We mustn’t allow Muslims in public life to be silenced

Have you ever been called an Islamist? How about a jihadist or a terrorist? Extremist, maybe? Welcome to my world. It’s pretty depressing. Every morning, I take a deep breath and then go online to discover what new insult or smear has been thrown in my direction. Whether it’s tweets, blogposts or comment threads, the abuse is as relentless as it is vicious.

You might think I’d have become used to it by now. Well, I haven’t. When I started writing for a living, I never imagined I’d be the victim of such personal, such Islamophobic, attacks, on a near-daily basis.

Mehdi Hasan writes at Comment is Free, 8 July 2012

He has some harsh words to say about the role of some of his fellow journalists when it comes to stoking hostility towards the Muslim community and its faith:

From my perspective, the British commentariat can be divided into three groups. The first consists of a handful of journalists who regularly speak out against the rising tide of anti-Muslim bigotry – from the Telegraph’s Peter Oborne to a bevy of Guardian columnists, including Jonathan Freedland, Seumas Milne and Gary Younge.

The second consists of those writers, such as the Mail’s Melanie Phillips, the Telegraph’s Charles Moore and the Spectator’s Douglas Murray, who see Islam and Muslims as alien, hostile and threatening. Phillips has referred darkly to a “fifth column in our midst”; Murray has said “conditions for Muslims in Europe must be made harder across the board”.

But it is the third, and perhaps biggest, group that concerns me most: those commentators who boast otherwise impeccable anti-racist credentials yet tend to be silent on the subject of Islamophobia; journalists who cannot bring themselves to recognise, let alone condemn, the growing prevalence of anti-Muslim feeling across Europe – or acknowledge the simple fact that the targeting of a powerless, brown-skinned minority is indeed a form of racism.

I’m a fan of robust debate and I’m not averse to engaging in the odd ad hominem attack myself. This isn’t a case of special pleading, on behalf of Britain’s Muslims, nor do I think my Islamic beliefs should be exempt from public criticism. But the fact is that you can now say things about Muslims, in polite society and even among card-carrying liberal lefties, that you cannot say about any other group or minority. Am I expected to shrug this off?

Update:  See Jonathan Freedland, “I stand with Mehdi Hasan against the torrent of Islamophobic abuse”, Comment is Free, 10 July 2012