Not for the first time, I am not inconsiderably annoyed at Private Eye. One of the things that keeps me buying the Eye on a fortnightly basis is the consistently excellent Eye TV column, which generally is as good a telly review as appears anywhere in the press. But, turning to the latest Eye, I notice it isn’t there. It has been replaced by a lengthy piece by the mag’s occasional correspondent “Ratbiter”.
If you’ve been exposed to one or two Ratbiter columns, you can guess what comes next. Yes, it’s another dig at those dastardly Mooslims. To be precise, a dispute between Newsnight and the Tory think-tank Policy Exchange. The rights and wrongs of this I don’t know in any detail, but there are one or two points worth making.
Firstly, I can’t help noticing the casual reference to the Muslim Public Affairs Committee as “a far-right Muslim outfit that helped fund the Nazi apologist David Irving”. Nice to see this old chestnut being brought up again with normal Eye standards of accuracy, as well as the assertion that the Muslim researchers who wrote the Policy Exchange report fear being “Rushdie-ised” if MPAC find out who they are. Now, I have my differences with MPAC, but if you were looking for a progressive Muslim lobby group, an organisation that is trying to find a place for Muslims in British society while challenging the conservative power structures in Muslim communities, those are the guys you’d be looking for. However, it seems MPAC’s Indecent line on foreign policy and issues related to the War on Terror is enough to relegate it to the “uppity brown people” – sorry, “Islamofascist” – category.
But the smear on MPAC isn’t the point of the article, it’s just there to add spice. I’m almost surprised not to see a Ratbiter denunciation of Ken Livingstone for “appeasement”, or a puff for the fraudulent “Sufi Muslim Council”. The issue is whether the Beeb is scared to take on radical Muslims. If you’ve seen John Ware’s Panorama reports, it might seem like a redundant question, but here we go:
It doesn’t take much to get Conservatives going about the BBC and the darkest conspiracy theories are doing the rounds. They imagine that liberal broadcasters have an hysterical desire to prove their own commitment to multiculturalism by besmirching the names of anyone who worries about radical Islam and ignoring anything they say.
Not just Tories, mind you. You get a little of this on the Daily Mail letters page, but many Tories are quite hard-headed on this sort of thing. On the other hand, the preceding is pretty much an article of faith for the Decent Left. This is where Nick Cohen and Harry’s Place occupy the same ground as Jon Gaunt and Richard Littlejohn, although Gaunty and Shellsuit tend to be a little more balanced and subtle in their approach.
And what was the explosive content of the Policy Exchange report? Er, after a year of painstaking undercover research they discovered that some Muslim bookshops are selling the works of one of the last century’s most prominent Muslim thinkers, the late Sayyid Qutb. I look forward to the next Policy Exchange report, exclusively revealing that some Catholic bookshops sell the writings of that well-known opponent of liberal values, Benedict XVI.
This sort of complaint has been doing the rounds rather a lot lately, not least because it’s a godsend for lazy journos. Go into a Muslim bookshop, see if they have Qutb’s Milestones on sale, and shriek in horror if they do. And there’s also a very broad idealist streak involved. So Ratbiter describes Qutb as “the intellectual father of al-Qaeda”, which is a bit like describing Nietzsche as the intellectual father of Nazism – it might win you some cheap applause at the Oxford Union, but it really doesn’t take you very far. I thought that Zbigniew Brzezinski had a bit more to do with the founding of AQ, but I suppose that just marks me out as a crude empiricist.
What Qutb does do, if you’re a young Muslim alienated from the surrounding society, is provide an intellectual framework for you to understand your alienation. Note that this only works if you’re already an alienated Muslim, and that a Qutbist intellectual framework is not remotely necessary for the alienated Muslim to adopt jihadi ideas. It simply isn’t the case that innocent young people are being corrupted by reading Milestones. I mean to say, I’ve read Milestones and haven’t felt the urge to become a suicide bomber. On the other hand, if you can stomach it, 7/7 bomber Mohammad Sidique Khan’s video provides a few clues to his motivation. You will notice that Sidique Khan conspicuously fails to say that he did what he did because he read Qutb. On the other hand, he does talk rather a lot about Iraq.
I stress that understanding the motivations of someone like Mohammad Sidique Khan does not for a moment justify his diabolical actions. A reason is not an excuse. But you can see how this is uncomfortable for those who support the war. It can’t be admitted that an aggressive colonialism in the Middle East might have something to do with terrorism at home. So what we get is GW Bush’s “they hate our freedoms”, Mr Tony Blair banging on about “warped interpretations” of Islam, and people working themselves into a lather because some Muslim bookshops stock Qutb or Mawdudi. Frankly, this reminds me of nothing so much as those evangelical Christians who used to say your soul would belong to the Devil if you listened to heavy metal records. And it’s about as convincing.