Ed Husain versus Melanie Phillips

Former Islamist stands up to Islamist obsessive

She once described the ex-Hizb ut-Tahrir activist and self-confessed one-time "Islamist" Ed Husain as a "brave Muslim", who should be "applauded for his courage . . . intellectual honesty and guts", before turning on him for opposing the Israeli war on Gaza and accusing him of adopting "the very narrative and rhetoric that are driving Muslims to mass murder". But now Melanie Phillips has had a taste of her own bilious medicine in the form of a harsh, biting and brilliant takedown from Husain himself in a piece entitled "The personal jihad of Melanie Phillips".

Husain slams the Daily Mail columnist and Spectator blogger for her "zealotry and ignorance . . . anger, venom and hatred" and "ludicrous, illogical lines of thought", before accusing her of travelling on a "journey into darkness and ignorance".

His central criticism of the swivel-eyed Phillips revolves around her obsession with Israel, and the "Israel First" test that she sees fit to impose on self-described Muslim "moderates":

In Melanie's world, anybody -- non-Muslim (Barack Obama) or Muslim (me) -- who opposes her views on Israel is either an Islamist or "in the Islamists' camp". I reject Islamism on grounds of principle, experience, faith and political philosophy -- and I refuse to pass the "Israel First" test. That is a perfectly coherent, normative political stance.

An Israel First mindset is about supporting Israel regardless of whether its behaviour is right or wrong, whether it is victim or oppressor; it also involves holding political activists hostage with accusations of anti-Semitism and/or Islamism in seeking to gain unconditional support for Israel.

The Israel First test, which she seeks to impose on British Muslims (as well as an American president), reeks of racism. Why is Israel more important than any other country in the world? With leading British Muslims increasingly supporting a secular state, democracy, women's rights, gay rights and liberal pluralism, and opposing Islamist extremism -- then still be attacked as "extremists" or "Islamist" because they don't support Likud's plans for Israel -- is bullying and uncompromising in the extreme. How dare she?

Bravo! I've had my own disagreements with Ed Husain in the past but, on this matter, I cannot help but nod, agree and applaud. He is right to call out Melanie and others on their own "jihad" against British Muslims, be they "moderate", "extreme", "secular or "Islamist".

My one humble piece of advice for Ed would be to use this opportunity to take a long and hard look at those he calls his friends and allies. He has, belatedly, dumped Phillips. But does he have the wisdom -- and the guts -- to dump the rest of the liberal-left, Israel-first, pro-war hawks who have gathered around him in recent years? I suspect he will never have real credibility in Britain's Muslim communities until he does so.

 

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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Will Euroscepticism prove an unbeatable advantage in the Conservative leadership race?

Conservative members who are eager for Brexit are still searching for a heavyweight champion - and they could yet inherit the earth.

Put your money on Liam Fox? The former Defence Secretary has been given a boost by the news that ConservativeHome’s rolling survey of party members preferences for the next Conservative leader. Jeremy Wilson at BusinessInsider and James Millar at the Sunday Post have both tipped Fox for the top job.

Are they right? The expectation among Conservative MPs is that there will be several candidates from the Tory right: Dominic Raab, Priti Patel and potentially Owen Paterson could all be candidates, while Boris Johnson, in the words of one: “rides both horses – is he the candidate of the left, of the right, or both?”

MPs will whittle down the field of candidates to a top two, who will then be voted on by the membership.  (As Graham Brady, chair of the 1922 Committee, notes in his interview with my colleague George Eaton, Conservative MPs could choose to offer a wider field if they so desired, but would be unlikely to surrender more power to party activists.)

The extreme likelihood is that that contest will be between two candidates: George Osborne and not-George Osborne.  “We know that the Chancellor has a bye to the final,” one minister observes, “But once you’re in the final – well, then it’s anyone’s game.”

Could “not-George Osborne” be Liam Fox? Well, the difficulty, as one MP observes, is we don’t really know what the Conservative leadership election is about:

“We don’t even know what the questions are to which the candidates will attempt to present themselves as the answer. Usually, that question would be: who can win us the election? But now that Labour have Corbyn, that question is taken care of.”

So what’s the question that MPs will be asking? We simply don’t know – and it may be that they come to a very different conclusion to their members, just as in 2001, when Ken Clarke won among MPs – before being defeated in a landslide by Conservative activists.

Much depends not only on the outcome of the European referendum, but also on its conduct. If the contest is particularly bruising, it may be that MPs are looking for a candidate who will “heal and settle”, in the words of one. That would disadvantage Fox, who will likely be a combative presence in the European referendum, and could benefit Boris Johnson, who, as one MP put it, “rides both horses” and will be less intimately linked with the referendum and its outcome than Osborne.

But equally, it could be that Euroscepticism proves to be a less powerful card than we currently expect. Ignoring the not inconsiderable organisational hurdles that have to be cleared to beat Theresa May, Boris Johnson, and potentially any or all of the “next generation” of Sajid Javid, Nicky Morgan or Stephen Crabb, we simply don’t know what the reaction of Conservative members to the In-Out referendum will be.

Firstly, there’s a non-trivial possibility that Leave could still win, despite its difficulties at centre-forward. The incentive to “reward” an Outer will be smaller. But if Britain votes to Remain – and if that vote is seen by Conservative members as the result of “dirty tricks” by the Conservative leadership – it could be that many members, far from sticking around for another three to four years to vote in the election, simply decide to leave. The last time that Cameron went against the dearest instincts of many of his party grassroots, the result was victory for the Prime Minister – and an activist base that, as the result of defections to Ukip and cancelled membership fees, is more socially liberal and more sympathetic to Cameron than it was before. Don’t forget that, for all the worry about “entryism” in the Labour leadership, it was “exitism” – of Labour members who supported David Miliband and liked the New Labour years  - that shifted that party towards Jeremy Corbyn.

It could be that if – as Brady predicts in this week’s New Statesman – the final two is an Inner and an Outer, the Eurosceptic candidate finds that the members who might have backed them are simply no longer around.

It comes back to the biggest known unknown in the race to succeed Cameron: Conservative members. For the first time in British political history, a Prime Minister will be chosen, not by MPs with an electoral mandate of their own or by voters at a general election but by an entirelyself-selecting group: party members. And we simply don't know enough about what they feel - yet. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog. He usually writes about politics.