He is the UK’s political director of the Huffington Post, appears regularly on BBC’s Question Time, has 122,000 followers on Twitter and a monthly Al-Jazeera TV slot (a channel that boasts broadcasting to 40-60 million people daily in the Arab world).
And anyone who knows me will be aware that I’ve always been keen to expose poor role models within the Muslim community. Recently we delivered the coup de grace to Muhammad Ansar, the media’s favourite Muslim “public commentator” resulting in the viral #MoCV hashtag, after he had been falsifying claims of being a lawyer, lecturer, community leader, an imam etc. Although he’s not quite in the same league, I would argue Mehdi is more harmful & pernicious. Unlike MoAnsar’s scrappiness which led to his ultimate demise, Mehdi is wary about the spats he chooses to engage in and his slicker performance lends him a free pass from our generally forgiving public. It’s about reading between the lines.
I tried to find a journalist to unravel Mehdi and despite offering to help in this endeavour, not a single journalist was willing to take it on. Journalists are a tighter knit community than I first expected. Few are willing to poop on their own doorstep and even fewer are willing to take on an influential media man with a large following. I came to the conclusion Mehdi was untouchable. Or almost, until i decided to write it myself.
At first I was reluctant to do so. I knew it would alienate much of my traditional centre-left humanist and cultural Muslim following. Our Facebook group has 17,000 members and is a regular fixture for many who flock to it to make a daily pilgrimage; there one member from a Muslim background wrote:
“Good stuff, more exposure needed on spurious moderates who wear one hat for a Muslim audience and another one around non-Muslims”
and another lamented:
“What I honestly don’t get is why so many people on the “progressive” left go for people like him. He’s a closet Islamic supremacist who tried to wh*re himself to the Daily Mail and whose only brush with consistency is his hypocrisy. Why does anyone still listen to him?”
..Spurred on, I also felt somebody from the same socio-cultural background ought to write it. I knew I would take flak from the Left but at least accusations of victimhood and “targeting of a powerless, brown-skinned minority” couldn’t surface. Which is something Mehdi is only too quick to do to shut-up any detractor, like last month when he accused novelist Jeremy Duns of racism here (and then after much opposition to retract). It wouldn’t be the first time anyone would encounter such low-balled propaganda. Mehdi commonly uses identity politics and accusations of Islamophobia & racism to obfuscate, divert or silence debate, in fact it was one of the first responses I received from his conspiratorial Islamist supporters. I’d like to think the only thing left in their arsenal would be to neatly categorise this under the umbrella of Islamophobia, a subject covered in my earlier blog but then again I’m not that naive. I knew it would take up a lot of spare time and I don’t get paid for this, but the intention behind my activism has never been about this, or my profile, nor has my goal ever been to needlessly upset people; it’s always been about exposing the truth to help make our society a better one.
So I reached out to almost everyone i knew who also knew Mehdi. They’re a mixed array of people (I tend to support centre-left politics or so the political compass tells me) – some from the left, some from the centre and some from the right. I got emotional blackmail by some from the left, the centrists tended to sit on the fence and the right wanted me to go for the jugular as well as his beliefs as a whole. But this piece isn’t about his Islamic beliefs nor anyone else’s. It’s about a person who broadcasts to hundreds of thousands of Muslims on Al-Jazeera, interviewing influential opinion-formers on the subject of Islam.
He has a tendency to mock and deride moderates and reformers, revealing a more conservative mindset of his own. He asks progressive Muslims like Mona Eltahawy “Are you a practising Muslim?” and sneers at the “crusades” lead by Muslim reformists like Irshad Manji. In the UK he labels other modernisers like Maajid Nawaz as “Islamophobes”, sternly berating him whilst he sat alongside MoAnsar on BBC Newsnight for an “offensive” stick cartoon of Muhammad saying Hi. The one Maajid Nawaz got death threats for posting.
Yet one of the facts he rarely highlights nor writes about is the fact that he’s a Shia Muslim, despite it influencing where much of his opinion & politics derives from. Anyone who has grown up as a Muslim, either Sunni or Shia, will know that it’s not just some insignificant detail. For the last 1200 years there’s been an internal civil war within Islam, ever since Ali, the prophet’s cousin, was not appointed to the position of Caliph. This led to the first and most important schism in Islam, between those that went on to support Abu Bakr, the Prophet’s father-in-law, to become Muhammad’s successor and leader of the Muslims; and those who supported Ali. Shias’ currently account for around 15% of the Muslim population. As a result of being a minority and going against the grain, they are often persecuted around the globe. So it becomes highly relevant if you are going to go around telling Muslims what Islam is and isn’t, particularly if they’re a large portion of your support base (a quick scan through his followers shows that about 50% of them are Muslim).
This is the same man who on the face of it supports Sunni Muslims but after starting as a researcher for Jonathan Dimbleby he moved onto Channel 4 Dispatches “Undercover Mosques: The Return” documentary where I’m told he executed covert surveillance programmes inside Sunni mosques.
Here he talks about the sixth Caliph of Sunni Islam , Caliph Yazid:
“All of these Ulema unanimously agree that, at the very minimum, if Yazid was not a kaffir then – at the very minimum – he was a fasiq, a transgressor, a breaker of Islamic laws, a corrupt individual, a tyrant, a killer, a drunkard, a dog lover, a music-lover, a…. a homosexual, a paedophile, a sexual deviant.. someone who slept with his own mother! These are their views, these Ulema, in their books. Not mine, not Imam Hussein’s view, not Ali al-Sistani’s view! This is their view of al-Yazid, all there in black and white. Yet Allah should be pleased with him? Allah should be pleased with him? Indeed, the fact is that Yazid was not simply a fasiq, he was an out and out kaffir!”
If you are unsure what he means by kuffir/kuffar, he defines it for us here.
For those who have grown up with this culture it’s easier to see through the double-speak. His Shia sectarianism informs his apologism for the Iranian regime, but he is prepared to set this aside when attacking the West more broadly here and to become an apologist for Sunni Islamism too. Even his target fan base is now beginning to see through his divisive stage act and cotton onto his hypocrisy, as shown by this Muslimah who angrily reprimands him in the midst of one of his lectures and the blogger at British Secular Muslims says:-
“British secular Muslims reject Mehdi Hasan’s obfuscation of Wahhabi and Deobandi Islamist terrorism against Muslims and non-Muslims”
The 2nd half of his traditional support comes predominantly from the Left. Leftist sympathisers in his defence say he stands up against Islamists like Tariq Ramadan, which he did robustly in this head-to-head interview. But whilst this is welcomed, he does more damage when he stands up against those who stand-up against Islamism, as he more often does. And unfortunately any stance he takes against Islamism is mostly limited to Sunni Islamists, after all they persecute Shias too. Very rarely will we see him take a stand against Shia Islamists. In fact he supports the Iranian theocracy and is even empathetic towards its nuclear programme.
But it’s not just about his sophistry and fineprint, it’s about analysing what he does. In April/May this year, I’m told he went on a trip to the USA with his expenses paid by CAIR (a group labelled by the U.S. Justice Department as a Muslim Brotherhood entity and an unindicted co-conspirator in a terrorism-financing trial) and whilst there, he visited members affiliated to the Muslim Brotherhood. Last week he tweeted about the Iranian Happy Muslims being released, but not the more important news the day before when they were arrested.
In fact he shares much in common with Islamists. By his own admission he “struggles with homosexuality” and his timeline is filled with anti-Israeli propaganda. He’s anti-UK, anti-West, pro-Iran, anti-interventionist (but not in Syria obviously where he wants interventionism to protect the Shias). And he is quick to censor his timeline from his detractors who don’t support his stance. A champagne socialist who left the institutional New Statesman for a golden handshake from the American e-rag, the Huffington Post.
In public he put his anti-abortion stance down to his socialism not his religion, but in private endorsed the opposite in a leaked letter to the Daily Mail, where he put it down to his religious beliefs.
This leaked letter was a speculative job application for an Editorial slot with the Daily Mail, sealed with sycophantic adulation for the right-wing paper. I hear they pay good sums for that gig. A paper he claims as the “immigrant-bashing, woman-hating, Muslim-smearing, NHS-undermining, gay-baiting Daily Mail” on BBC’s Question Time. Well Mehdi, I find you a kuffar-bashing, homo-hating, west-smearing, hate-monger. But I admire your stance. Givsa job, will ya?
One critic points out:
“I’ve never taken to Mehdi Hasan. He talks too fast, making one specious point after another and moving on before you can spot the flaw, relying on the tongue being quicker than the mind.”
Sadly well-meaning members of the left are hoodwinked and duped by his gameplay and duplicity. As with previous exposés, it’s always the left who are the last to catch-on, and sadly not before the damage is done. Motives are important in politics and dangerous if reactionaries from the left jump into bed with closet reactionaries from the Islamic right – we then have the perfect recipe for disaster. The same problem is replicated on a national scale, as my ex-Shia colleague notes :-
“I ask my Shia Friends would they condemn Iran and Ayatollah when they kill Minorities there?”
Rarely will Mehdi share anything that casts his Supreme Spiritual Leader Ayatollah Khomeini or Iran’s human-rights violating regime in a bad light; yet he’s happy to wax-lyrical about Britain’s foreign policy abroad. He won’t mention Ofsted inspectors saying some Muslim schools are failing “to keep students safe from the risks associated with extremist views”, but will compare counter attempts by Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Education, to those of Breivik. He’ll rave on about Islamophobia in Britain, but retweet someone with a broad brush calling all atheists “stupid”. Imagine if someone in the public eye said the same about Muslims? I am sure Mehdi would be at the forefront of the ensuing outrage.
It was at that point that I started haranguing him for answers. But teflon Mehdi has an uncanny ability to go deaf ad hoc, and when he realised the questions wouldn’t stop, it didn’t take long before I was conveniently blocked. One organiser described his desire to exert control when he attended one of their events:-
“…his shameless self-importance and puffed-up arrogance, wanting to run the event his own way despite only being invited as a guest”
So who are you Mehdi? Most of your supporters would probably say you’re a liberal Muslim from the left. Whilst I would fall short of calling you a hardened Islamist, I would prefer to call you a politically-expedient and opportunistic cynic; an Islamic supremacist and apologist for Shia imperialism; an Islamist facilitator and enabler who sadly does a disservice to both Muslims and the Left.
Before I forget, there’s also your infamous lecture to your Shia congregation about non-believers, you know the one where you tell them non-believers = cattle. The comment you’re yet to retract or apologise for despite maligning 95% of the UK who ought to be offended by it. Well you claim the subject is now over that you’ve written an article redressing it as “out of context”. Well you might have done so to your satisfaction, but not to mine. I don’t want apologetics, nor condescending articles attempting to brush the matter off: I’d appreciate an apology with a sprinkle of humility. Yes, it’s the same article you won’t take questions on now that you believe you’ve “refuted” what you said, and any suggestion to the contrary is a “slur”.
It’s a shame because I’m probably rather well qualified to discuss the underlying meaning behind what you said. I’ve written The Islamist Delusion. I suggest you take a read. You might fool some of the British public by cloaking yourself in Arabic and throwing a cultural relativistic smokescreen over it, but not all.
Shame because we share a similar background. We were both raised as Muslims, we both had privileged educations, both with middle-class parents who came from India as immigrants and practised in the UK as doctors. Not only that but we could have had good discussion on many other matters too given that I’ve read the Quran in in 3 different translations, as well as the Hadith and Sira. I’ve been an activist against Islamism for the last 12 years and can read and even understand a bit of Arabic too.
But of course you know that. I hope that’s not why you blocked me.
Saif Rahman is a Strategic Consultant, HCMA founder (Humanist and Cultural Muslim Assoc) and Author of The Islamist Delusion
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