John Ware

Baroness Warsi's attack on Sara Khan could have a chilling effect on criticism of Islamism

John Ware says the peer has been beating Ms Khan with a stick ever since her appointment last January

December 13, 2018 17:37

Baroness Warsi is a trenchant critic of Israel, so we can assume from her speech to the House of Lords in October — which appeared to endorse the IHRA definition of antisemitism — that she disagreed with those who said it would have a chilling effect on legitimate criticism of Israel.

In other words, she accepted the definition both protected Jews from being stereotyped whilst also protecting free speech.

The Baroness is also Treasurer of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslims which has just proposed the first working definition of Islamophobia. She wants the government to adopt this definition, which says that Islamophobia is “a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness”.

While the APPG insists it will not impair “free and fair debate” over Islam, judging by Warsi’s unseemly reaction to criticism of the definition, it may have a chilling effect on criticism of Islamist intolerance and extremism.

The Commissioner for Countering Extremism, Sara Khan, observed that the APPG’s definition had nothing to say about Muslims who publicly target fellow Muslims with hatred, ridicule and occasionally death threats for not showing enough “Muslimness” by holding opinions about Islam with which their tormentors disagree.

Typical are barbs like “Sell-Outs”, “Native Informants”, and “Uncle Toms” for this too is “a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness” just like the more common non-Muslim to Muslim racism.

Both Khan and the Home Secretary Sajid Javid, also a Muslim, have been victims of this abuse and it can have fatal consequences. British Muslims have been brutally murdered because they were not regarded as the right kind of Muslim.

Yet when Ms Khan, in a calm and measured way, wrote that countering Islamist extremism does not make one an Islamophobe, instead of providing reassurance to the Commissioner, Ms Warsi fired off a volley of tweets. “This opinion piece is confused on so many levels. When even Islamophobia itself can be used by @CommissionCE as a stick to beat those ‘nasty bad Muslims’. I despair Sara.”

Why does the Baroness despair? After all, Ms Khan’s job is to advise the government on policies to deal with all forms of extremism.

Instead of addressing any of Ms Khan’s points, the Baroness accused her of employing as her head of research a woman who’d “associated with extremists”. Knowing this researcher as I do, the accusation is risible.

Then the dagger twist: Ms Khan’s Extremism Commission was “neither connected to, nor listened to, nor respected by, nor trusted by, nor considered independent by most British Muslims — so it has no ability to influence and effect change in its ‘target audience’.”

The 400 institutions and individuals Ms Khan has met across the country in relation, not just to Islamist extremism but also to far-right, Hindu, Sikh and hard-left extremism, suggests a robust independence on all fronts.

A final thrust from Warsi: “Thank you @CommissionCE for reminding us why so many were right to speak out against your appointment.” 

Retweeting Ms Warsi, the mob got to work. Ms Khan was accused of using the “language of middle eastern dictators” expostulated one academic. She was using “far-right strategies…weaponising Muslim women against Muslim communities”, shrilled another.

Other Muslims who criticised the APPG’s definition as a chilling discussion about Islam were spared Ms Warsi’s spleen. So, why single out Ms Khan — especially since Ms Warsi has written, “My faith is a ruler I have chosen to measure myself against, not a stick with which to beat you. It allows me to question myself, not to judge you”?

Ms Warsi has been beating Ms Khan with a stick ever since her appointment last January. She said then it was because Ms Khan is a “Home Office construct” — ie a “sell-out”. Is it also, perhaps, because she wanted Ms Khan’s job? I’m told she wanted ministers to invite her to do the job, but pulled out of the running when informed that she’d have to apply like everyone else through a competitive selection process. I put this to Ms Warsi but she declined to comment

She tells people it’s time Ms Khan decided what she stands for. Yet Ms Khan has been standing up for victims of bigotry for years — Jews, gays and especially Muslim women. 

And who is Ms Warsi to judge anyway? Does she have exclusive ownership of anti-Muslim hatred and discrimination? Ms Warsi paints a worryingly monolithic picture of British Muslims, whereas they are amongst the world’s most diverse.

It is Ms Warsi who needs to decide what she stands for. Whilst accepting — rightly — that attacks on Israel by no means always stereotype Jews, she seems to regard any attack on Muslims as demonising all Muslims, even though she knows well that labels like “Uncle Toms” are wholly unacceptable. A nod in that direction would have put her on the right side of this debate.

“I always engage”, Ms Warsi once tweeted. “Learn to love, not to hate”. Fine talk. She needs to  walk it too.

John Ware is an author and former reporter for the BBC’s ‘Panorama’

December 13, 2018 17:37

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