The truth about Andrew Gilligan

The Telegraph man’s links to Iran.

As predictably as night follows day, Andrew Gilligan has responded on his Telegraph blog to my interview with the mayor of Tower Hamlets, Lutfur Rahman, last week. I suspected he wouldn't be able to resist.

For those of you who haven't followed Gilligan's illustrious career since his role in "outing" Dr David Kelly, it's worth being aware that, these days, the former BBC reporter is obsessed with "Islamists" and, in particular, Rahman. By my count, he has published about 15 blog posts on Rahman on the Telegraph website over the past month: that's a ratio of one post every two days.

Obsession, perhaps, is an understatement. The man who came to global prominence by helping to expose the British government's lies about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction is now "cyber-stalking" a local politician in the East End of London. How the mighty fall.

I'll come on to Gilligan's own links in a moment, but first, let me quickly deal with his blog post about my interview. Gilligan mocks what he describes as my "fearless and probing interview" of Rahman. If he and his friends in the right-wing, Islam-obsessed, McCarthyite blogosphere bothered to read the magazine, they'd know that the weekly "NS Interview" isn't designed to be Paxman-esque. It's a Q&A format that caters for interviewees as diverse as Rahman and Osama Bin Laden's son, on the one hand, to Russell Brand and Sienna Miller, on the other.

And the truth is, as the transcript of the full interview with Rahman shows, I still managed to question the mayor on all the main allegations against him (from his religious beliefs to his alleged links to "extremism" to the smear campaign against his Labour opponent) and, for the first time, we hear the man himself respond to each and every claim. But I guess Gilligan and his friends don't want to hear the mayor put his side of the story, or defend gay rights, or publicly confirm his belief in secularism; they'd rather stick their fingers in their ears and chant, "La la la la, we can't hear him!" Why bother with debate or discussion, when caricatures and smears serve you better?

In fact, on the secularism point, Gilligan chooses to quote selectively from the interview (I guess nothing's changed since the Kelly affair), writing on his blog:

Sample extract:

Q: Do you believe in a secular Britain?

A: I do.

Phew! So that's all right, then!

Umm. That's not a "sample extract". This is:

Do you believe in a secular Britain?

I do. I live in a society based on a clear division of powers between the church and the state. Yes, I absolutely believe in a secular society.

But what else should we expect, I suppose, from a journalist who long ago became a propagandist for Boris Johnson and the Tories and has since been accused of "sockpuppeting", ie, creating, in the words of Wikipedia, "a false identity through which a member of an internet community speaks with or about himself or herself, pretending to be a different person". (See here, here and here for details.)

Gilligan says on his blog that I have "form on defending the IFE [Islamic Forum of Europe]" even though I clearly stated, in a debate with Gilligan on Sky News over the summer, that I didn't agree with the IFE agenda but that I'd rather trust the opinion of grass-roots groups such as London Citizens, which work with and support the IFE, than his own biased and selective "journalism". I also challenged Gilligan to define Islamism in a coherent or consistent manner, live on air, which he was (surprise, surprise) unable to do.

In fact, in a previous blog post, in March, Gilligan included me among the "allies of Islamism". I'm not sure how many allies of Islamism have criticised the concept of an "Islamic state", denounced suicide bombings in Palestine and questioned Islam's illiberal apostasy laws, but here's a question: if I'm an ally of Islamism, then what's Andrew Gilligan? Lest we forget, the man is a paid employee of the Islamic Republic of Iran. He hosts his own show on the state-funded English-language Iranian broadcaster, Press TV. (For the record, let me just point out here that, like Oliver Kamm, Iain Dale, Martin Bright and others, I have also occasionally appeared as a guest on Press TV – but not as a presenter! And, of course, I don't spend my whole life hunting for Islamists, as Gilligan seems to.)

Here he is, interviewing his old enemy Ken Livingstone on Press TV:

As even the Spectator's Rod Liddle, Gilligan's friend, supporter and former boss, wrote in July 2009:

So what's he doing – Gilligan – working for Press TV, the international propaganda channel run by the Iranian government?

Liddle continues:

"I'm not going to give you my reasons if you're just going to rip the piss out of them," he says on the phone from his holiday in the West Country.

"Well, how can I know if I'm going to rip the piss out of them before I've heard them, Andrew?"

He sighs a lot. I hope he is sighing because he knows he's done a bad thing rather than because he's been found out. He explains that at first he thought that Press TV was an agreeable symptom of social change and greater openness in Iran, though he adds, "I may have been wrong about that." He says he has not worked for Press TV since the election and that its post-election coverage has been "flawed" (no kidding, dude). He "might" not work for it ever again. And how much did they pay you, Andrew?

"Not that much."

How much, exactly?

"I'm not going to tell you that."

Why not?

"Because I don't want to. It's private."

Sources at Press TV tell me Gilligan is among the highest-paid, if not the highest-paid, employee at the channel. So, let's get this straight. Gilligan is a journalist who makes lots of money from "outing" as many British Muslims as he can as "Islamists" or "extremists", often on deeply dubious grounds, and with the aid of selective quotation, yet at the same time also makes lots and lots of money working for a foreign country that is explicitly, openly and proudly Islamist and based on the rule of the clerics and a version of sharia law.

In the aforementioned quote in the Spectator, by the way, from June 2009, Gilligan says he "might" not work for the channel ever again. But, of course, he didn't stop working for the channel. The above YouTube clip is from a Gilligan show broadcast on Press TV this year, in the run-up to the general election.

Isn't that ironic? The man who obsesses about Islamists under every British bed is himself a paid, high-profile employee of an an openly Islamist government: the mullahocracy of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Hilarious. And, of course, deeply hypocritical. (Unless, of course, Gilligan believes that the Tower Hamlets council under the leadership of Lutfur Rahman is more "extreme" or dangerous than the Iranian state. Judging by the volume of his blog posts on the subject, perhaps he does. But I, for one, haven't yet spotted anyone being stoned to death on the streets of east London.)

So, Andrew, I ask you: when will you quit your lucrative job at Iranian-owned Press TV? And, until you do so, how can any of us take seriously your repeated complaints about the advance of "Islamism" in Britain? Feel free to leave your answers (excuses?) in the comment thread below the line – either as yourself, or perhaps in sockpuppet form. Cheers.

UPDATE:

I want to make a correction to this post. Andrew Gilligan has been in touch to make clear that he quit as a Press TV employee in December 2009 and no longer works for the channel – apart from two one-off shows that he presented for them in the run-up to this year's general election.

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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Misogynoir: How social media abuse exposes longstanding prejudices against black women

After decades as an MP, Diane Abbott finally spoke out about the racist and sexist abuse she faces. But she's not alone. 

“Which STD will end your miserable life?” “This is why monkeys don’t belong here.” “I hope you get lynched”. These are just some of the many messages Seyi Akiwowo, a Labour councillor in Newham, told me she has been sent over the past three weeks. Akiwowo has received reams of violent and racist abuse after a video of her suggesting former empires pay reparations to countries they once colonised (and whose resources they still continue to plunder) went viral. She doesn’t expect everyone to agree with her, she said, but people seem to think they’re entitled to hurl abuse at her because she’s a black woman.

The particular intensity of misogyny directed at black women is so commonplace that it was given a name by academic Moya Bailey: misogynoir. This was highlighted recently when Diane Abbott, the country’s first and most-well known black woman MP and current shadow Home secretary, spoke out about the violent messages she’s received and continues to receive. The messages are so serious that Abbott’s staff often fear for her safety. There is an implicit point in abuse like this: women of colour, in particular black women, should know their place. If they dare to share their opinions, they’ll be attacked for it.

There is no shortage of evidence to show women of colour are sent racist and sexist messages for simply having an opinion or being in the public eye, but there is a dearth of meaningful responses. “I don’t see social media companies or government leaders doing enough to rectify the issue,” said Akiwowo, who has reported some of the abuse she’s received. Chi Onwurah, shadow minister for Business, Innovation and Skills, agreed. “The advice from social media experts is not to feed the trolls, but that vacates the public space for them," she said. But ignoring abuse is a non-solution. Although Onwurah notes the police and media giants are beginning to take this abuse seriously, not enough is being done.

Akiwowo has conversations with young women of colour who become less sure they want to go into politics after seeing the way people like Abbott have been treated. It’s an unsurprising reaction. Kate Osamor, shadow secretary of state for International Development, argued no one should have to deal with the kind of vitriol Abbott does. It’s well documented that the ease and anonymity of social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook have changed the nature of communication – and for politicians, this means more abuse, at a faster pace and at all hours of the day. Social media, Onwurah said, has given abuse a “new lease of life”. There needs to be a concerted effort to stop people from using these platforms to spout their odious views.

But there is another layer to understanding misogyny and racism in public life. The rapid and anonymous, yet public, nature of social media has shone a light on what women of colour already know to be a reality. Dawn Butler MP, who has previously described racism as the House of Commons’ “dirty little secret”, told me “of course” she has experienced racism and sexism in Parliament: “What surprises me is when other people are surprised”. Perhaps that’s because there’s an unwillingness to realise or really grapple the pervasiveness of misogynoir.

“Sometimes it takes a lot of effort to get someone to understand the discriminatory nature of peoples’ actions,” Butler explained. “That itself is demoralising and exhausting.” After 30 years of racist and sexist treatment, it was only when Abbott highlighted the visceral abuse she experiences that politicians and commentators were willing to speak out in her support. Even then, there seemed to be little recognition of how deep this ran. In recent years, the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has been ridiculed for having a relationship with her in the 70s, as if a black woman’s sexuality is both intriguing and laughable; people regularly imply she’s incompetent, despite having been in Parliament for three decades and at the last general election increasing her majority by a staggering amount; she has even been derided by her own colleagues. Those Labour MPs who began the hashtag #PrayforDiane when she was off work because of illness spoke to a form of bullying that wouldn’t be acceptable in most workplaces.

These supposedly less obvious forms of racism and sexism are largely downplayed or seen as unrelated to discrimination. They might be understood through what influential scholar Stuart Hall called the “grammar of race”. Different from overtly racist comments, Hall says there’s a form of racism that’s “inferential”; naturalised representations of people - whether factual or fictional - have “racist premises and propositions inscribed in them as a set of unquestioned assumptions”. Alongside the racist insults hurled at black women politicians like Abbott, there’s a set of racialised tropes that rely on sexualisation or derision to undermine these women.

The streams of abuse on social media aren’t the only barrier people of colour – and women in particular – face when they think about getting into politics. “I don’t think there’s a shortage of people in the black community who put themselves forward to stand for office, you only have to look at when positions come up the list of people that go for the position,” Claudia Webbe, a councillor and member of Labour's ruling body the National Executive Committee told me. As one of the few black women to hold such a position in the history of the Labour party, she knows from her extensive career how the system works. “I think there is both a problem of unfair selection and a problem of BME [black and minority ethnic] people sustaining the course." Conscious and unconscious racial and gender bias means politics are, like other areas of work in the UK, more difficult to get into if you’re a woman of colour.

“The way white women respond to the way black women are treated is integral,” Osamor says, “They are part of the solution”. White women also face venomous and low-lying forms of sexism that are often overlooked, but at times the solidarity given to them is conditional for women of colour. In a leaked letter to The Guardian, Abbott’s staff criticised the police for not acting on death threats, while similar messages sent to Anna Soubry MP resulted in arrest. When the mainstream left talks about women, it usually means white women. This implicitly turns the experiences of women of colour into an afterthought.

The systematic discrimination against women of colour, and its erasure or addendum-like quality, stems from the colonial racial order. In the days of the British empire, white women were ranked as superior to colonised Asian and African women who were at different times seen as overly sexualised or unfeminine. Black women were at the bottom of this hierarchy. Women of colour were essentially discounted as real women. Recognising this does not equate to pitting white women and women of colour against each other. It is simply a case of recognising the fact that there is a distinct issue of racial abuse.

The online abuse women of colour, and black women specifically, is an issue that needs to be highlighted and dealt with. But there are other more insidious ways that racism and sexism manifest themselves in everyday political life, which should not be overlooked. “Thirty years ago I entered parliament to try and be the change I wanted to see,” Abbott wrote. “Despite the personal attacks and the online abuse, that struggle continues.” That struggle must be a collective one.

Maya Goodfellow researches race and racism in Britain. She is a staff writer at LabourList.