I don’t often agree with Baroness Warsi, but her warnings about the penetration of Islamophobia - ‘crossing the threshold of middle class respectability’ - are timely. There is a very creepy example of this process in a post by one David Green, director of Civitas, on the ConservativeHome blog. A cosy enough title that – ConservativeHome! – conjuring up just the sort of respectable middle class domain that Warsi fears is being infiltrated by prejudice.
Green has been inspired to take on a Telegraph column by Peter Oborne. Oborne defended Warsi’s warnings by citing the shameful conduct of press – and even many "of our most famous newspapers" - that "routinely fabricate or pervert stories about Muslims". Violence against Muslims, he insisted, was legitimised by "so much of the daily conversation which takes place in the media". Green protests that some stories may prove to have been incorrect, but "routinely’ inventing false stories about Muslims implies that ‘day in and day out" our newspapers are making up untrue stories about Muslims.
I like the "day in and day out". It is clever of Green to exaggerate Oborne’s statement and thus to try and invalidate it. The difficulty for Green is that Peter Oborne has already broadcast his evidence in a Channel 4 Dispatches documentary - it was published in a Democratic Audit report, Muslims under Siege, co-authored with researcher James Jones. Both reveal a "routine cast of mind that is ready to seize opportunities to accuse Muslims of violent behaviour and undue influence."
Interestingly, Green also displays the tendency, identified by Warsi, to characterise Muslims as either moderate or extreme, in a rather sharper way, failing fully to acknowledge the decent values of the majority of Muslims in the UK and concentrating on negative phenomena. He writes of a "great battle going on for the heart and soul of Islam", arguing that "in truth" Warsi and Oborne, "by portraying the valid criticism of the conduct of some Muslim factions as bigotry . . . strengthen the hand of the most aggressive elements within Islam", as though the diverse majority of devout and law-abiding Muslims are just another ‘faction’ in the ‘great battle’. He writes of Sharia law that it is "mediaeval" and enforced by ‘intimidation’ whereas for Muslims in the UK, as the Democratic Audit report, The Rules of the Game: Terrorism, Community and Human Rights, explained, it takes a benign form of community norms and rules that do not in most areas conflict with British law.
Moreover, Green slithers between writing about Islam, ‘Islamic’ and ‘Islamist’, without distinguishing between them as scrupulously as he should. It is vitally important to recognise the great diversity of communities in the UK. No one denies that there are values and acts among some Muslims in the UK that are shocking and repellent. But after spending a year on research for the Rules of the Game report, I (a convinced atheist) emerged with a profound respect for British Muslims.
I can’t feel any respect for writers like Green, who write such repellent articles, taking advantage - as he and many like him do - of the need for robust criticism of that which genuinely merits it. My view is that such articles do indeed assist the assimilation of Islamophobia into respectability that Warsi and Oborne warn of and thereby recklessly leave our society at risk of worse, much worse.
PS: Sunny Hundal blogs some of the anti-Warsi coverage here