Greater Surbiton

The perfect is the enemy of the good

Harry’s Place and anti-Muslim bigotry: A reply to Islamophobia Watch

Scylla1I recently criticised Harry’s Place over its comments moderation policy. The occasion was a post by David T of Harry’s Place, defending the latter from an attack on it by Lindsey German of ‘Stop the War Coalition’. German described Harry’s Place as ‘a disgusting kind of blog which is very very much against Muslims’. David responded that ‘it is highly defamatory to those of us who run Harry’s Place to claim that we are “against Muslims”. That is a pretty outrageous lie.’ He went on to define Harry’s Place’s position as follows: ‘It is true that Harry’s Place has been highly critical of named Islamist and jihadist groups and their extreme Left enablers. We have, however, always been strongly supportive of the rights of all people, irrespective of their ethnicity, culture and religion.’

posted the following comment in response to David’s post:

German’s accusation is totally unjustified, and you have every right to resent it. She – like many extremists on both sides – can’t tell the difference between being anti-Islamist and being anti-Muslim. HP’s regular posters are invariably enlightened and distinguish carefully between the two.

Having said that, the comments boxes here are frequently flooded by extremely nasty bigots who really do hate all Muslims. Their visceral expressions of chauvinistic hatred all too frequently seem to become the dominant theme in any discussion here. And to be honest, I think you’re far, far too reticent about tackling them. It allows people like German and Will Rubbish to claim you secretly agree with them.

Bob Pitt of Islamophobia Watch, a long-standing opponent of Harry’s Place who takes an almost diametrically opposed position on matters relating to Islamism, then quoted my criticism and commented on it at some length.

Before I respond to Pitt specifically, I should say a few words about the matter that is at issue here.

I consider Harry’s Place’s regular bloggers to be friends and comrades. In particular, I feel that David T and I are engaged in essentially parallel enterprises. As those familiar with my work know, I am a historian specialising on the former Yugoslavia who has devoted considerable effort to exposing and refuting the propaganda and disinformation put about by the supporters of Serb fascism and the former regime of Slobodan Milosevic. In particular, I have tackled the edifice of lies about the former-Yugoslav conflict erected by left-wing authors in the West who support or apologise for Serb fascism: their denial of Serb atrocities; their attempts to blame the war on various ‘Western imperialist’ conspiracies; their demonisation of the victims and opponents of Serb fascism, including its Serb victims and opponents; etc.

Similarly, David is an expert on Islamic extremism and in particular on its British exponents and apologists, and he has devoted considerable effort to exposing and refuting their propaganda and disinformation. He has tackled the edifice of lies about Islamism, Islamist terrorism and repressive regimes in Muslim countries erected by their left-wing, ‘anti-imperialist’ apologists in the West. Indeed, one of the things that distinguishes both the Serb fascists that I tackle and the Islamic fascists that David and Harry’s Place tackle is that they both have well established networks of Western, particularly Western left-wing, apologists and supporters. In fact, the two groups often share the same such apologists and supporters – groups such as Britain’s Socialist Workers Party, to which Lindsey German belongs; or Ramsey Clark’s International Action Centre in the US.

In other words, David T and the Harry’s Place bloggers and I are anti-fascists engaged in essentially the same anti-fascist project. However, one of the ways in which our opponents try to discredit us is by smearing us, respectively, as ‘Islamophobic’ or as ‘anti-Serb’. Yet, such smears stand the truth on its head. The Harry’s Place bloggers devote a lot of time to writing in support of Muslim victims of oppression and injustice; and of progressive groups and individuals in Muslim countries. They frequently write posts directed against non-Muslim fascists and bigots, such as the white-racist BNP as well as Jewish and US Christian extremists. Similarly, I devote a lot of time on my blog, Greater Surbiton, to writing in support of Serb democrats and anti-fascists. I frequently write posts directed against Croat, Turkish, Greek, white British, Islamic and other fascists and bigots. Some opponents will nevertheless try to insinuate anti-Muslim/Serb bias on our part by asking, ‘Ah, but why do you concentrate so much on those particular groups of bad guys ? Why don’t you focus more on other groups of bad guys ?’ They should ask themselves why such huge edifices of lies have been constructed by left-wing apologists for both Islamic and Serb fascism that some of us have to spend so much time demolishing them.

To determine if someone is a principled opponent of Islamic/Serb fascism or an anti-Muslim/Serb bigot, you need to ask the following questions: Does the individual in question support Muslim/Serb anti-fascists and democrats, or do they equate all Muslims/Serbs with fascism ? Do they claim that Muslim/Serb fascism is simply the counterpart of the fascism produced by other groups, or do they claim that Muslims/Serbs have a unique propensity toward fascism ? In sum, are they attacking Muslim/Serb fascists because they are fascists, or because they are Muslims/Serbs ?

David T, Harry’s Place and I pass the test, and this is the point I made in my comment about Lindsey German, quoted above. To repeat, I wrote:

German’s accusation is totally unjustified, and you have every right to resent it. She – like many extremists on both sides – can’t tell the difference between being anti-Islamist and being anti-Muslim. HP’s regular posters are invariably enlightened and distinguish carefully between the two.

When he quoted me, Bob Pitt left out this, the first part of my comment, which refuted the charge that Harry’s Place is guilty of anti-Muslim bigotry. Had he included these sentences, my comment would have undermined the accusation that Harry’s Place has an anti-Muslim agenda.

Pitt continues:

The failure of Toube et al to subject these repeated outpourings of hatred to any sort of moderation is certainly a disgrace. But perhaps the more fundamental question Hoare should address is why these Muslim-hating bigots are drawn like flies to Toube’s site in the first place.

This, too, requires some comment.

Where I strongly disagree with David and with Harry’s Place is not over politics, but over the question of comments moderation policy. Harry’s Place, broadly speaking, has an open comments policy with very little moderation. The result is, as I pointed out, that ‘the comments boxes here are frequently flooded by extremely nasty bigots who really do hate all Muslims. Their visceral expressions of chauvinistic hatred all too frequently seem to become the dominant theme in any discussion here.’

The reason why, to use Pitt’s phrase, ‘these Muslim-hating bigots are drawn like flies to Toube’s site in the first place’, is not that Harry’s Place is sympathetic to them, but because they are taking advantage of a widely-read blog that posts on issues relating to Islam and Islamism, and that has an almost entirely open comments policy. The problem is not, therefore, with Harry’s Place’s politics, but with its comments moderation policy. But it is unfair to single out Harry’s Place in this regard, when this is a general problem intrinsic to blogs that have open comments policies. For example, plenty of extremely nasty, bigoted and abusive individuals – anti-Semites and others – turn up to comment on The Guardian’s ‘Comment is Free’ site, without having their comments deleted. But it does not follow from this that The Guardian is anti-Semitic; merely that its comments moderation policy is too lax.

I believe that when faced with the problem of bigoted or abusive individuals flooding your blog, you should do one of two things: either simply delete their comments ruthlessly and restrict the discussion to civilised people, or systematically take them apart. Otherwise, you are essentially providing a forum in which such individuals can promote their hate-propaganda to a wide audience. However, the first of these options leaves you open to the charge of being undemocratic, while the second is extremely time consuming (Personally, I simply am not willing to devote the time that would be needed to respond to comments on my blog – blogging is an extremely time-consuming activity as it is –  which is one of the reasons why I don’t have comments at all. I don’t mind if I am consequently accused of being undemocratic. But this is not an option for a much larger blog such as Harry’s Place, which is intended to be a discussion forum).

I believe that, given the scale of Harry’s Place, its bloggers – who need to work and eat – can’t reasonably be expected to spend their lives fighting with the bigots, over and over again. But I believe that the need to prevent bigots and malicious individuals in general from hijacking a blog and using it to promote hatred against an ethnic or religious minority should outweigh any abstract belief in the principle of open comments.

The purpose of a discussion on a political blog such as Harry’s Place should be to enlighten and inform its participants and readers. There is nothing whatsoever to be gained from anti-fascists and bigots slugging it out, again and again, over the question of ‘are all Muslims evil ?’ A minimum of common values needs to be held by participants in a discussion for the discussion to be meaningful. I believe there is no point in talking to people who do not support rights for, or who are hostile to, entire categories of people – as defined by ethnicity, nationality, religion, class, gender, sexual orientation, etc. I would favour excluding such people from discussions at Harry’s Place.

(NB Anti-Muslim bigotry is NOT to be confused with criticising Islam as a religion or opposing special privileges for Muslims, both of which are entirely legitimate. The boundaries may not always be clear, but that doesn’t mean one shouldn’t try to draw them). 

I would also absolutely ban vulgar or abusive comments or those that defame individuals. As things stand, open comments policies – combined with the sense of impunity resulting from the cult of blogging anonymity – are gradually turning public discussion into a sewer.

Having said all this, I understand not just the Harry’s Place support for the principle of open comments, but also what Harry’s Place is reacting against. Harry’s Place is reacting against a left-liberal culture that seeks to apologise for, and stifle criticism of, Muslim fascism and reaction; that justifies Islamist terrorism as a somehow understandable response of Muslims to ‘Western imperialism’ or ‘Zionism’; that solidarises with repressive Muslim regimes in Iran and elsewhere on an anti-imperialist basis, rather than with their progressive domestic opponents; that seeks to restrict freedom of speech in order to suppress criticism of Islam that might ‘offend’ Muslims. It is reacting against liberal moral relativists who seek to stifle protests in the West at sexism, misogyny and homophobia among Muslims on the grounds that such protest is ‘racist’. It is reacting against a creeping anti-Semitism that masquerades as ‘anti-Zionism’.

Harry’s Place has broken the left-liberal taboo about criticising Muslim fascism and bigotry. It is in this context of taboo-breaking that it has, in my opinion, opened the door too wide, and provided a forum in which not only can Muslim fascism and bigotry be scrutinised and condemned, but anti-Muslim bigots can turn up and spew hatred against Muslims in general.

There is no point in criticising Harry’s Place unless you recognise that this taboo needed to be broken. Unfortunately, Islamophobia Watch devotes a lot of effort to precisely the sort of moral-relativist exercises that Harry’s Place is legitimately reacting against: repeated, uncritical defences of the anti-Semitic, sexist and homophobic Islamist cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi combined with wholly hostile polemics against genuine progressives and human-rights activists from the Muslim world or Muslim backgrounds, such as Maryam Namazie, Irshad Manji, Ed Husain and Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Al-Qaradawi’s and his supporters’ statements about Jews are broadly equivalent to the statements about Muslims made by the anti-Muslim commenters at Harry’s Place that are here under discussion (Some might say: ‘Oh, but we don’t really hate Jews/Muslims; we’re just criticising Zionism/Islam ! And that’s an ideology, isn’t it ?! So it’s ok to attack Zionism/Islam as viciously as possible…’ – yeah, right…). There is a big difference between merely allowing anonymous bigots to post comments on your blog without challenging them, and actually writing whole posts in uncritical defence of a prominent bigot.

Harry’s Place is, in large part, a response to the rise of Islamic fascism and left-liberal appeasement of it. It does some things wrong. But there is no point criticising the form that the solution takes if you yourself constantly contribute to the problem.

Saturday, 4 July 2009 - Posted by | Islam, Red-Brown Alliance, The Left | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

2 Comments

  1. […] This is a guest post from Marko of Greater Surbiton. It also appears on his blog. […]

    Pingback by Harry’s Place and anti-Muslim bigotry: A reply to Islamophobia Watch « N. Virginia, Richmond, VA and DC Metro Chapter | Saturday, 4 July 2009

  2. […] Marko Attila Hoare (Greater Surbiton) on Harry’s place and anti-Muslim bigotry […]

    Pingback by Friday Misc. Roundup « The New Centrist | Saturday, 11 July 2009


Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

%d bloggers like this: