The Free Speech Backlash

By Jake Wilde

The British public want something different from their politics. Over the last three elections they have sent the message: We don’t really want any of you.

On paper Cameron should have won a clear victory in both 2010 and 2015, and May should have romped home in June. Yet on each occasion the margin of Tory victory was slender at best. At some point the Conservative Party must surely reflect upon their anti-Midas touch, and they must do so before they make another mistake that threatens the security and prosperity of the country. The outcomes of Cameron’s unnecessary referendum and May’s unnecessary election should be enough to deter the Tories from further foolishness, but that doesn’t mean it will. Boris continues to lurk, promising a further degradation of how we talk to and behave with each other.

Labour, despite hoovering up every crank and zealot to their left, have succeeded only in proving that it is possible to do badly and still convince yourself you did well, as long as your expectations are that of tinpot revolutionaries, not a serious party of government. The outcome of last month’s election is that the Labour Party is now firmly in the grip of the far left, with the party’s response to Chuka Umunna’s attempts to find some common ground with the majority of Labour voters underlining how little the far left have changed over the decades. The applauding of Corbyn, the non-response to the bullying of Luciana Berger, Keir Starmer’s preposterous six tests – whatever the Labour moderates’ plan is, it’s clearly so cunning that I’m starting to suspect it involves a fox.

One of the reasons for the public wanting change is the degradation of our political discourse. Over the last few years, and especially over the last twelve months or so, the way people talk to each other, at each other, is bordering on dystopian. Orwell famously offered a vision of the future that was “a boot stamping on a human face – forever”. The implication was that the boot symbolised the state, but most of us these days recognise the boot as the internet, stamping on our faces through social media and fake or propagandised news.

Daniel Van Boom, CNET Sydney’s Asia News Editor, wrote recently about the effect of Mean World Syndrome on our online interactions as part of an interesting series of articles on internet hate for CNET. His basic hypothesis, which I entirely agree with, is that it is nigh on impossible to hold a reasoned and reasonable discussion on the internet with someone who disagrees with you and that it’s not surprising that this has now spilled over into the real world. He uses recent well-known examples from North America, such as Ben Shapiro on ‘safe spaces’, Christina Hoff Sommers on ‘feminist myths’ and Bret Weinstein of Evergreen State College, but all of us have enough of our experiences to draw upon, whether that’s attending a Constituency Labour Party AGM, the discomfort at discovering a relative’s real reason for voting for Brexit, or just venturing too far away from the cat gifs. It’s a good article but the offered solution is to appeal to reason, which is where we came in. In a world in which the extremes are dominant and riot police are required because of someone’s words it seems unlikely that appealing to people’s better nature will succeed. However there is a general sense that something must change, and either we the people do it, or the state does it.

The current inquiry into the abuse of parliamentary candidates could go in two possible directions. The first is that the evidence is shrugged off as ‘part of the job’, or that there’s a descent into a hierarchy of victimhood, or whataboutery, or worse, that the details are devoured with prurient glee. The second is that the details of the abuse are so shocking, so unacceptable, that society turns upon the abusers. At some point reason dictates that we, as a society, will reach the moment where the demand for action becomes overwhelming. When even BBC reporters need bodyguards we know we’ve taken a wrong turn. Could it be this, could this be the tipping point?

If so, what is it that we ought to be hoping for?

One possible outcome sees a tightening of the law, where the burden of proof over intent to harm is reduced, where rights to online privacy are eroded, with routine criminalisation for online abuse and custodial sentences for those on demonstrations that turn violent. We might also see the state join in with the practice of no-platforming, or force broadcasters to do so. This would be a mistake, a hugely counter-productive mistake.

Christopher Hitchens described himself as a First Amendment absolutist, a position I share. Hitchens said, “That freedom of expression consists of being able to tell people what they may not wish to hear, and that it must extend, above all, to those who think differently is, to me, self-evident.”

A better outcome is to have a society that values freedom of speech, protects it absolutely, discards the ridiculous notion of hate speech and gives people ownership of the discourse in their society. As US Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis said, “Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman.” Have the debate in the open, not in dark corners. I want to know what views you hold because only then can I truly decide if I want to listen to you. Just as the debate over the EU referendum revealed those who hold racially prejudiced views so has Corbyn’s election as leader of the Labour Party revealed the extent of antisemitism on the left. It is horrifying, but I’m glad I know. For not only does this sunlight identify those who hold those horrifying views but also those who make excuses for them.

Only one response will widen the centre ground and push the extremists back to obscurity. Some will wish to use their freedom of speech to spread messages of hatred, be that about other races, religions, sexual orientations or political views. Some will want to bully, to intimidate, to silence their opposition. These people are a tiny minority. If we act collectively we can drown them out, push them back to the edges, and then consign them to their rightful location under a rock.

The important principle is that freedom of speech is protected. We have no need to be afraid of the hatemongers if, collectively, we are clear that their bullying, their discriminatory language, their support of tyrants, and their opposition to our liberal democratic values is rejected by society at large.

We can draw a distinction between those expressing their views and those seeking to encourage criminal or even terrorist behaviour. Directing others to commit criminal acts, or making direct threats to an individual or group are criminal acts. It does not matter whether they are performed online or face to face. These are not exercises in free speech and our laws can cope with them already.

If we build a consensus about a new standard of acceptable conduct for citizens, a standard that we would be happy to be held to ourselves and thus would reasonably expect others to be held to as well, then we can solve the problem. Not restriction through legal instrument, but through personal choice. We can, we must, challenge the extremists wherever and whenever we find them, whoever they are. 

We know that society’s attitudes evolve and that evolution can, of itself, have a corresponding effect on behaviour. Some such behaviours, such as seat belt use, not drink driving and the reduction in smoking, may have started with legislation but have been made effective by us, by society. Others, such as our attitude towards marriage equality, blasphemy and deference, have changed primarily through our exposure to a broader range of human interaction, and understanding that difference shouldn’t be feared, opposed or fought against. Others still, such as domestic violence or child abuse, have moved from unspoken normality to universal condemnation. As a society we need to similarly transform our attitudes towards the political hatemongers, rejecting them, ostracising them and signalling that such behaviour is unacceptable.

Just as so many activities and practices that used to be acceptable are no longer then let us do the same with public, political abuse. As Justice Brandeis put it, “The most important political office is that of the private citizen.” The consequence of us doing so will be a new politics, a revival of traditional British liberalism, and genuine political choice in the centre ground.

Free speech is the antidote to Trump

Eyes up in Britain

benjamin_franklin_freedom_of_speech_quote Benjamin Franklin got it right. By DonkeyHotey; CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0) via Wikimedia Commons

The polarising president is a threat to truth itself. Beating him requires a renewed commitment to the most fundamental western value of all.

We can see where this is going. Donald Trump has promised a crackdown on media companies which cover him unfavourably. He tweeted an attack on the New York Times while soldiers he commanded were taking part in a failed raid in Yemen. He held a press conference where he berated the media for more than an hour.

His and his cronies’ lies have become ‘alternative facts’. His spokeswoman has cited a non-existent massacre as justification for his most controversial policy. He has lashed out at the intelligence agencies and begun a review which threatens their independence.

This wannabe autocrat is not just a threat to a 240-year-old republic founded on small-l liberal values…

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Extremism on campus: Islamist narratives are going unchallenged

By Layo

This a cross-post from Layo’s Medium account, kindly reproduced with permission.

In the “deepest circle of hell”, ISIS have entered. Last month ISIS seized the refugee camp of Yarmouk outside of Damascus. Public executions, shootings and beheadings have followed. 5,000 people have tried to flee their homes since ISIS stormed the camp, but have no place to go. There are fears that 18,000 inside the besieged camp could be massacred. When you stare down the barrel of a Jihadist’s gun, your refugee status counts for nothing. Any Christians, Shia, Homosexuals, Atheists, all that is Kafir, risk being murdered or enslaved in Yarmouk.

After four years of the Syrian Civil War we have become accustomed to the barbarism and horrors committed by ISIS. Their horrors have been broadcast on our TV screens and brought to our nearby shores. Yet ISIS do not stand alone. They are one face, one faction, of a violent totalitarian movement; from Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines, to Boko Haram in Nigeria via the Taliban in Afghanistan; the rise of ISIS must be seen within the context of a jihad insurgency that is now global.

World leaders denounce these terrorists and decry their ‘death cults’. We send war planes and drones to bomb them as we send Special Forces to take out their hierarchy. But as thousands leave Europe to join these groups, little seems to have changed. Islamism, the ideology that drives these terror groups cannot be bombed out of existence. This ideology, its ideas, and how they’re promoted, must too be challenged.

As Maajid Nawaz argues: ‘Recognizing this as an insurgency affects entirely how we react to it…. counter-insurgency rests on the assumption that the enemy has significant enough levels of support within the communities it aims to survive among’. And we must understand and challenge why this is the case. Why, for example, have more British Muslims joined ISIS than the British Army Reserves? We must understand the deeply rooted issues that make individuals vulnerable to extremism — social exclusion, institutionalized racism and a feeling of disconnect from British society. But if we do this, while ignoring the ideology that drives extremism, we are bound to fail.

ISIS’s 100,000 foot soldiers were not born evil, nor was their radicalisation ever inevitable. The experience of racial or religious harassment and discrimination isolates communities and individuals, and makes them susceptible to extremism. However there still needs the purveyors of an ideology to manipulates these genuine grievances, and indoctrinate the vulnerable. It is the ideology, that pushes an angry, alienated kid, to embrace violent extremes — be this neo-Nazism or Islamism. Disenfranchisement doesn’t inevitably lead to extremism; that simplistic argument would be absurd. But a disenfranchised individual makes ripe pickings for a charismatic recruiter to the cause. They can channel and feed their grievances, and give the disaffected a new identity through ideology.

In 2011, a review of the Prevent strategy by the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism identified higher education as one of primary sectors that is vulnerable to radicalisation. In a damning report, it found that there has been a ‘culture conducive to the promotion of non-violent extremism has developed on a number of UK university campuses’.

The report went on to say: “there is unambiguous evidence to indicate that some extremist organisations … target specific universities and colleges … with the objective of radicalising and recruiting students”. Moreover, “[that] extremist preachers from this country and from overseas […] have also sought to repeatedly reach out to selected universities and to Muslim students”.

To combat this, the NUS currently ‘No-platforms’ six extremist organisations. These organisations are banned from attending or speaking at any NUS function or conference, and for standing for election to any NUS position. These 6 include three far-right groups; British National Party, English Defence League, National Action, and three Islamist organisation, Hizb-ut-Tahrir, Muslim Public Affairs Committee and Al-Muhajiroun.

The report by the Home Affairs Select Committee stated that those who ‘distrust Parliament and who see a conflict between being British and their own cultural identity’ are susceptible to radicalisation. It is clear that there are speakers appearing that our University who are promoting the divisive narrative that Islam is incompatible with Western secular democracy, and facing little challenge or counter-narratives.

Despite the new legal duty facing universities, too many institutions are still allowing events featuring extreme or intolerant speakers to go ahead without ensuring adequate challenge. Between the start of 2012 and the end of 2014, there were 400 incidents of extremist speakers at our universities.

Hamza Tzortzis is a senior member of Islamic Education and Research Academy (ISRA) and is a regular speaker at British universities. He has close links to banned Hizb ut-Tahrir. He has said:

“We as Muslims reject the idea of freedom of speech, and even the idea of freedom. We see under the Khilafa (caliphate), when people used to engage in a positive way, this idea of freedom was redundant, it was unnecessary, because the society understood under the education system of the Khilafa state, and under the political framework of Islam, that people must engage with each other in a positive and productive way to produce results, as the Qur’an says, to get to know one another”

Our universities are meant to be a ‘safe space’ according to the NUS. This ideas of ‘safe spaces’ has facilitated a culture of censorship that has embedded itself within our student unions. Many universities now have an outright ban on ‘transphobic material’, as well as having vague restrictions on ‘offensive’ dress and conduct. Human rights campaigners and secularists have been banned for offending religious sensitivities. Feminists have face black-listing for daring to say that trans-sexual woman are not ‘real women’.

So when our student community recoil in disgust at the government’s plans to ban “non-violent” Islamist extremists from speaking on campuses, we must feel uneasy. These students and academics, so happy to censor everything from offensive pop songs to ‘page three’ — will fight tooth and nail for the rights of religious reactionaries to preach unopposed their prejudices about women, Jews, homosexuals, and apostates. In the 6 month period from September 2015 and January 2016 we have had speakers on campuses who have promoted sectarian violence, hatred of gays and hatred of Jews.

While many of the Islamist speakers who are appearing on our campuses may not directly argue for Jihad, they do routinely offer apologia for terrorism and violence. A prominent example is CAGE, an advocacy group who work closely with high-profile figures within the NUS. Qureshi an executive director of CAGE, was recorded in 2006 as saying: “When we see the examples of our brothers and sisters, fighting in Chechnya, Iraq, Palestine, Kashmir, Afghanistan, then we know where the example lies … We know that it is incumbent upon all of us to support the jihad of our brothers and sisters in these countries when they are facing the oppression of the West”. Last year Qureshi described the now deceased executioner and propagandist ‘Jihadi John’ as a ‘beautiful young man’.

According to an article on CAGE‘s website the Bring Back Our Girls campaign is a “colonial trope” and criticism of Boko Haram is about “demonising Islam”.Proud feminists and NUS members regularly sit alongside CAGE to denounce the government’s anti-extremism programme.

The ideas promoted by CAGE — that Muslims generally (rather than individuals holding extreme views) are under attack; that the authorities are untrustworthy; and that the threats of extremism and terrorism from non-Muslims are greater than the threats from Islamist extremism and terrorism; these ideas have a lot of currency among sections of the Left. Once these Leftists are able to turn a blind eye to CAGE and their allies’ views on women’s rights, homosexuality and Jews; sharing a platform with them comes quite naturally.

When a CAGE spokesperson says to Muslim audience members: “each and every one of us is a terror suspect, it may not be now, it may have been yesterday, but we certainly will be tomorrow, the way things are heading” — We must question whether this rhetoric is divisive or constructive? Does it feed into the picture, used by Islamists, to promote a grievance narrative that the West is at war with Islam?

When the student Left align themselves with Islamists and offer them an unchallenged platform; they are betraying the very principles that they claim to uphold. When extremists are presented as ‘mainstream’ and ‘moderate’ voices of Islam, we betray liberal reformist Muslims; feminist Muslims; gay Muslims; dissenting Muslims; and minority sects that suffer more from religious fundamentalism than we can ever imagine. They are minority within minority, persecuted within theocracy, white-washed by us.

Just a few months ago, the University of Kingston held an event entitled “The Rise of Islamophobia’” One of speakers on the panel, Bashir Ibrahim, claimed the government was seeking to engineer a ‘Government sanctioned Islam” and that the security services’ “modus operandi” was harassing Muslims, using Mohammed Emwazi (Jihadi John) and Michael Adebolajo (Lee Rigby’s murderer) as examples. These tropes are commonplace. In December, Muhammad Dilwar Hussain visited University College London and claimed that there is “a full on ideological/cultural war is being waged on Islam and Muslims” and described reformist critics as “drunken liberal garbage”.

This narrative, that ‘’Islam is under attack and we must defend it” is central to radicalisation, extremism and terrorism. In terrorism, it is used to promote violence; in extremism is it used to promote values that are antithetical to human rights norms; in radicalisation, it is used exploit vulnerable people and recruit them to the cause.

Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee Charles Farr has stated that the government are deeply concerned about people “who are speaking regularly against core UK values and whose ideology incidentally is also shared by terrorist organisations”. There little doubt that CAGE fall into this group. The Preventing Prevent lobby, seeks to undermine counter-extremism work by fitting it to the broader Islamist narrative has gained traction within the student movement.

As a report from the Quilliam anti-extremist think-tank point out. ‘The Islamist narrative has been normalised in the United Kingdom, and other European countries, over the last two decades due to the influence of non-violent Islamist organisations’.

The normalisation of these narrative show no sign of abating. The controversial new President of the NUS Malia Bouattia won on part by campaigning on a ‘Preventing Prevent’ ticket and unsurprisingly has been endorsed by CAGE. In a written response to critics who have questioned her over alleged anti-Semitism, she publicly attacked the organisations who have been investigating radicalisation and extremism on campuses. When challenged, she has accused her critics of being driven by nothing more than anti-Muslim bigotry.

Those who speak out against Islamism in our universities often face false accusation of racism, anti-Muslim prejudice and ‘neo-colonialism’. Human rights campaigns such as Peter Tatchell and Maryam Namazie have faced McCarthyite smears. While anti-fascist organisations like Hope not Hate have been attacked by the Left, for speaking out against Islamism and Islamic sectarianism.

We find ourselves in a situation where the Left is caught in ‘double bind’; on one hand speaking out against prejudice towards Muslims and the excesses of the state in the ‘war on terror’, and the need to oppose the ideas, beliefs and actions of religious reactionaries, Islamists and jihadi apologist. We can do both and we must do both.

There are clear failings with the Government’s Prevent agenda and British Muslims are increasingly marginalised and alienated. But when we take these extremists as the legitimate voice of Muslim opinion, as we do on so many university campuses, we’re doing great harm. We legitimise their corrosive narrative that there is an unbridgeable divide between the ideas of Islam and Western liberalism.

What stands before us is far-right political movement based on a fundamentalist and reactionary interpretation of Islamic doctrine. What groups like Cage sustain and apologise for, is a totalitarian ideology. The ideology cannot be separated from its violent interpretation. The ideas peddled on our campus are not separate from the atrocities committed abroad in the name of Jihad.

Islamic State’s outlined in their own magazine Dabiq, their aim to eliminate what it calls the “grey zone,” the middle ground between Islamist theocrats and anti-Muslim bigots, so that everyone is forced to pick sides. In this way, Islamic State hopes to turn non-Muslims against Muslims. We cannot let the likes of CAGE drive this narrative. Let’s fight for this ‘middle ground’ where liberalism lives and thrives.

No wonder the Taliban rallied around the cry, “Throw reason to the dogs” — rational debate, reason, these the enemies of tyranny. The values of the Enlightenment are theocracy’s greatest fear. We must combat Islamism’s politicised manipulation of the Islamic faith through rational enquiry and critique. The least we can do is open up their platforms to critical voices and challenge their ideas. Combating Islamism on campus should go hand in hand with fighting for free speech on campus.

We won’t defeat the ideologies of fascism and Islamism through blanket censorship. We defeat these ideas by exposing their fallacies and undermining their arguments through open debate and criticisms. Islamists and their fellow-travellers on the far-Left will attempt to shut down this discussion, but we cannot let this happen. Let’s promote progressive voices and open up debate on our universities. Let’s work with, and reform, the Prevent agenda — let’s change the narrative.

Featured image from East London Lines article “Students NOT Suspects campaign visits Goldsmiths”

Discussing identity politics : How lived experiences disrupt debate

By Freddy Bin Yusuf

In Hippias Major, one of the dialogues of Plato, Socrates and Hippias set out to find out what is the definition of beauty. Hippias offers definitions, and Socrates counters with four arguments, concluding beauty is difficult to define, something no doubt he knew before posing the question to Hippias. This is one of the great dialogues of Plato about Socrates, and these dialogues shape much of how the West define concepts, and form arguments.

Socrates was an ugly man, his statues affirming this, and with that in mind I’ll attempt to link it to this. The adherents of identity politics have laid a new card on the table, one which they use to silence debate and twist questions into attacks. This is the concept of “lived experience”

The term lived experience is used to describe the first-hand accounts and impressions of living as a member of a minority or oppressed group. 

Essentially this original definition was that you cannot discount an experience and you should listen, as in the example in the link, a male in tech cannot comment on what is is like for a female tech, only listen to her lived experience. This, on face value, is simply common sense, get as many different viewpoints as you can.

However, it has been twisted further. I spotted this in a tweet on Twitter and have seen similar across social media:

“white people can’t decide what’s racist, straight people can’t decide what’s homophobic, cis people can’t decide what’s transphobic”

This is essentially used to close down debate as its used as a counterpoint to questions and criticism. It is often demanded that you cannot engage in an argument on certain issues unless you are part of the minority that is being oppressed.  This concept is used to reinforce claims and statements that are not derived not from data, or from evidence, but from feelings of the individual who is able to provide evidence of lived experience.

Lived experiences derive from postmodern critical theory, which politicises social problems by situating them in historical and cultural contexts, but takes it one step further in ignoring historical reality in favour of a self-affirmative reality.

This defies belief, and ignores history. The banning of slavery could not be debated by non-slaves? The argument for the vote for women could not be debated by men? What happens if the viewpoint is from an intersection of identities that form a sum of one person? No one can debate at all? This has even been applied to jokes and comments on various identities, with attempts to control the speech of everyone, not just those party to the conversation.

The ground rules for debate cannot be set by one side alone, they cannot decide what can be debated, what can be questioned or what can be disproved. It is fair to reject the basic foundations of debate within a closed community, but this is not the case as they are insisting that their concepts are now the universal societal rules which must not be broken, and they seek to enforce their domination of all culture by any means necessary.

Socrates: because they do not seem so to people; but that is not what I asked, what seems to most people to be beautiful, but what is so.” We shall, then, I fancy, say, as we suggested, “We say that that part of the pleasant which comes by sight and hearing is beautiful.” Do you think the statement is of any use, Hippias, or shall we say something else?

Socjus: As an ugly man you are not allowed to comment on beauty. Blocked. 

Take the time to insult Erdogan

By Jake Wilde

Turkey’s President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, does not like to be insulted. In that sense he is no different from the rest of us. Where he differs from most of us is that he arrests people who do so.

He doesn’t care if you’re at home, whether your insult was intentional or if you had no idea it was even an insult.

He certainly doesn’t care if you are a journalist, an academic, or a Tolkien-loving family doctor 

But matters have taken a more worrying turn. He now doesn’t care whether you’re Turkish or not.

Twitter is the bane of Erdogan’s life. He banned it in Turkey in March 2014 and again in July 2015. He is responsible for 60% of all of Twitter’s removal requests.

chart

Take the time to insult Erdogan. While you’re still allowed to.

Brown Men Can’t Wear Tweed

By David Paxton

‘Hit piece’ is a pejorative. Something trashy, something demeaning to the writer. It attempts to diminish its target under the guise of objective reporting and will use low tactics to get there. What makes a piece of journalism a ‘hit piece’?

Nathan Lean’s New Republic latest, What Does Maajid Nawaz Really Believe?, provides an object lesson.

Maajid Nawaz is a former Islamist who now heads the counter-extremist think tank Quilliam. Lean’s title suggests an emphasis on the ‘really’. There is the Nawaz that we see, hear, and think we know, and then there is the truth which Lean seeks to expose.

Glenn Greenwald shared Lean’s article, calling it a ‘great investigation’. What were the methods of investigation and what truth has it revealed? Why is Nawaz so worthy a target?

The opening paragraph hints at where we are headed.

…It’s January 2013 and the British activist, sporting a slick black tuxedo and a gelled coiffure…

He was wearing a dinner suit, the standard formal attire for a debate at the Oxford Union. On its own this is just some mediocre scene-setting but it ties in with a later passage.

Before long, the scrappy son of Essex had a book deal, and traded in his prison garb for Harris tweed waistcoats and red corduroy pants—a get up he described as “versatile and smart” in his 2014 Sunday Times “Masters of Fashion” profile. “My day can include being in the Newsnight studio or with friends or at Downing Street, so dressing is tricky,” he said.

It’s practically impossible to talk about your appearance during an interview for a fashion feature and not sound a dick when you’re subsequently edited and quoted. It’s easy ribbing, and I dare say, fair game.

Nawaz likes his clothes. I disapprove of his winged collar and dislike the way he keeps his blazer done-up when he sits but… is this meaningful? Why include it? The last time a hit piece came his way, disappointingly via the Guardian, meeting him was described thus:

…a buzzy private members’ club in Covent Garden. I find him in the second-floor bar, crisply turned out, ready with an engaging smile, sipping a skinny flat white.

His coffee, his clothes, his up-town location. These expressed irrelevancies, noticeable by their level of detail, form a pattern. It’s part of a wider narrative, Nawaz the “turncoat”. The “scrappy son” who abandoned his authentic roots for the temptations of The Man. Tweed, red trousers, dinner jackets, the uniform of the overlords, part of the establishment. He has sold out.

Lean continues:

Nawaz jet-sets from Ivy League lecture halls to annual gabfests in the Colorado mountains; from the stages of TED talks to awards galas; and from the backrooms of British officialdom to Senate hearings in Washington

‘Jet-sets’ is to ‘travels’ what ‘quaffs’ is to ‘drinks’. Have you got the picture yet? You must have, because it isn’t aimed at the reader who appreciates subtlety. We fight The Man, he draws from his teat.

he says, gazing out at a farrago of ambassadors, journalists, and luminaries.

David Cameron tapped him as an adviser on combatting extremism, Tony Blair gushed admiration in a front-cover book blurb, and George W. Bush picked his brain about torture at a backyard barbeque in Dallas.

Success in Nawaz’s stated mission means meeting politicians and raising awareness wherever possible. So the more successful he becomes the easier it is for the ‘sell-out’ narrative to be supported by such snark.

indications, they say, of a turncoat who cares more about being a well-compensated hero than he does about the cause he champions.

…shown Maajid a way of attaining the sort of fame and status he desired

[Maajid and Ed] were in a unique position [and] one that would equate to fame and riches, but rationalized it to themselves that they were fighting a good fight against Islamists

Such is Nawaz’s playbook for achieving fame…

He had an “insatiable lust to be recognized,”

Accepting the tale of Nawaz the turncoat and that he saw riches, wanted them, and acted accordingly is made easier by the idea that he never really believed in the fundamentalist ideology in the first place. He has always been about the fame/money/prestige.

“He is neither an Islamist nor a liberal,” he said. “Maajid is whatever he thinks he needs to be.”

Nisbet remembers Nawaz as a guy who wasn’t particularly religious, but labored to appear committed to Islamism in an effort to win popularity and promotion.

This is all psychological conjecture. To support it, Lean supplies us with quotes and opinions obtained from “interviews with his friends and relatives”. One must ask how many of these friends are still friends. Lean doesn’t always let us know which are ideological enemies with motivation to attack, which remain Islamists, or which are still Hizb ut-Tahrir. In one case, that of Ian Nisbet, he does state that his interviewee is currently a member of that Islamist group, a fact that would lead most journalists to discount his comments entirely: of course an extremist doesn’t have a favourable view of a counter-extremist. So which of the others isn’t an extremist? A credible piece of journalism would furnish the reader with relevant context such as this. But this is a hit piece. Information isn’t the aim.

Barely a paragraph of Lean’s passes without an obvious internal contradiction, cheap shot or half-truth. He claims that because Nawaz wasn’t vocally disavowing his Islamism while locked up with a plethora of Islamist hard nuts this amounts to something of a contradiction. He claims Nawaz became more radical and not less.

Even assuming Lean is correct about this, it would be proper to have considered that an intensified radicalism is among the things you could expect from someone losing the faith. Upping the ante and trying to drown out the doubts would be a reasonable expectation.

Lean draws inferences from Quilliam’s funding. If I were more of a ‘follow the money’ sort I would make a big deal of the fact that Lean is director-of-research for the Pluralism, Diversity and Islamophobia project at Georgetown University’s Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding. This centre being funded to the tune of $20m by the aforementioned Saudi prince.

His timing was curious. Nawaz broke ranks with Hizb ut-Tahrir the same week that his Newham College classmate and ex-party member, Ed Husain, rose to quasi-stardom with the publication of his kiss-and-tell memoir

‘Kiss-and-tell’ is an interesting choice of description. It smacks of betrayal. Did Husain really rise to ‘quasi-stardom’ in a week? From a book? Was this when Nawaz insta-flipped from one thing to another?

Nawaz’s version, explained at length in his book Radical, seems far more plausible than the idea he saw somebody get some attention and immediately decided he wanted a piece of the action. Does his new-found fame, his income, his status please him? Probably. Does he have an ego of note? Perhaps. Has Lean come even close to demonstrating that this is all he is about and that we should doubt his ideas accordingly? No.

There’s value in ad hominem arguments to explain that which cannot be explained logically. Once you have exhausted attempts to understand somebody’s views by the validity and consistency of the arguments then there is room for analyzing other motivations. But as so often with discussions of Nawaz, this isn’t even attempted. This is about Nawaz serving ‘The Man’. This is the crux of the entire piece.

One might choose to call The Man, ‘liberal democracy’, or ‘the rule of secular law’, but in this story it is the rich oppressor. Nawaz extols and evangelises the former but it’s the latter Lean insists he’s part of. This is the ‘Uncle Tom‘ line of attack.

Lean has previously called Nawaz a ‘native informant’ and Sam Harris’ ‘Muslim validator‘ and ‘lapdog‘. Follow the thread below Greenwald’s tweet or run a search for “Nawaz+Uncle+Tom” to see how rife this abuse is. Nawaz is unable to be a man with agency, or with beliefs he has developed over time; he has simply crossed to the other team, the enemy, and has done so for corrupt reasons. A brown man in a suit speaking with non-brown men of importance. How dare he.

A search of who was keen to promote this article hints at why the ‘Uncle Tom’ narrative gains traction: Glenn Greenwald, CJ Werleman, Murtaza Hussain, and Nafeez Ahmed; are all fine examples.

The story of Uncle Tom is from a time of slavery. It is expressly racial. As a modern insult, he is on the side of the oppressors when he should be with his own side, the oppressed. The Regressive Left and their Islamist fellow travelers are well placed to see a parallel.

The former see the world as a relativist mush of identity politics and power dynamics. Secular democracy is not superior and there are no universal values. Under pure relativism, moral status is inversely proportional to power and the West is powerful.

The latter endorse all the Islamic grievance tropes they can find. There are reasons why those blessed with the final revelation aren’t running the world and these include the nefarious tactics of the Infidel. It is manichean.

Those who believe in ideas, those who believe secularism superior to theocracy, have little difficulty accepting a brown person, or even a Muslim brown person, supporting universal liberal values. Those who believe in identity politics do. They see a race traitor. They see an ‘Uncle Tom’

When this comes purely from Islamists it is explicable and expected. When it comes from those who claim to be of the Left it is as depressing as it is commonplace. The racism of the anti-racists. The know-your-placeism which drives the useful idiots of jihad to protect the extremists by attacking the moderates.

…many of his former close acquaintances …see him as an Islamic Judas Iscariot, a Muslim who turned his back on his fellow believers when state coffers flung open—and their testimony reflects that sense of betrayal.

Correct. They do. But these ‘former close acquaintances’ are Islamists. As the writer Jamie Palmer put it, “I’m pretty shocked to discover from Nathan Lean that Maajid Nawaz’s former Islamist colleagues think he is a traitor. Who’d have thought?” The real shame is when they are supported by those who should know better.

Stripped to its essentials, all we have in this piece is a description of some Islamists unhappy with Nawaz fighting Islamism. Oh, and that he’s an easy mark for tailors. That’s it.

In response to a complaint that the ‘lapdog’ comment was personally insulting rather than substantive, Lean said the following.

Yet somehow, the satisfaction I get at seeing how much it irritates your tribe, is, indeed, worth it.

Lean is in a tribal fight and will take satisfaction from saying what hurts rather than what informs. And I don’t need a juicy quote from an ideological enemy to demonstrate it. Lean is of course free to do this but The New Republic continues its destruction of its own reputation by enabling him.

Nawaz doesn’t obfuscate. He “jet-sets” to “Ivy League halls” and to stand on “stages” “crisply turned out”, sometimes “sporting” “tweed”, sometimes in front of a “farrago of ambassadors, journalists, and luminaries” and he clearly explains his views. Those views are not hard to find, he works hard to make sure you hear them. The New Republic could easily pay for a writer to engage with those ideas. What business has it giving space to a pitifully ineffective hit piece?

I would condemn a great hit piece as ethically poor while respecting its quality, but Lean has managed to do nothing bar produce a lesson in poor journalism and throw away any residual credibility he might have had. He is the sappy suicide bomber who forgets to find a crowd before detonating and only manages to kill himself.

For a writer, character assassination where the only character assassinated belongs to the assassin is a short-term gig. But others will come along to have a go. The more frequently such pieces appear, and the more the likes of Greenwald promote it, the more you know Nawaz is damaging the narrative and credibility of those who should be damaged. If there’s truth to the adage that you should know a man by his enemies, then Maajid Nawaz appears to be well worth the knowing. In spite of his taste in clothes.