Anti Fascism,  Islamism

A Liberal Blunders into the Islam Channel

Open Democracy’s Kanishk Tharoor was invited onto the Islam Channel, and reacts much as I would, were I unaware that the Islam Channel is an Islamist propaganda station, run by a convicted terrorist, Mohammed Ali Harrath.

In the days after my op-ed ran, I made tentative forays into the British radio and TV in order to further warn against the simplifying lure of the right-wing “war on terror” explanation. When The Islam Channel asked me to appear on its live hour-long political discussion programme Ummah Talk, I accepted. I knew very little about the channel, but as a scruffy, young journalist still finding his feet, I could not refuse the opportunity of a larger audience. When I arrived at their perfectly respectable studio in central London and met the affable presenter and my co-panellist, I anticipated an engaging and productive conversation.

What ensued on Ummah Talk was nothing short of farcical. The host and my co-panelist attempted to wrestle me into a preposterous discussion of conspiracy theories. In their view, the attacks were just as likely to have been the work of the Indian intelligence services or Hindu militants as that of Pakistan-backed terrorists. My protestations about evidence (and the lack thereof) were ignored because all their pointless conjecture was, in fact, very pointed at a single argument: Islamist terrorism is an exaggerated fiction, no more serious than any other kind of political violence (similarly, the misdeeds of Pakistan and its notorious intelligence services are just as bad as anybody else’s). It was unfair, they seemed to suggest, to cast the first stone – just before they started chucking stones in all other directions.

Without agreeing in any way with their logic, I did have sympathy for my interlocutors. Rightly or wrongly, many of the channel’s audience of Muslims in the United Kingdom feel embattled within the West, hounded by a media prone to dangerous sensationalism (which is perhaps why they seek solace in the Islam Channel). The host and my co-panellist were also not wrong to bring up India’s heavy-handedness in Kashmir as well as the recent history of violence against Indian Muslims, including the pogrom in Gujarat in 2002. As an Indian citizen, I readily agreed on air that my country has much to account for.

But at other moments in the programme I struggled to contain my irritation, my eyes rolling upwards in disbelief. In that fashion so reminiscent of old, hard-bitten leftists, my adversaries insisted on equating all evils, and on justifying one wrong with an unrelated another. It is dangerous to level all distinctions – to pretend, for example, that Pakistan’s security establishment is no different from India’s. If, as a Muslim, you think of yourself as part of one besieged global identity, then this relativistic moral murk is inevitable. It is similar to its supposed polar opposite, the moral clarity of the Western neoconservatives. The fog of the former and the blinding light of the latter do nothing to illuminate what happened in Mumbai.

The turbulence of terrorist spectacle and its subsequent media storm require more sophisticated navigation. In the midst of my ambush on Ummah Talk, I sparred more than I wanted to. Were I to return to the show, I would plea for a different understanding of the attacks, one that roots any judgement in context and detail, and, most importantly, in the willingness to embrace self-critique. We don’t need moral clarity or moral relativism, but truly courageous moral modesty.

The Islam Channel is subsidised by Saudi Arabia.

Were the fascist British National Party to receive the sort of money that the Islam Channel, it might be able to do a little bit better than this [Link to BNP TV]

But, from the look of it, the BNP has spent all its budget on pies for Nick Griffin.