The sorry truth is that the virus of anti-Semitism has infected the British Muslim community

It's a shameful fact that Muslims are not only the victims of racial and religious prejudice but purveyors of it, too.

If tomorrow, God forbid, I were to cause the death of an innocent man with my car, minutes after sending a series of texts on my mobile phone, I’m guessing I’d spend the rest of my life riddled with guilt. What I wouldn’t do is go on television and lay the blame for my subsequent 12-week imprisonment at the door of . . . wait for it . . . the Jews. Yet that’s what the Labour peer Nazir Ahmed did in April 2012 – less than five years after causing a car crash on the M1 in which Martin Gombar, aged 28, was killed.

“My case became more critical because I went to Gaza to support Palestinians,” he says to his Pakistani interviewer in Urdu, in a video recording obtained by the Times. “My Jewish friends who own newspapers and TV channels opposed this.” The judge who put him behind bars, Lord Ahmed claims, was appointed to the high court after helping a “Jewish colleague” of Tony Blair’s during “an important case”.

To claim that your jail sentence for dangerous driving is the result of a Jewish plot is bigoted and stupid. The peer has since been suspended from the Labour Party and forced to stand down as a trustee of the Joseph Interfaith Foundation. I’m not sure how many “Jewish friends” he has left – if, that is, he had any to begin with.

Full disclosure: I know Lord Ahmed and have defended him in the past. In 2007, he flew out to Sudan to help free the schoolteacher Gillian Gibbons from the clutches of the odious Islamist regime in Khartoum. In 2009, an Appeal Court judge noted how the peer had “risked his life trying to flag down other vehicles to stop them colliding with . . . his car”. He is not a latter-day Goebbels. But herein lies the problem. There are thousands of Lord Ahmeds out there: mild-mannered and well-integrated British Muslims who nevertheless harbour deeply anti-Semitic views.

It pains me to have to admit this but anti-Semitism isn’t just tolerated in some sections of the British Muslim community; it’s routine and commonplace. Any Muslims reading this article – if they are honest with themselves – will know instantly what I am referring to. It’s our dirty little secret. You could call it the banality of Muslim anti-Semitism.

I can’t keep count of the number of Muslims I have come across – from close friends and relatives to perfect strangers – for whom weird and wacky anti-Semitic conspiracy theories are the default explanation for a range of national and international events. Who killed Diana and Dodi? The Mossad, say many Muslims. They didn’t want the British heir to the throne having an Arab stepfather. What about 9/11? Definitely those damn Yehudis. I mean, why else were 4,000 Jews in New York told to stay home from work on the morning of 11 September 2001? How about the financial crisis? Er, Jewish bankers. Obviously. Oh, and the Holocaust? Don’t be silly. Never happened.

Growing up, I always assumed that this obsession with “the Jews” was a hallmark of the “first-generation” immigrants from the subcontinent. In recent years, I’ve been depressed to discover that there are plenty of “second-generation” Muslim youths, born and bred in multiracial Britain, who have drunk the anti-Semitic Kool-Aid. I’m often attacked by them for working in the “Jewish owned media”.

The truth is that the virus of anti-Semitism has infected members of the British Muslim community, both young and old. No, the ongoing Israel-Palestine conflict hasn’t helped matters. But this goes beyond the Middle East. How else to explain why British Pakistanis are so often the most ardent advocates of anti-Semitic conspiracies, even though there are so few Jews living in Pakistan?

It is sheer hypocrisy for Muslims to complain of Islamophobia in every nook and cranny of British public life, to denounce the newspapers for running Muslim-baiting headlines, and yet ignore the rampant anti-Semitism in our own backyard. We cannot credibly fight Islamophobia while making excuses for Judaeophobia.

To be honest, I’ve always been reluctant to write a column such as this. To accuse my fellow Muslims of being soft on the scourge of anti-Semitism isn’t easy; I feel as if I am “dobbing in” the community, telling tales to the non-Muslim teacher. Nor do I particularly want to assist the English Defence League in its relentless campaign to demonise all Muslims, everywhere, as extremists and bigots.

We aren’t. And we’re not all anti-Semites. But, as a community, we do have a “Jewish problem”. There is no point pretending otherwise. That Bradford’s Council for Mosques has been campaigning to save the city’s last remaining synagogue from closure doesn’t change the fact that thousands of British Muslims will have been nodding in agreement as they read Lord Ahmed’s comments about Jewish power and influence – or will have assumed that the Times scoop is evidence in its own right of a “Zionist plot” against the peer. Oh, and I’m well aware that this column will also be held up by some of my fellow Muslims as “proof” that “Mehdi Hasan has sold out to the Jews”.

I only hope and pray that Lord Ahmed’s comments will act as a wake-up call to Britain’s moderate Muslim majority. The time has come for us to own up to a rather shameful fact: Muslims are not only the victims of racial and religious prejudice but purveyors of it, too.

In 2011 Baroness Warsi, the then Conservative Party chairman, said that Islamophobia has “passed the dinner-table test” in polite British society. I agree with her, but what she omitted to mention, and what we Muslims must now admit, is that anti-Semitism passed the dinner-table test in polite British Muslim society long ago.

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the political director of the Huffington Post UK, where this column is crossposted 

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.

This article first appeared in the 25 March 2013 issue of the New Statesman, After God

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Britain has built a national myth on winning the Second World War, but it’s distorting our politics

The impending humiliation of Brexit is going to have a lot more in common with Suez.

The Crown, Peter Morgan’s epic drama covering the reign of Elizabeth II, ended its first series with a nemesis waiting just off-stage to shake up its court politics. In the final episode, Egyptian president Gamal Nasser gives a rip-roaringly anti-imperialist – and anti-British – speech. The scene is set for the Suez Crisis to be a big plot point in Season 2.

Suez has gone down in history as the great foreign policy debacle of postwar Britain. The 1956 crisis – which saw Israel, France and Britain jointly invade Egypt to take control of the Suez Canal, only to slink off again, nine days later, once it became clear the US wasn’t having any of it – is seen as the point at which it became clear that even the bigger states of Europe were no longer great powers in the world. “President Eisenhower’s humiliation of Britain,” Jack Straw wrote in his 2012 memoir, “had been total.”

This was, though, a fairly limited sort of humiliation. Britain was not invaded or occupied; there was no sudden collapse in living standards, let alone a significant body count. Our greatest national debacle is nothing more than the realisation that Britain could no longer do whatever it wanted without fear of reprisal. As humiliations go, this one’s up there with the loss of status men have faced from the rise of feminism: suddenly, Britain could do what it wanted a mere 80 per cent of the time.

The Crown begins in 1947, when Prince Philip gives up his Greek and Danish royal titles and becomes a British subject, so that he can marry Princess Elizabeth. That year saw another British foreign policy debacle, one on which the show remains oddly silent. In the partition which followed India’s independence from the British Empire, 70 years ago this week, upwards of a million people died; in the decades since, the borders drawn up at that time have been the site of numerous wars, and Kashmir remains a flashpoint.

All this, one might think, might count as a far bigger regret than Suez – yet it doesn’t feature in the national narrative in the same way. Perhaps because partition was about the withdrawal of British forces, rather than their deployment; perhaps it’s simply that it all happened a very long way away. Or perhaps we just care less about a body count than we do about looking bad in front of the Americans.

I think, though, there’s another reason we don’t talk about this stuff: the end of empire is hidden behind a much bigger part of our national myth. In the Second World War, Britain is undeniably one of the good guys; for 12 months, indeed, Britain was the only good guy. Never mind that it still had the largest empire the world had ever seen to fall back on: Britain stood alone.

The centrality of the Second World War to the national myth warps our view of history and our place in the world in all sorts of ways. For starters, it means we’ve never had to take an honest account of the consequences of empire. In a tale about British heroes defeating Nazi villains, British mistakes or British atrocities just don’t fit. (Winston Churchill’s role in the 1943 Bengal famine – death toll: three million – by ordering the export of Indian grain to Britain rarely comes up in biopics.) In this dominant version of the national story, the end of empire is just the price we pay to defeat fascism.

More than that, our obsession with the Second World War creates the bizarre impression that failure is not just heroic, but a necessary precursor to success. Two of the most discussed elements of Britain’s war – the evacuation of Dunkirk, and the Blitz – are not about victory at all, but about survival against the odds. The lesson we take is that, with a touch of British grit and an ability to improvise, we can accomplish anything. It’s hard not to see this reflected in Brexit secretary David Davis’s lack of notes, but it’s nonsense: had the Russians and Americans not arrived to bail us out, Britain would have been stuffed.

Most obviously, being one of the winners of the Second World War infects our attitude to Europe. It’s probably not a coincidence that Britain has always been both one of the most eurosceptic EU countries, and one of the tiny number not to have been trampled by a foreign army at some point in recent history: we don’t instinctively grasp why European unity matters.

Once again, Suez is instructive. The lesson postwar France took from the discovery that the imperial age was over was that it should lead a strong and unified Europe. The lesson Britain took was that, so long as we cosied up to the US – Athens to their Rome, to quote Harold Macmillan – we could still bask in reflected superpower.

Until recently, Britain’s Second World War obsession and national ignorance about empire didn’t really seem to affect contemporary politics. They were embarrassing; but they were also irrelevant, so we could cope. Brexit, though, means that hubris is about to run headlong into nemesis, and the widespread assumption that Britain is a rich, powerful and much-loved country is unlikely to survive contact with reality. India will not offer a trade deal for sentimental reasons; Ireland is not a junior partner that will meekly follow us out of the door or police its borders on our behalf. The discovery that Britain is now a mid-ranking power that – excepting the over-heated south-east of England – isn’t even that rich is likely to mean a loss of status to rival Suez.

Morgan says he has planned six seasons of The Crown. (This looks entertainingly like a bet the Queen will be dead by 2021; if not, like Game of Thrones before it, he might well run out of text to adapt.) It’ll be interesting to see how the show handles Brexit. It began with the royal family facing up to a vertiginous decline in British power. As things stand, it may have to end the same way. 

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Brexit. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear