of a mouse button, and decide who gets to discuss Islam and who does not, are two white, non-Muslim men—a postgraduate student Joe Mulhall, and a left-wing campaigner Nick Lowles. This is relevant.
Aside from the basis of such attempts at thought control being problematic in origin, this list also makes a major category error. It conflates genuine (only according to my own humble view) anti-Muslim bigots with academic, journalistic and intellectual critics of Islam—including beleaguered ex-Muslim voices— and further, it throws reform-Muslim activists into the mix for good measure. In a plot twist befitting of a Monty Python sketch, one of those that our postgraduate comrade and his male campaigner friend chose to include was a headscarf-wearing, devout Muslim-American woman called Raquel Saraswati. Raquel’s crime, for which her life was deemed to be worthy of putting at risk, was that she campaigns against honor-based violence.
And here it is. Two men who have probably never had to suffer the quadruple discriminatory pressure of being outwardly Muslim, brown, female, and a reforming Muslim voice—I call these the minority within Muslim minorities—arrogated to themselves that this hijab Muslim woman was… anti-Muslim. Having quickly realized the absurdity of this all, but only after being exposed by many other concerned Muslims, the authors hurriedly removed Raquel from their list. This U-turn alone raises serious questions about the report’s original methodology, and why the authors chose not to allow Raquel and others their right to rebut such serious accusations prior to publication. Beyond Raquel, the authors kept others such as an Egyptian Muslim Koran exegete, and reform campaigner Tawfik Hamid, as well as right-leaning American Muslim Zuhdi Jasser. Perhaps Zuhdi’s crime to their mind was not being left-leaning enough. Being forced to defend themselves further, the authors doubled down on their decision to include other Muslims as somehow anti-Muslim and published a series of claims that honestly reminded me of my own trial in Egypt at the hands of Mubarak’s prosecutors. Guilt by association, and hearsay, is never a good way to go.
The irresponsibility of this conflation is self-evident. By being included on the same list as genuine anti-Muslim bigots, any Muslim, and any other intellectual for that matter, who wishes to hold a serious and genuine conversation about Islam and its place in today’s age, is smeared by association, and is intimidated from expressing themselves from fear of being labelled an racist or bigot.
I have faced a fare share of violent neo-Nazi racism and anti-Muslim bigotry in my life. As an imprisoned survivor of Bush’s War on Terror torture era in Egypt, and as a target of right-wing conspiracist Glenn Beck’s own witch hunt to out those he believes to be “closet jihadists,” I know there is genuine bigotry and discrimination out there. This bigotry must be challenged, along with the bigotry peddled by Muslim theocrats. But the solution cannot be to stare too long into the abyss, becoming the very Nietzschean beast we seek to defeat. It is for this reason that I can proudly say that the only list I have ever been accused of producing, was a collection of Islamist groups’ names—not individuals, I hasten to add—that I disagreed with yet pushed the government not to ban, and they listened.
Human rights and human dignity must form the basis of our struggle to preserve liberal civilization. Just as with any idea, and any faith, scrutinizing Islam is not the same as discriminating against individual Muslims. The former is an academic right—and in my case it is my own religious right as a reforming Muslim, but the latter is bigotry. No idea is above scrutiny, just as no person should be beneath dignity.