Nick Cohen: Demos and IslamExpo

This is a guest post by Nick Cohen

One of the most self-satisfied lines of attack on my What’s Left and the journalism of Harry’s Place, Martin Bright, David Aaronovitch, John Lloyd, Christopher Hitchens, Paul Berman, Oliver Kamm and others is that, if there is a problem with Islamism and the Left – and most critics are too lost in the current consensus to see that there could be – it is a sickness confined to the far left.

The mainstream remains as pure and principled as ever, even if it does say so itself. You place yourself beyond the pale of reasonable discourse by asking why Labour and Liberal Democrat politicians consort with far rightists, or why the BBC never asks hard questions of radical Islamists, or why the liberal press promotes Muslim reactionaries rather than Muslim democrats, socialists and feminists.

I can’t speak for my friends and colleagues, but after reading Peter Harrington’s effort on Harry’s Place the land beyond the pale seemed an attractive place to live. Unintentionally, he manages to illustrate almost everything that is going wrong with mainstream thinking.

For readers who don’t know Demos, it is a caricature New Labour think tank. Respected and respectable, its faults are the faults of conventional wisdom.

To take them from the top

1. If you can’t as Mr Harrington implies, call the Muslim Brotherhood, an organisation which was founded by the admirers of European fascism, which propagates the theories of Adolf Hitler, and wishes to suppress the women, murder the Jews, homosexuals, socialists and apostates and establish an inquisitorial dictatorship, a ‘far right movement’ you are living in a make-believe world where words have lost their connection to meaning.

2. Mr Harrington does not seem to realise it, but his alternative description of Islamism as ‘complex, often confused’ also applies to white extremism. The BNP can appear a leftish party to white working class voters. It doesn’t specifically advocate violence, while its rivals do. Some European neo-Nazi parties have a Jew obsession which matches that of the Muslim Brotherhood. Others are against all immigrants regardless of colours or creed. Yet more are primarily Islamophobic. Mr Harrington sounds as if he thinks he is making an original point when he says that far right politics – if he will allow us to call it far right politics – isn’t simple. I’m sorry to be the one who has to break the news to him, but everyone who knows the histories of Europe in the Thirties and of radical Islam since 1979 doesn’t need to be told that fascism comes in many confused forms. How could such inchoate and irrational movements be anything other than complicated?

3. The real question is how to confront them. Demos says it is slyly using one brand of Islamism to fight another. Will Demos employ the same cunning plan against the white far right? Given that the BNP, like the Muslim Brotherhood and Jamaat, does not specifically advocate communal violence, but merely, like the Muslim Brotherhood and Jamaat, is at the beginning of a continuum whose terminus is psychopathic hatred, surely Demos should attend BNP rallies and host BNP debates. After all, like the Muslim Brotherhood and Jamaat, the BNP has a constituency in Britain.

4. My tentative guess, however, is that Demos wouldn’t go near the BNP. When it comes to whites it has the sense to understand that you don’t defeat one form of malignant ideology by promoting another. For the sake of the white working class above all else, you take on all those who would manipulate and exploit it.

5 Why, then, doesn’t Demos treat brown-skinned British citizens with the same consideration? Does it ever stop to think what it is doing to them? The political failure and scandal of our times lies in the inability of British Muslims, who share the values of the liberal-left, to ask white liberal-leftists for comradely support. In Mr Harrington’s world of London think tanks Muslim leftists have more chance of receiving a fair hearing from the Conservatives at Policy Exchange than the nominal leftists at Demos. They may find the Tories hard going, but at least they are not in bed with their enemies.

6. Mr Harrington protests that Demos is not collaborating. He tells Harry’s Place that ‘we need to take the values we, and so many Muslims and non-Muslims, share as liberals and wage a battle against those values that make us deeply uncomfortable.’ He’ right, of course. But nowhere does he explain where and how he and his colleagues are joining the battle. As with the liberal press, Liberal Democrats, a section of the Labour Party, the Met, the West Midlands Police, the BBC, a part of the Civil Service, the Crown Prosecution Service, the Lord Chief Justice and His Grace, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Demos can offer no evidence that it is making a principled stand rather than blindly wandering into a woozy ‘dialogue’.

When supporters of appeasement in the Foreign Office told Sir Derek Plumbly, the British ambassador to Egypt, that he too must ‘engage’ with the Muslim Brotherhood in 2005, he made the best criticism I’ve heard of the vacuity of the strategy. He replied that he detected a tendency in the liberal establishment, ‘for us to be drawn towards engagement for its own sake; to confuse “engaging with the Islamic world” with “engaging with Islamism”; and to play down the very real downsides for us in terms of the Islamists’ likely foreign and social policies, should they actually achieve power in countries such as Egypt’.

7. The final possibility is that Mr Harrington and all those like him are not confronting radical Islam or offering it tea, sympathy and engagement but negotiating with it. If so, Demos needs to say what is on the table. Women’s rights? The Jews, the gays, the apostates, the free thinkers, the secularists, the liberals, the democrats? The Muslim Brotherhood is a subtle and skilled organisation as well as a repellent one. No one deals with it without paying a price.