Double standards on Darfur

Ed Husain has a point on selective Muslim outrage

In Monday's Independent, the Quilliam Foundation's Ed Husain - a man I've disagreed with in the past - issued a brilliant denunciation of Muslim double standards on Darfur:

"In January this year, millions shared similar feelings of horror and anger witnessing the bloodshed in Gaza. Both events were especially painful to Muslims watching other defenceless Muslims being killed. But why have the deaths of vastly more unarmed Muslims in Darfur caused so little concern among co-religionists?

The Khartoum regime, brought to power in a highly ideological and fundamentalist Islamist coup 20 years ago, has killed an estimated 400,000 of its fellow Muslim citizens. Yet there is near silence about massive human rights abuses in the remote western corner of Sudan. As Tareq al-Hamed, editor of the Asharq al-Awsat paper, has asked, "Are the people of Darfur not Muslims as well?"

...Muslims' amnesia about Darfur is also symptomatic of the malaise affecting the public face of a faith that lacks the confidence to engage in constructive debate or renewal. Until Muslims can be self-critical without being condemned as heretics, there will be atrophy where there should be vibrancy, and polarisation and extremism where there should be tolerance and inclusiveness. Darfur's tragedy is fast becoming an indelible stain on the collective name of Islam and Muslims."

I could not have said it better myself (although I prefer to distinguish between Islam, the religion, and Muslims, the practitioners of the religion). The one point I would add is that Muslims do tend to get very angry when they see fellow Muslims being attacked by non-Muslims (eg, in Gaza) and Ed Husain is right to point out that Muslims should also get angry when they see their fellow Muslims being attacked by other Muslims (eg, in Darfur). But crucially, I would argue, Muslims should also get angry when they see non-Muslims being attacked by non-Muslims, ie, when we have no theological stake or interest in the conflict. We have to stop navel-gazing and mumbling only about the "ummah" - our common humanity demands that we sit up and also take notice of, say, Chinese oppression of Buddhists in Tibet or Sinhalese repression of the Tamils in Sri Lanka. Why, for example, do you never hear about Muslim groups protesting against right-wing Colombian death squads? Islam is a humanitarian, not a sectarian, religion and so selective outrage will not do.

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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Autumn Statement 2015: George Osborne abandons his target

How will George Osborne close the deficit after his U-Turns? Answer: he won't, of course. 

“Good governments U-Turn, and U-Turn frequently.” That’s Andrew Adonis’ maxim, and George Osborne borrowed heavily from him today, delivering two big U-Turns, on tax credits and on police funding. There will be no cuts to tax credits or to the police.

The Office for Budget Responsibility estimates that, in total, the government gave away £6.2 billion next year, more than half of which is the reverse to tax credits.

Osborne claims that he will still deliver his planned £12bn reduction in welfare. But, as I’ve written before, without cutting tax credits, it’s difficult to see how you can get £12bn out of the welfare bill. Here’s the OBR’s chart of welfare spending:

The government has already promised to protect child benefit and pension spending – in fact, it actually increased pensioner spending today. So all that’s left is tax credits. If the government is not going to cut them, where’s the £12bn come from?

A bit of clever accounting today got Osborne out of his hole. The Universal Credit, once it comes in in full, will replace tax credits anyway, allowing him to describe his U-Turn as a delay, not a full retreat. But the reality – as the Treasury has admitted privately for some time – is that the Universal Credit will never be wholly implemented. The pilot schemes – one of which, in Hammersmith, I have visited myself – are little more than Potemkin set-ups. Iain Duncan Smith’s Universal Credit will never be rolled out in full. The savings from switching from tax credits to Universal Credit will never materialise.

The £12bn is smaller, too, than it was this time last week. Instead of cutting £12bn from the welfare budget by 2017-8, the government will instead cut £12bn by the end of the parliament – a much smaller task.

That’s not to say that the cuts to departmental spending and welfare will be painless – far from it. Employment Support Allowance – what used to be called incapacity benefit and severe disablement benefit – will be cut down to the level of Jobseekers’ Allowance, while the government will erect further hurdles to claimants. Cuts to departmental spending will mean a further reduction in the numbers of public sector workers.  But it will be some way short of the reductions in welfare spending required to hit Osborne’s deficit reduction timetable.

So, where’s the money coming from? The answer is nowhere. What we'll instead get is five more years of the same: increasing household debt, austerity largely concentrated on the poorest, and yet more borrowing. As the last five years proved, the Conservatives don’t need to close the deficit to be re-elected. In fact, it may be that having the need to “finish the job” as a stick to beat Labour with actually helped the Tories in May. They have neither an economic imperative nor a political one to close the deficit. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.