UK Politics

Hold On To Your Friends

At the height of Israel’s Gaza campaign, Ed Husain wrote a piece on Comment is Free that condemned Israel’s assault and observed that the campaign had undermined the moves to persuade prominent clerics to condemn suicide bombings in Tel Aviv as well as elsewhere. It argued for an urgent push to create a Palestinian state: a goal that all sensible people are determined to see happen.

The next week, a letter appeared, calling for a ceasefire, and for pressure to be put on Israel, by suspending the EU “upgrade” process until “the present conflict has been brought to an end”.

A few days later, Ed Husain wrote an article in the Observer that upset a number of people. It began:

The images of innocent, wounded Palestinians being carried on stretchers to hospitals as they recited the Muslim testimony of faith called out to me. On my deathbed, I will recite the same Islamic declaration of faith. Like a billion Muslims across the world, I identified with the Palestinians.

The most problematic section of the two articles was the following:

How can the children of Holocaust survivors become such brutal killers? And during the Sabbath?


Israel is not an ordinary country: it is built by children of Holocaust survivors, forcing themselves on Arab land over Palestinian dead bodies.

As a quick critique: Israel is not the only country to be built on “dead bodies”. The same can be said for Kosovo, or Greece, or Pakistan, or the United States of America, or any country that was born in a moment of bloody struggle, particularly where a regional minority self determined. Israel is also not a country that was built exclusively by Holocaust survivors. It is also the refuge of essentially the entire Jewish population of the Middle East, cleansed and harried out of Muslim countries by Arab and Islamist fanatics where in many cases, Jews had been persecuted for generations.

Moreover, the “haven’t you learnt the lessons of the Holocaust” jibe is inflamatory. It falls into the same category as those wags who mutter “Religion of Peace” every time a jihadist explodes himself. It was unworthy of Ed Husain.

In short, I thought that there were certain phrases in the articles that were uncharacteristically ill judged.

But look at the context of these articles. Have you seen the pictures of the carnage in Gaza? The human beings on fire, decapitated, reduced to lumps of meat? How did you react to that?

There is absolutely nothing wrong, in my view, with calling for urgent pressure to be put on Israel – as well as on Hamas – to take the risk for peace. You might not support such calls, or think them misguided and naive. But these arguments need to be had.

Can you appreciate why somebody might have a strong emotional reaction to – let us face it – the deaths of many many people, many of whom had absolutely nothing at all to do with Hamas, but were nevertheless killed?

You don’t agree?

Think about your immediate reactions to Islamist outrages against British or Jewish people. How did that make you feel. Think about Martin Amis’ own response:

“What can we do to raise the price of them doing this? There’s a definite urge – don’t you have it? – to say ‘The Muslim community will have to suffer until it gets its house in order. What sort of suffering? Not letting them travel. Deportation – further down the road. Curtailing of freedoms. Strip-searching people who look like they’re from the Middle East or from Pakistan … Discriminatory stuff, until it hurts the whole community and they start getting tough with their children…’

When Martin Amis published those words, many of us shook our heads privately and sighed. We knew that Amis had said something outrageous. But we were also aware that those who were the most outspoken in their condemnation of Amis’ “thought experiment” were supporters of jihadism, of the Islamist and far Left variety. When the Marxist literary critic, Terry Eagleton outrageously called Amis a “”British National Party thug”, how happy were we to hand him a victory?

The bottom line is this. What sort of politics does Quilliam represent?

From what I have seen of their work – and I’ve followed them closely – it is very clear that they stand firm against sectarianism, and are among the best at articulating the bankrupcy of the line that the Islamists have been pushing us to accept, that the the state should “ally with the soft jihadists to ward off Al Qaeda”. They’re genuine opponents of extremism: not extremists who have reined in their rhetoric.

Moreover, it isn’t as if democrats and anti-fascists have so many allies, that we can afford to engage in in-fighting with those with whom we have certain differences of opinion. So, Ed thinks that Israel should be ashamed of itself for its conduct in Gaza? Well here’s some news: lots of other people who are staunch advocates of two states do as well.

So, what happened next? For the last few weeks, it was rumoured that The Times was going to ‘take Quilliam down’. Nobody knew quite how. What was the dirt? Nobody could imagine. Then, earlier this week, we discovered. Apparently – shock horror – Quilliam gets money from the Government. Er. But we knew this already. The Times had laboured to produce a mouse.

Here’s the bottom line. I may disagree with Ed Husain: but I will not see a friend and an ally being hung out to dry like this.

Have a look at those who have jumped on Ed and Quilliam.

They have included those who think that the solution to Islamism isn’t to win the battle of ideas, but is to send refugees back to their countries of origin lest they turn into suicide bombers here.

They include the smirking Mr Bean, Inayat Bunglawala, whose own think tank is run by an unreformed and convicted terrorist, who this morning announced that Qulliam was a “stooge created to do the government’s bidding”. Notably, he was prominently quoted in The Times article.

Then, there’s that nameless “government minister” in The Times article, who clearly has it in for Quilliam. I wonder which government minister that is. I bet that it is one of those who were so upset when Hazel Blears vetoed participation in the Hamas/Muslim Brotherhood run IslamExpo – neatly exposed by Ed Husain – or one of those who spoke at the Global Unity Event, alongside supporters of terrorism, racists, and Holocaust deniers.

It is very clear why both sides would like Quilliam out of play, isn’t it? The real soft jihadists and their supporters very much want the state to accomodate Islamism, and therefore need to position themselves as “the only Muslims you should be talking to”. The anti-Muslim bigots just want Muslims out of this country altogether.

But their line of attack is flawed. Quilliam is a think tank. It does not claim leadership of British Islam. Rather, it organises seminars and discussion groups, where the strategy needed to defeat jihadism is seriously discussed, by people who support liberal democracy. It is a lie to say that they have little influence: last week they co-ordinated the letter condemning anti-semitic attacks signed by pretty much every prominent non-Islamist cleric in the United Kingdom. Quilliam also trains Britain’s local authorities and others to give them the stamina to stand up to Islamists, exposes extremists, and undermines Jihadist rhetoric in the mainstream media. They’re in competition with groups like the Hamas/Muslim Brotherhood front group, the Cordoba Foundation, who took PVE cash, and used it to promote its own politics, alongside, Hizb ut Tahrir and Al Muhajiroun speakers. Groups like these have been on the defensive over the last two years. That has more than a little to do with Quilliam going on the offensive. That is why we badly need such an organisation. That is why the Islamists are gunning for Quilliam.

There’s a great song by the post-punk band Magazine: “Shot by Both Sides”. That is what is happening to Ed Husain at the moment. 

But I’d prefer to be singing the Morrissey classic: “Hold On To Your Friends“.