The shameful Rafiq affair is really about vile identity politics

It’s possible for those who are the victims of bigotry to be bigoted themselves


LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 12: Yorkshire's Azeem Rafiq looks on frustrated as his team struggle to make a break through during day one of the Specsavers County Championship Division One match between Surrey and Yorkshire at The Kia Oval on September 12, 2017 in London, England. (Photo by Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images)

November 25, 2021 11:29

It’s a fair bet that Azeem Rafiq is ruing the day that he transfixed the nation by telling a parliamentary committee about the racism he had faced as a Yorkshire cricketer.

He produced shocking claims of racial abuse, dressing-room bullying and discriminatory policies that he said had been inflicted on him as a player with Yorkshire County Cricket Club. His evidence resulted in resignations and suspensions, with both Yorkshire and the ethos of cricket itself plunged into crisis and disgrace.

Two days afterwards, however, a 10-year-old exchange between Rafiq and the Leicestershire professional cricketer Ateeq Javid came to light. In this, Rafiq referred to another Asian cricketer as “a Jew” because he was tight with his money. In a further comment, he joked that this person would “probs go after my 2nds again ha… Only jews do tht sort of sh**.”

Further information then came to light which led to claims that Rafiq had sent inappropriate sexual messages to a teenage girl and posted a meme on Instagram denigrating Africans.

Let’s park judgement for the moment on Rafiq himself. What was striking was the sharp difference in reaction to the claims of racism against him and odious behaviour by him.

His racism claims led to instant anathema being pronounced upon the cricketing personalities he named. Yet the revelation of his past antisemitism — for which he instantly and abjectly apologised to the Jewish community — produced no such reaction.

It was downplayed or even ignored. There were no explosions of outrage. The Labour MP Stella Creasy even praised “this poor young man” for his “powerful, clear and compelling” apology.

Generous-minded people will want to believe that Rafiq is genuinely sorry for his past anti-Jewish prejudice. But the Yorkshire cricketers weren’t given the benefit of the doubt for their own shows of contrition. They were hung out to dry, with speaking engagements and radio appearances cancelled.

So why the difference? People have pointed out the distressing fact that antisemitism isn’t treated as bigotry because so many actually believe the trope that the Jews are a conspiracy against the rest of the world.

However, that can’t be the whole explanation. After all, two weeks ago Yorkshire’s first team coach, Andrew Gale, was suspended over an 11-year-old tweet in which he had said: “Button it, Yid!”

Gale has said he hadn’t known the word was offensive and removed the tweet immediately this was explained to him. “I would never have used the word had I been aware of its offensive meaning and I have never used it since,” he said. So why was he suspended but Rafiq instantly forgiven?

The real reason is surely the widespread refusal to acknowledge that Muslims might harbour bigoted attitudes. This is despite repeated evidence that a disproportionate number of Muslims hold anti-Jewish views.

In 2019, a worldwide poll commissioned by the US Anti-Defamation League found that Muslims in Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK were on average almost three times more likely than the general population to accept antisemitic stereotypes.

Last year, a poll by the Henry Jackson Society found that nearly half of British Muslims endorsed some antisemitic conspiracy theories, with roughly twice as many Muslims as others believing that Jews had too much control over politics and the global banking system.

Yet in all the recent sound and fury over antisemitism, this factor has almost never been mentioned. This is because of the “intersectionality” dogma that black or brown-skinned people can’t be racists. And so those drawing attention to Muslim antisemitism find themselves anathematised instead as “Islamophobes”.

Given the scale of Muslim antisemitism, one might think this would be a major cause of concern for Britain’s Jewish community. Yet Jewish leaders almost never mention it.

The Board of Deputies rushed to accept Rafiq’s apology as “completely sincere”. Yet when Gale’s “Yid” comment came to light, the Board’s vice-president Amanda Bowman said it “reinforces the fact that the club needs to seriously reconsider its culture and values”.

Not that this double standard — dismaying as it is — neutralises in any way the odious bigotry to which Rafiq was subjected. Nor is it to say that the players accused of racially abusing him don’t deserve to be disciplined or shamed.

But what this whole episode shows is that it is perfectly possible to be the victim of bigotry and yet be bigoted yourself.

Muslims and other Asians face racial prejudice. Yet Muslims are also disproportionately likely to be antisemites.

Prejudice is to be found in every group. Yet identity politics holds that victims cannot be victimisers. Only those groups deemed powerless can be victimised, and only by those deemed powerful. And power is defined by money — or just by dint of having a white skin.

All human beings are capable of both good and bad. In shoehorning people into categories which either damn or absolve them, identity politics not only divides people — it dehumanises them. And maybe that’s the real significance of this whole Azeem Rafiq affair.

Melanie Phillips is a Times columnist

November 25, 2021 11:29

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