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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The Prevent strategy needs a rethink, not a rebrand

A bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy.

Yesterday the Home Affairs Select Committee published its report on radicalization in the UK. While the focus of the coverage has been on its claim that social media companies like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are “consciously failing” to combat the promotion of terrorism and extremism, it also reported on Prevent. The report rightly engages with criticism of Prevent, acknowledging how it has affected the Muslim community and calling for it to become more transparent:

“The concerns about Prevent amongst the communities most affected by it must be addressed. Otherwise it will continue to be viewed with suspicion by many, and by some as “toxic”… The government must be more transparent about what it is doing on the Prevent strategy, including by publicising its engagement activities, and providing updates on outcomes, through an easily accessible online portal.”

While this acknowledgement is good news, it is hard to see how real change will occur. As I have written previously, as Prevent has become more entrenched in British society, it has also become more secretive. For example, in August 2013, I lodged FOI requests to designated Prevent priority areas, asking for the most up-to-date Prevent funding information, including what projects received funding and details of any project engaging specifically with far-right extremism. I lodged almost identical requests between 2008 and 2009, all of which were successful. All but one of the 2013 requests were denied.

This denial is significant. Before the 2011 review, the Prevent strategy distributed money to help local authorities fight violent extremism and in doing so identified priority areas based solely on demographics. Any local authority with a Muslim population of at least five per cent was automatically given Prevent funding. The 2011 review pledged to end this. It further promised to expand Prevent to include far-right extremism and stop its use in community cohesion projects. Through these FOI requests I was trying to find out whether or not the 2011 pledges had been met. But with the blanket denial of information, I was left in the dark.

It is telling that the report’s concerns with Prevent are not new and have in fact been highlighted in several reports by the same Home Affairs Select Committee, as well as numerous reports by NGOs. But nothing has changed. In fact, the only change proposed by the report is to give Prevent a new name: Engage. But the problem was never the name. Prevent relies on the premise that terrorism and extremism are inherently connected with Islam, and until this is changed, it will continue to be at best counter-productive, and at worst, deeply discriminatory.

In his evidence to the committee, David Anderson, the independent ombudsman of terrorism legislation, has called for an independent review of the Prevent strategy. This would be a start. However, more is required. What is needed is a radical new approach to counter-terrorism and counter-extremism, one that targets all forms of extremism and that does not stigmatise or stereotype those affected.

Such an approach has been pioneered in the Danish town of Aarhus. Faced with increased numbers of youngsters leaving Aarhus for Syria, police officers made it clear that those who had travelled to Syria were welcome to come home, where they would receive help with going back to school, finding a place to live and whatever else was necessary for them to find their way back to Danish society.  Known as the ‘Aarhus model’, this approach focuses on inclusion, mentorship and non-criminalisation. It is the opposite of Prevent, which has from its very start framed British Muslims as a particularly deviant suspect community.

We need to change the narrative of counter-terrorism in the UK, but a narrative is not changed by a new title. Just as a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, a bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy. While the Home Affairs Select Committee concern about Prevent is welcomed, real action is needed. This will involve actually engaging with the Muslim community, listening to their concerns and not dismissing them as misunderstandings. It will require serious investigation of the damages caused by new Prevent statutory duty, something which the report does acknowledge as a concern.  Finally, real action on Prevent in particular, but extremism in general, will require developing a wide-ranging counter-extremism strategy that directly engages with far-right extremism. This has been notably absent from today’s report, even though far-right extremism is on the rise. After all, far-right extremists make up half of all counter-radicalization referrals in Yorkshire, and 30 per cent of the caseload in the east Midlands.

It will also require changing the way we think about those who are radicalized. The Aarhus model proves that such a change is possible. Radicalization is indeed a real problem, one imagines it will be even more so considering the country’s flagship counter-radicalization strategy remains problematic and ineffective. In the end, Prevent may be renamed a thousand times, but unless real effort is put in actually changing the strategy, it will remain toxic. 

Dr Maria Norris works at London School of Economics and Political Science. She tweets as @MariaWNorris.