Mehdi Hasan on Muslim attitudes and the Holocaust

Time for a reappraisal.

Today is Holocaust Memorial Day. So I took the opportunity to write a "Thunderer" column (£) for the Times, entitled: "I am shamed by Muslim attitudes to the Holocaust".

If you can't get behind the paywall, here are the crucial paras:

We British Muslims prefer to wallow in vicarious victimhood. Only "our" tragedies matter: Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Kashmir, Chechnya roll off our tongues. But none of these surpasses the Holocaust's barbarism. The Nazi genocide cannot be relativised or generalised. It was an unprecedented act of industrial slaughter; a uniquely horrific crime against humanity.

Yet between 2001 and 2007 the Muslim Council of Britain took the morally abhorrent (and strategically stupid) decision to boycott the day, crassly insisting that it be renamed "Genocide Memorial Day". In 2008, the boycott was dropped only to be resumed in 2009 after Israel's assault on Gaza. I yield to no one in my support for the Palestinian cause. But denying or ignoring the Holocaust does nothing to advance that cause. Palestinian suffering is not reduced by belittling the mass murder of Europe's Jews.

As I point out later in the piece, the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) have dropped their boycott over the past three years and I'm happy to report that the MCB not only attended one of the main HMD ceremonies in London yesterday evening, but deputy general secretary Dr Shuja Shafi was asked to light one of the candles.

However, as I point out in the piece:

...the whole British Muslim community must do much more to remember the Holocaust -- whether through hosting events at our mosques or sending our children to visit Auschwitz.

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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Cabinet audit: what does the appointment of Andrea Leadsom as Environment Secretary mean for policy?

The political and policy-based implications of the new Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

A little over a week into Andrea Leadsom’s new role as Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), and senior industry figures are already questioning her credentials. A growing list of campaigners have called for her resignation, and even the Cabinet Office implied that her department's responsibilities will be downgraded.

So far, so bad.

The appointment would appear to be something of a consolation prize, coming just days after Leadsom pulled out of the Conservative leadership race and allowed Theresa May to enter No 10 unopposed.

Yet while Leadsom may have been able to twist the truth on her CV in the City, no amount of tampering will improve the agriculture-related side to her record: one barely exists. In fact, recent statements made on the subject have only added to her reputation for vacuous opinion: “It would make so much more sense if those with the big fields do the sheep, and those with the hill farms do the butterflies,” she told an audience assembled for a referendum debate. No matter the livelihoods of thousands of the UK’s hilltop sheep farmers, then? No need for butterflies outside of national parks?

Normally such a lack of experience is unsurprising. The department has gained a reputation as something of a ministerial backwater; a useful place to send problematic colleagues for some sobering time-out.

But these are not normal times.

As Brexit negotiations unfold, Defra will be central to establishing new, domestic policies for UK food and farming; sectors worth around £108bn to the economy and responsible for employing one in eight of the population.

In this context, Leadsom’s appointment seems, at best, a misguided attempt to make the architects of Brexit either live up to their promises or be seen to fail in the attempt.

At worst, May might actually think she is a good fit for the job. Leadsom’s one, water-tight credential – her commitment to opposing restraints on industry – certainly has its upsides for a Prime Minister in need of an alternative to the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP); a policy responsible for around 40 per cent the entire EU budget.

Why not leave such a daunting task in the hands of someone with an instinct for “abolishing” subsidies  thus freeing up money to spend elsewhere?

As with most things to do with the EU, CAP has some major cons and some equally compelling pros. Take the fact that 80 per cent of CAP aid is paid out to the richest 25 per cent of farmers (most of whom are either landed gentry or vast, industrialised, mega-farmers). But then offset this against the provision of vital lifelines for some of the UK’s most conscientious, local and insecure of food producers.

The NFU told the New Statesman that there are many issues in need of urgent attention; from an improved Basic Payment Scheme, to guarantees for agri-environment funding, and a commitment to the 25-year TB eradication strategy. But that they also hope, above all, “that Mrs Leadsom will champion British food and farming. Our industry has a great story to tell”.

The construction of a new domestic agricultural policy is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Britain to truly decide where its priorities for food and environment lie, as well as to which kind of farmers (as well as which countries) it wants to delegate their delivery.

In the context of so much uncertainty and such great opportunity, Leadsom has a tough job ahead of her. And no amount of “speaking as a mother” will change that.

India Bourke is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.