The Court of Decency versus Osama Saeed and Alex Salmond

This morning we turn to the latest Private Eye, and I am pleased to note an appearance by regular Decent columnist ‘Ratbiter’. This column is usually worth a chuckle or two, although not intentionally one presumes. Unless it’s really a devilishly clever spoof of Nick Cohen…

The target this fortnight is Osama Saeed, with a sideswipe at Alex Salmond. Osama is the Scottish National Party candidate for Glasgow Central, which alone would be enough to raise our columnist’s ire – the thought of running a Muslim candidate in an area with lots of Muslim voters! But Osama is also the boss of an outfit called the Scottish Islamic Foundation (SIF), which spends most of its time lobbying for Muslim faith schools, and in which capacity Osama has received a cheque from Alex Salmond.

Now then. The Decent Left don’t like Alex Salmond, although I suspect they dislike him for the wrong reasons. And they – or at least the denizens of Harry’s Place – really don’t like Osama Saeed, who’s an articulate Muslim critic of British foreign policy, and so obviously an enemy of the people. In fact, at HP Sauce they occasionally like to produce some barking mullah and loudly demand that Osama condemn this mullah, of whom he may or may not have heard.

Anyway, Ratbiter asserts that the SIF is nothing less than a front for the Muslim Brotherhood. He doesn’t actually produce any evidence, but I suppose the chain of reasoning goes like this: Osama’s political background is in the Muslim Association of Britain; the MAB is an offshoot of the Ikhwaan; QED. And, since the Ikhwaan revere Sheikh Qaradawi, this provides an opportunity for Ratbiter to dust off Qaradawi’s more outré pronouncements on wife-beating and female circumcision and use them as a stick to beat Osama, and by extension Alex. You could, I suppose, ask Osama what he thinks on these subjects, but where’s the fun in that?

So, the general thrust is that the Scottish Government is in a coalition with the Muslim Brotherhood. Ratbiter further insinuates that, as Osama has been interviewed on BBC Scotland, the Beeb’s Caledonian operation is also in thrall to the Brotherhood. This seems to show a lack of understanding of how broadcasting works. If Oliver Kamm appears on Newsnight, does that mean the Decent Left controls the BBC? No, it’s because Ollie has something distinctive to say. One can fault the range of voices for being too narrow – it’s nothing short of a scandal that, in the runup to the invasion of Iraq, Scott Ritter couldn’t get on Newsnight despite demonstrably having something important to say – but there’s no need to invoke conspiracy theories.

Some useful background to this was provided a little while back on the invaluable Aaro Watch:

What winds up Scottish Labour (and indeed English Labour) about the SNP and Osama Saeed is not so much that a political Islamist is being allowed to participate in mainstream politics, but that a political Islamist is participating in mainstream politics without the primary aim of delivering block votes for the Labour Party. The latter exist in some numbers but are quietly hidden away, invisible except to the small and insignificant few who closely follow municipal politics. Their grasp of English is also often poor, which prevents them saying anything embarrassing in public.

Quite so. There’s also the assertion that the SIF is unrepresentative, which may or may not be true (I’m not sure they claim to be representative) and a bit of a whine about Muslim groups that haven’t got funding from the Scottish Government. These are unnamed, probably sensibly when you bear in mind the few Muslim groups that do meet the approval of the Decents.

Finally, the really interesting stuff about religion in Scotland is the assiduous courtship of Scottish Catholics by the SNP, which has been trying heroically to shed its Orange patina. That it has made some progress has been evidenced by increasingly friendly coverage in The Universe, and confirmed by the Glasgow East by-election. The SNP’s Muslim outreach is really a subset of the same thing. If pushed, the Decents would probably have a go at the Catholic stuff too, but anti-Catholicism just doesn’t have the same frisson as sticking it to the Muslims.

Rud eile: It may be worth pointing out that the column in question is a more or less straight regurgitation of this article in Democratiya. But don’t put too much money on this blatant plagiarism making it into Street of Shame.


  1. ejh said,

    September 18, 2008 at 12:16 pm

    Unles I’m mistaken, this sort of specifically ideological column is a new departure for the Eye. Previously they’ve always gone after individuals rather than groups: individual columns have had sorts of people they don’t like (e.g. Muckspreader and DEFRA, in which battle I take the side of DEFRA) and individual obsessions and theydo have occionally forays into dubious conspiracy country (e.g. when the EU comes up) . But this particular type of thing, I’ve not seen before.

    I dunno, the Eye: it’s always had a lot of it that’s informed by a sort of bluff, Telegraph country-pub mentality by which nearly everything in the UK is a sort of fashionable or egalitarian fraud on the hardworking, extra-metropolitan taxpayer. (Art, modern music, architecture, local politics, and so on.) I’d guess, without knowing, that this has been so since Booker wrote The Neophiliacs* and much of the Eye circle went swiftly from Left to Right in the second half of the Sixties. But it’s been harmless enough. But as I say, I think they’re entering new and dubious territory now. Baiting territory.

    [* has anybody actually read this? I saw a copy in a car boot sale once and flicked through the last chapter, which was full of glutinous stuff about the love of the Lord Jesus Christ. Is it all that bad?]

  2. Mordaunt said,

    September 18, 2008 at 12:40 pm

    There was an entertaining column on the Salmon-Saeed connection on Mad Mel’s blog a while back complaining about a) the SNP’s views on the Independent Nuclear Deterrent and b) warning that Scotland could be turned into a ‘Caledionian Caliphate’.

    To be honest, I don’t think that Mel quite thought that one through. If there is going to be a Caliphate in Scotland then its probably a good thing that he won’t have Trident missiles.

  3. McGazz said,

    September 18, 2008 at 1:42 pm

    The SNP courting the Catholic vote is certainly a departure, but nothing in Scottish politics is ever that surprising.

    Labour have been courting the Papist vote since the 20s, and remain committed to separate Tim and Prod schools, as well as having unofficial nepotism policies (allegedly). Meanwhile the SNP were formed around the same time by breakaway Unionists (not as paradoxical as it sounds, the Unionists were also nationalist in their way). This was when the Unionists/Orangemen/Church of Scotland publicly spoke about “Irish Catholics” (immigration had all-but stopped years previously, and almost all Catholics in Scotland were Scottish-born) the way I’d imagine the BNP talk about Muslims in private these days. My Mum told me from an early age that SNP stood for “Scotland Needs Protestants”. Of course, as Scotland is only 16% Catholic, more Prods than Fenians vote Labour, and some Catholics are more anti-English than sectarian, so the SNP vote has never been entirely blue, either.

    The SNP also get the Muslim vote (at least in Glasgow). I dunno if it’d be enough to swing Glasgow Central (I used to live in what is now GC, but before the seat boundaries were changed to their current ones) which, after all, has a Muslim Labour MP already. The mosques tend to recommend SNP candidates (and also Tommy Sheridan, when he used to stand in Pollok). I suppose the SNP’s combination of mild social democracy and support for small business mirrors non-fundamentalist Islamic politics, and it can’t hurt that they’re against both the War On Terror and nuclear weapons.

  4. splinteredsunrise said,

    September 18, 2008 at 2:28 pm

    A friend of mine has a copy of The Neophiliacs – I must get him to lend me it some time.

    Yeah, religion playing a part in Scottish politics – who’da thunk it?

  5. ejh said,

    September 18, 2008 at 2:55 pm

    Thinking about it, I suppose there was The Gays, albeit not quite the same sort of thing. Though of course if Ratbiter wants to play “you’ve got some connections with unsavoury views”….

  6. Arthur or Martha said,

    September 18, 2008 at 3:31 pm

    Paul Foot was working at Private Eye until his death, so I don’t think you can assume it is just a tory mag. Foot will be turning in his grave about Nick Cohen’s “ratbiter” stuff in Private Eye – Foot found Nasty Nick revolting. He would have been particularly upset by Nick’s attack on Aamer Anwar – and if there are any Foot-ites left inside Private Eye, I should think they will be too. Because Anwar was a civil liberties cause celebre when Judges tried to have him jailed for speaking out. Paddy Hill, Louise Christian, Gareth Pierce etc – all Foot’s favourites, spoke out and campaigned against the contempt move – and were succesful.

    So when Ratbiter Nick says Anwar was
    “nearly done for contempt of court” , he means he was threatened with contempt by a bullying judge, but a succesful civil liberties campaign stopped this attack on a civil rights lawyer – usually seen as a good thing in Private Eye in Foot’s day.

    Also worth noting

  7. Omar said,

    September 18, 2008 at 9:06 pm

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  8. JM said,

    September 19, 2008 at 1:06 pm

    A couple of years ago I got a ‘Lookalike’ of F. Wheen and Dr Beaker published in the Eye. The caption read:

    I was struck by the remarkable similarity between Francis Wheen and Dr. Beaker from Supercar. The former is a “News Quiz” stalwart and author of “How Mumbo-jumbo Conquered the World: A Short History of Modern Delusions”, the latter is the boffin-scientist behind the Supercar (the marvel of the age, as any fule kno).

    The Editor however omitted the last part of the supplied text:

    Mesmerised by the similarity in appearance, it wasn’t until some time later when I realised that Dr. Beaker would had sussed the stated reasons for invading Iraq (WMDs, 45minutes, etc. etc.) as a load of, well, “mumbo-jumbo”. So, perhaps they are not related after all.

    Surely the text wasn’t doctored to remove this ever-so-gentle little swipe at Wheen? I think we should be told. And there’s no tenner for Lookalikes. Swiz.


  9. JM said,

    September 19, 2008 at 1:21 pm

    PS: Salmond was one of the few British politicians to oppose the NATO bombing of Serbia. The Decents are a pretty unforgiving lot, and you can be sure that Salmond has been in their crosshairs ever since. Marko will make certain that they never forget Salmond’s act of political apostasy.

  10. splinteredsunrise said,

    September 19, 2008 at 4:09 pm

    Yes, little Marko has forged himself quite the niche as the Decents’ Witchfinder General. Can’t be doing much for his reputation, but as long as he’s happy.

  11. ejh said,

    September 19, 2008 at 5:32 pm

    Some competition for that role, surely? Anybody involved with Engage, for instance…

  12. ejh said,

    September 24, 2008 at 2:49 pm

    Now my copy’s arrived and I can actually comment on the Ratbiter piece….

    ….one of the problkenms with it is that like nearly all Cohen’s copy therse days, it’s written in the style of “and I’ll tell you another thing”.

    This could be quite amusing as a stage act, I imagine, but as a short piece in a magazine, it’s a little more problematic. What you’re doing is saying a lot of things, none of which are necessarily untrue but none of which are obviously entirely true either, and you’re coming out with a series of these things, as assertions, in a rush.

    Now the thing is, the less what you’re saying is obviously true, the more you need to explain it, to make a careful and supported case for it, to consider and deal with objections to your case. The more you need to make that case clear. Which itself means taking one thing at a time. Not spraying everywhere almost at random, in the hope of finally hitting something.

    You’ll note that the other columns in the Eye doen’t make this error. Whether I agree with them or not, for instance, Nooks and Corners or even Down on the Farm will expound their view on one outrage at a time – even if there’s more than one per column, the subjects are separated out. With Ratbiter/Nick it’s all piled on top of one another. Why is this? He’s been paid to write polemics in wide-circulation, good-standard periodicals for well over a decade now. Why does he write so badly?

  13. splinteredsunrise said,

    September 25, 2008 at 4:24 pm

    I think you’re right, it demonstrates the dangers in doing what Nick has been prone to do lately, cutting and pasting from Harry’s Place or Democratiya. A lot of these assertions are common currency with a certain element of Decency, but aren’t at all self-evident to anyone who doesn’t spend a lot of time on HP Sauce. A lot of readers must think this stuff is just outright weird.

  14. ejh said,

    September 25, 2008 at 4:43 pm

    The other thing is, though, a lot of people won’t – they’ll just accept it without thinking “do I know anything about this?” or “is this any more than an assertion?”.

    Of course there are people from all political viewpoints who will do this if they’re being told what they want to hear, but I think the ranting style panders to the worst elements of whatever audience you’re aiming at (or finding) even aside from what it tells you about the person who’s fallen into ranting.

  15. splinteredsunrise said,

    September 26, 2008 at 9:08 am

    It doesn’t help, either, that the original Decentiya article was desperately thin. Far as I could make out, Gallagher was trying to prove there was a big-time confluence between the SNP and political Islam and this was a serious danger. All done in that breathless Decent style of “Hey, it’s just like the Hitler-Stalin pact!” And all he had to go on, really, was that Alex had given Osama a cheque.

    The assertion thing is an ongoing problem with this column. He regularly attacks government funding for the MCB on the ground that it’s controlled by Jamaat-e-Islami. This may or may not be true, but he hasn’t substantiated it, or gone on to explain why it should be an issue of public concern. Could you possibly get away with this in a publication that didn’t have the Eye’s record of playing fast and loose with factuality?

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