Dear Dan Kovalik
I read your attack on Amnesty International on Counterpunch today, accusing it of tail-ending NATO’s intervention in Libya. I then decided to check on what you had to say about Syria there as well since the people who mourned Qaddafi’s overthrow tend to be protective of Bashar al-Assad today.
I discovered that you informed Counterpunch readers in September that the FSA is heavily reliant on al-Qaeda, sourcing Ed Husain’s Council on Foreign Relations article. As I have noted on my blog, the hostility to the movements against both Qaddafi and al-Assad was and is driven by the same kind of Islamophobia that Christopher Hitchens nurtured. There is an irony in this, of course. Hitchens’s attempt to find al-Qaeda’s footprints everywhere was key to his support for American imperialism but today the hysteria generated by people like Ed Husain is embraced by people who ostensibly occupy a perch on the left diametrically opposed to Hitchens–people like you, in other words. You wave al-Qaeda as a bloody flag in order to help prop up a clique of crony capitalists in Damascus whose main military strategy now amounts to dropping cluster bombs and garbage cans filled with TNT on civilian neighborhoods.
A brief Google background search on Ed Husain that I am sure you did not bother to do yourself since you were obviously looking for ammunition to back al-Assad reveals that he is a fairly disgusting rightwing prick. Why you would cite him might strike some as a mystery, but to me it is fairly obvious. You are writing propaganda, albeit of a clumsy sort. Clean up your act, Mr. University of Pittsburgh law professor and Columbia University law school graduate.
Here’s Seumas Milne on Ed Husain, a fellow who backed the invasion of Iraq and who has described the Arab psyche as irredeemably “racist”:
guardian.co.uk, Monday 21 April 2008 08.30 EDT
All mod cons
Vaunted new Muslim organisations exonerate government of its responsibilities and sideline credible voices: they’re anything but moderate
by Seumas Milne
These are good times to be in the “moderate Muslim” business. If you press the right buttons on integration and “radicalisation” and hold your tongue on western foreign policy, there are rich pickings to be had – from both private and government coffers.
Latest in the ring is the “counter-extremism thinktank”, the Quilliam Foundation, due to be launched tomorrow in the British Museum by Ed Husain (much-feted author of The Islamist), Jemima Khan and former Lib Dem leader and Bosnian proconsul Lord Ashdown.
The foundation – named after a 19th century British Muslim – is the creature of Husain and a couple of other one-time members of the radical, non-violent Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir. All three are straight out of the cold war defectors’ mould described in Saturday’s Guardian by the playwright David Edgar, trading heavily on their former associations and travelling rapidly in a conservative direction.
Given the enthusiasm with which Husain’s book was greeted last year by British neoconservatives such as Tory frontbencher Michael Gove and Mail columnist Melanie Phillips, it’s no surprise that he has recruited people like Gove and David Green, director of the rightwing thinktank Civitas, as advisers. But there are also a couple of more liberal figures on board like Guardian columnist Timothy Garton Ash and the vicar of Putney, Giles Fraser – though it seems not everybody realised quite what they were signing up to.
In any case, to judge by what Husain and his friends (such as fellow defector Shiraz Maher) have been saying, the aim seems to be a campaign to redefine what is acceptable within the Muslim community under the banner of reviving “western Islam”.
In particular, they want to put Islamism – an extremely broad political trend that stretches from the Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development party to al-Qaida – beyond the political pale.
“I wouldn’t call them Muslim,” Husain said recently of Islamists in a bizarre inversion of takfiri jihadists’ excommunications of supposed apostates.
The nature of Husain’s own politics were on unmistakeable display during a recent edition of Radio 4′s Any Questions, when he attacked multiculturalism and declared there were too many immigrants in the country. He also says he supported the invasion of Iraq to overthrow Saddam, but not what took place thereafter.
Husain has, meanwhile, compared Hamas to the BNP, described the Arab “psyche” as irredeemably racist, criticised the director of MI5 for “pussyfooting around” with extremists, poured cold water on the idea that western policy in the Muslim world makes terror attacks in Britain and elsewhere more likely, dismissed the idea of Islamophobia and defended the government’s decision to ban the leading Muslim cleric Sheikh Yusef al-Qaradawi from Britain because he had defended Palestinian suicide attacks. Whatever else that amounts to, it’s scarcely a voice of moderation.
Interestingly, Husain and the Quilliam Foundation hail another Egyptian cleric, Sheikh Ali Gomaa, the Grand Mufti of Egypt, as a “scholastic giant” making a brave stand against extremism. Last year, David Cameron also went out of his way to praise Gomaa and the Times called him “the wise mufti”.
But as it turns out, Gomaa is also on record as defending Palestinian suicide bombings, including against Israeli civilians (as well as endorsing wife-beating in some cultures). The crucial difference between Gomaa and Qaradawi is not their religious rulings on Palestine or other social questions – or their shared hostility to terror attacks in the west – but that Qaradawi is linked to the Muslim Brotherhood, the most popular opposition movement in the Arab world, while Gomaa is appointed by the pro-western Mubarak dictatorship.
The Quilliam Foundation’s leading lights could not be less representative of mainstream Muslim opinion in Britain. But the signs are that the government is nevertheless throwing its weight behind the organisation – after the failure of earlier efforts to build up the Sufi Muslim Council and British Muslim Forum as an alternative to the umbrella Muslim Council of Britain. Officials from Hazel Blears’ communities department recently made clear to a Muslim organisation involved in youth work that it would need to line up with the Quilliam Foundation if it wanted government funding.
The Quilliam Foundation itself is being funded by Kuwaiti businessmen, Husain told me yesterday, but could not reveal their identities. He added that he would be happy to take government funds if there were no strings attached.
This is a perilous game. Those like Quilliam and its friends who claim that terror attacks are all about a rejection of our way of life rather than western war-making and support for dictatorships in the Muslim world may help get the government off the hook of its own responsibility.
But if we want to stop such attacks in Britain, rather than indulge in shadow boxing with an elastically-defined extremism, there needs to be engagement with – not ostracism of – credible Islamist groups, as the former head of Scotland Yard Special Branch’s Muslim contact unit has argued.
Earlier this month, the chairman of the National Association of Muslim Police, Zaheer Ahmad, warned in Jane’s Police Review Community that while Husain had “few supporters within the Muslim community”, some senior officers had been “seduced” by his “celebrity status” and “taken in by the stereotypical image of Islam he portrays”. The dangers of trying to impose the voices you want to hear on the Muslim community should be obvious.