Responding to Rod Liddle . . . Sigh

I don't know whether to ignore or engage with this self-proclaimed champion of Islamophobia.

Remember Rod "Islamophobia? Count me in" Liddle? He produces the same upmarket, Richard Littlejohn-esque, "It's all political correctness gone mad" column in the Spectator week in, week out.

So I'm never sure whether it's best just to ignore his attention-grabbing attempts at garden-variety bigotry or engage and debate and rebut.

His column this week, on page 19, claims that "the ideology of Islam" lends itself to:

. . . a) homophobia, b) the subjugation of women, c) anti-Semitism, d) viciousness towards so-called apostates, e) authoriatianism and f) a somewhat medieval approach towards crime and punishment.

He adds:

And then there's the barbarism of female circumcision, forced marriages and the notion that those who are not Muslims are not quite human -- that their lives are worthless.

I have a few questions for the editors of the Spectator: 1) Do you have fact checkers? Do you not think it'd be worth providing some evidence from the Quran or elsewhere for such serious and inflammatory accusations against the 1,400-year-old faith of 1.2 billion people across the globe? Find me a single verse of the Quran that justifies or allows "forced marriages" or "female circumcision", or which portrays non-Muslims as "not quite human". I dare you. 2) Would you publish a similar screed on page 19 if the author was a Mr N Griffin of the British National Party? I mean, let's be honest -- Griffin and his ilk would probably not disagree with a single word that I've quoted above.

In such columns, Liddle often claims, as he does here, that he draws "a distinction between Islam and Muslims" -- ie Muslims as people = good; Islam as ideology = bad. I tend to take the reverse view -- Islam is a religion of morals and justice and peace; it is Muslims who fail to adhere to its tenets, pervert its principles and hijack the faith for self-serving, politicised and/or criminal purposes. As George Bernard Shaw is said to have remarked, "Islam is the best religion but Muslims are the worst followers." I'd add: judge Islam on its own principles and not the barbaric and backward practises (female circumcision, suicide bombings, anti-Semitism) of a minority of its followers.

On a side note, God bless Peter Oborne, on page 16.

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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An Irish Sea border – and 3 other tricky options for Northern Ireland after Brexit

There is no easy option for Northern Ireland after Brexit. 

Deciding on post-Brexit border arrangements between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic is becoming an issue for which the phrase "the devil is in the detail" could have been coined. Finding a satisfactory solution that delivers a border flexible enough not to damage international trade and commerce and doesn’t undermine the spirit, or the letter, of the Good Friday Agreement settlement is foxing Whitehall’s brightest.

The dial seemed to have settled on David Davis’s suggestion that there could be a "digital border" with security cameras and pre-registered cargo as a preferred alternative to a "hard border" replete with checkpoints and watchtowers.

However the Brexit secretary’s suggestion has been scotched by the new Irish foreign minister, Simon Coveney, who says electronic solutions are "not going to work". Today’s Times quotes him saying that "any barrier or border on the island of Ireland in my view risks undermining a very hard-won peace process" and that there is a need to ensure the "free movement of people and goods and services and livelihoods".

The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, has made dealing with the Irish border question one of his top three priorities before discussions on trade deals can begin. British ministers are going to have to make-up their minds which one of four unpalatable options they are going to choose:

1. Hard border

The first is to ignore Dublin (and just about everybody in Northern Ireland for that matter) and institute a hard border along the 310-mile demarcation between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. Given it takes in fields, rivers and forests it’s pretty unenforceable without a Trump-style wall. More practically, it would devastate trade and free movement. Metaphorically, it would be a powerful symbol of division and entirely contrary to the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement. The Police Federation in Northern Ireland has also warned it would make police officers "sitting ducks for terrorists". Moreover, the Irish government will never agree to this course. With the EU in their corner, there is effectively zero chance of this happening.

2. Northern EU-land

The second option is to actually keep Northern Ireland inside the EU: offering it so-called "special status". This would avoid the difficulty of enforcing the border and even accord with the wishes of 56 per cent of the Northern Irish electorate who voted to Remain in the EU. Crucially, it would see Northern Ireland able to retain the £600m a year it currently receives from the EU. This is pushed by Sinn Fein and does have a powerful logic, but it would be a massive embarrassment for the British Government and lead to Scotland (and possibly London?) demanding similar treatment.

3. Natural assets

The third option is that suggested by the Irish government in the Times story today, namely a soft border with customs and passport controls at embarkation points on the island of Ireland, using the Irish Sea as a hard border (or certainly a wet one). This option is in play, if for no other reason than the Irish government is suggesting it. Again, unionists will be unhappy as it requires Britain to treat the island of Ireland as a single entity with border and possibly customs checks at ports and airports. There is a neat administrate logic to it, but it means people travelling from Northern Ireland to "mainland" Britain would need to show their passports, which will enrage unionists as it effectively makes them foreigners.

4. Irish reunification

Unpalatable as that would be for unionists, the fourth option is simply to recognise that Northern Ireland is now utterly anomalous and start a proper conversation about Irish reunification as a means to address the border issue once and for all. This would see both governments acting as persuaders to try and build consent and accelerate trends to reunify the island constitutionally. This would involve twin referendums in both Northern Ireland and the Republic (a measure allowed for in the Good Friday Agreement). Given Philip Hammond is warning that transitional arrangements could last three years, this might occur after Brexit in 2019, perhaps as late as the early 2020s, with interim arrangements in the meantime. Demographic trends pointing to a Catholic-nationalist majority in Northern Ireland would, in all likelihood require a referendum by then anyway. The opportunity here is to make necessity the mother of invention, using Brexit to bring Northern Ireland’s constitutional status to a head and deal decisively with the matter once and for all.

In short, ministers have no easy options, however time is now a factor and they will soon have to draw the line on, well, drawing the line.

Kevin Meagher is a former special adviser at the Northern Ireland Office and author of "A United Ireland: Why unification is inevitable and how it will come about"

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Labour Uncut and a former special adviser at the Northern Ireland office.