Friday, 13 March 2009

Hizbollah Hokey-Cokey

The Lebanese journalist Ibrahim Moussawi has long been a leading apologist for Hizbollah. A former editor of the organisation's TV station - a conduit for anti-Jewish propaganda banned in several European countries - he was recently named the group's chief spokesman. As such, it is not surprising that he has been associated over the years with the type of view that, while fairly unexceptional in Hizbollah circles, is apt to raise eyebrows over here. Describing the Jewish people as "a lesion on the forehead of history", for example. Just the sort of person, you might think, who would fall foul of the government's clear policy of excluding anyone who might be in danger of damaging "community cohesion".

Despite this, he had been invited to speak at a course on Political Islam at the School of Oriental and African Studies beginning on 23rd March. Not just any old course, either: it is due to be attended (at taxpayers' expense) by senior civil servants and police officers. Doubtless they would l be very interested to hear what the leading spin-doctor for Hezbollah has to say; and doubtless the suave Moussawi, who holds a doctorate from the University of Birmingham, would have put forward the Hezbollah point of view with great subtlety and skill.

But to let Moussawi in would make a nonsense of the government's bans on the likes of Geert Wilders or Pastor Fred Phelps, neither of whom is a spokesman for a proscribed terrorist organisation. The government can scarcely have been ignorant of Moussawi's affiliations - it was presumably his close relationship with Hizbollah that makes him worth listening to. And for weeks, the Daily Mail, the Centre for Social Cohesion, the Conservative Party, and David Taube of Harry's Place, among others, have vociferously been calling for Moussawi to be kept out of Britain.

So which way would Jacqui Smith turn?

Yesterday, under the headline "Ministers to Welcome voice of Hizbollah", the Jewish Chronicle reported that the government had no intention of denying Moussawi a visa. Indeed, it went on, communities secretary Hazel Blears was "fighting a lone battle within Whitehall" to keep him out. This despite Jacqui Smith telling the JC last week that "antisemitism was a key factor" in deciding exclusions. As clear a case of double standards as one could hope to find. Potentially embarrassing, too - for one thing, the Centre of Social Cohesion has said that it would attempt to have Moussawi arrested if he entered the country.

Yet, said the JC,

No other Cabinet minister has, the JC understands, sided with Ms Blears, and the Hizbollah propagandist is to be granted a visa.

Ms Blears is believed to have argued that allowing preachers of hate into the country does not promote good community relations and that allowing him to speak in Britain would directly contravene the resolutions of the London Declaration on Combating Antisemitism, which she signed two weeks ago together with Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Foreign Secretary David Miliband, and Ms Smith. Signatories to the declaration agreed to “speak out against antisemitism” and isolate those who “engage in hate against Jews”.

The Prime Minister has refused to back Ms Blears either in private or public. When the JC contacted 10 Downing Street for the Prime Minister’s view, it was told to “speak to the Home Office”.

Today, the Daily Mail has a slightly different tale to tell.

Exclusive: Islamic fanatic Ibrahim Moussawi barred from entering Britain

Jacqui Smith has ruled the spokesman for the terrorist organisation Hezbollah should not be allowed to travel here - despite him making at least two previous visits to the UK on her watch.

The Mail understands the Home Secretary ruled his presence here - where he was due to lecture Government officials - would not be 'conducive to the public good'.

Very strange. Either we're looking at one of the fastest ministerial U-turns in history, or someone is playing games. I was particularly struck by the claims in the JC story about Gordon Brown's lack of support for Blears. Watch your back, Gordo.

Given Smith's well-attested enthusiasm for showing her disapproval of certain viewpoints by banning people who hold them - or, at least, banning people whose views are highlighted in the Daily Mail, the decision itself, assumed it is confirmed, is not surprising. Frankly, I would have been astonished - was astonished, in fact - if it had gone the other way. Which is not to say that I agree with it. It is certainly inappropriate for the British government and the police to send official representatives to listen to the propaganda chief of Hizbollah, and doubtful that a man in his position should be let in at all. But I wouldn't ban him for his views. On the contrary, however unpleasant Moussawi's reported opinions, they are common currency in the middle east, and it does no good to pretend otherwise. A recent article in the Times of Oman, for example, described how the Jews of Germany perpetrated "fraud after fraud on common people" thus impelling Hitler "to punish the Jews for their bad deeds". If every Arab journalist, academic or politician who had defamed Jews were to be banned from Britain few would be allowed in.

It's worth reading the passage from Jeffrey Goldberg's New Yorker article from 2002 in which Moussawi's most notorious quote appears in context:

In April, in a sermon delivered in the Gaza Strip, Sheikh Ibrahim Madhi, a Palestinian Authority imam, said, “Oh, Allah, accept our martyrs in the highest Heaven. Oh, Allah, show the Jews a black day. Oh, Allah, annihilate the Jews and their supporters.” In Saudi Arabia, where anti-Semitism permeates the newspapers and the mosques, the imam of the Al Harram mosque in Mecca, Sheikh Abd al-Rahman alSudais, recently declared, “Read history and you will understand that the Jews of yesterday are the evil forefathers of the even more evil Jews of today: infidels, falsifiers of words, calf worshippers, prophet murderers, deniers of prophecies … the scum of the human race, accursed by Allah.” Hezbollah has been at the vanguard of this shift toward frank anti-Semitism, and its leaders frequently resort to epidemiological metaphors in describing the role of Jews in world affairs. Ibrahim Mussawi, the urbane and scholarly-seeming director of English-language news at Al Manar, called Jews “a lesion on the forehead of history.” A biochemist named Hussein Haj Hassan, a Hezbollah official who represents Baalbek in the Lebanese parliament, told me that he is not anti-Semitic, but he has noticed that the Jews are a pan-national group “that functions in a way that lets them act as parasites in the nations that have given them shelter.”

Such views are testimony to the poisonous atmosphere of much Middle Eastern political discourse. They must be combatted, argued against, discredited. But that will not be achieved by banning the occasional political activist, terrorist sympathiser or "preacher of hate" who happens to cross the political radar screen - while thousands slip through unnoticed. The policy of selective banning is dangerous precisely because it implies that the Moussawis of this world are a tiny, unrepresentative minority. They aren't.


Wasp_Box said...

I am noticing a slip into, what I would call, a corruption of the free speech argument even among friends I consider to be both intelligent and liberal. This was particularly noticeable with the banning of the Westboro Baptist Church members. The argument seems to be that the WBC is so offensive that they should be banned and it’s not viewed as a free speech issue. Indeed, any attempt to argue from another point of view makes one slightly suspect. This constant banning of people with views the government doesn’t like strikes me a little like a child sticking a finger in each ears and going la la la la la.

Come to think of it; that seems to sum up the Prime Minister quite well.

asquith said...

I recall that Geert Wilders asserted that the Koran should be banned because, if Main Kampf is banned, so should the Koran.

I suppose this follows its own form of logic, but no one reached the conclusion that they should both be allowed, & read, & discussed. Just as Democrats in the USA want to bring Rush Limbaugh to a much wider audience so he can further discredit the GOP, so we should be encouraging people to read Mein Kampf as they can see what total shite it is, & most of those who hear the words of Moussawi will think likewise.

If anyone turns round & points out the inconsistency, then just let Wilders, Phelps & Moussawi in. Together. Let no one accuse us of being selective.

I do, however, agree that picking scapegoats allows the "moderates" to spread their often outrageous views & go unchallenged. One thinks of Inayat Bunglawala.

asquith said...

You could have some form of more extreme version of the Moral Maze with Nick Griffin, Moussawi, Bunglawala & some clueless offence-taking luvvie fresh from a day's "work" in the public sector.

The Heresiarch said...

It may come from the soundbite culture, Wasp-box. If a politician says, "I disapprove of this man's views and he should be banned", the message conveyed is "I disagree with these views; I am a liberal person". But the politician who says "I disagree with this man's views but support his right to express them" the implicit message is "I support a bigot; I, too, must be a bigot". And the Mail (or perhaps the Guardian) would say, this person with vile opinions is BEING ALLOWED INTO THE COUNTRY. This implies that the default position is that everyone is banned until a politician decides to let them in. Perhaps that's where we're going.

Asquith, I once tried to read Mein Kampf but I confess I didn't get very far. No-one deserves to be forced to read that drivel. (I didn't get very far with the Koran, either, but that's another story altogether).

asquith said...

I found Mein Kampf to be turgid but I did finish it. I once tried to read some neo-Nazi fiction: Serpent's Walk by Randolph Calverhall. That one I didn't get far with. It reminded me of nothing so much as Ayn Rand: totally different views, but same turgid style & triumph of ideology over the art.

Should anyone want to know about Hitler's views, I recommend Hitler's Table Talk. It is much more accessible.

What I was trying to say is that Wilders, & Moussawi's enemies, are right to point to the hypocrisy of allowing some & disallowing others but wrong in their prescriptions. My answer is to allow them all free speech & that.

Re: the Koran, I haven't read it, though I recognise that I should. I have read the Bible, about 4 years ago, after deciding that it was of cultural & literary importance & I was missing out without it.

I won't be rushing back but it wasn't the worst. I am glad to have at least a vague grounding in the Old & New Testaments.

quisquose said...

So Wilders is allowed in one week, but a few weeks later is banned because 10,000 Muslims get angry.

So Moussawi is to be allowed in, but is banned because the Daily Mail gets angry.

Who’s actually in control?

FrankFisher said...

Oh dear. Jackboots is clearly a reader H.

Maybe it would be easier if Jacqui drew up a list of people she *will* allow in?

Edwin Moore said...

Brilliant - thanks Heresiarch

Sarka said...

"The policy of selective banning is dangerous precisely because it implies that the Moussawi's of this world are a tiny, unrepresentative minority."

Excellently put.

I had to read the Koran as part of a university course on the rise of Islam. Compared to the Bible, which has a lot of comprehensible story lines, and in the NT quite a lot of interesting ethical points, the Koran struck me as desperately obscure, rambling and repetitive (though romantically "Arabian Nightsish" in tone, especially in older translations). Despite all kinds of helpful political and cultural commentary, enabling me to turn in essays on the book, I was forced to conclude that the Arabic poetry didn't really translate at all. And also could understand why a shia gnostic tradition fell back on the idea that every verse actually has a hidden meaning not at all like its apparent meaning...