Blogosphere claims a scalp

A couple of weeks ago, the Guardian published an article by one of its trainee journalists, Dilpazier Aslam, on the reaction of Muslim youth in Yorkshire to the London bombings. David T at Harry’s Place called it “pretty close in tone to so the sort of stuff that Hizb’ut Tahrir say when they’re pretending not to be Hizb’ut Tahrir”, although to me the piece’s tone seems more reminiscent of some of MPAC UK’s writers when they tone down their rhetoric for a mainstream audience rather than their website or their mail shots.

Trouble is, Dilpazier Aslam is a member of HT, something which can be ascertained by a simple Google search. After much criticism in the blogosphere, which attracted mention by Mark Steyn in the Telegraph earlier this week in a typically belligerent piece (which, to honour a request for a comment on it earlier this week, is also shoddy with its facts - the reason Ted Heath redrew the county boundaries in the 1970s is because it doesn’t make sense to have a city in two separate counties, as Bristol was, or boundaries reflecting nothing that would make sense to anyone unfamiliar with the state of marcher lordships and other aspects of 13th-century Welsh politics which you might learn from a history degree in Aberystwyth), the Guardian has decided to let Mr Aslam go after he refused to leave HT.

Not everyone at the Guardian is happy with this - there is an article in the Media section, Aslam targeted by bloggers (free registration required, Samizdata offers a login and password here), by an un-named staff reporter, which traces this incident to a campaign by right-wing American bloggers:

The story is a demonstration of the way the ‘blogosphere’ can be used to mount obsessively personalised attacks at high speed. Within hours, Dilpazier Aslam was being accused on the internet of “violence” and belonging to a “terrorist organisation” - both completely untrue charges. One blogger appealed for “some loyal Briton to saw off your head and ship it to me”. Another accused Aslam of being guilty of “accessory before the fact to murder.” These ravings were posted alongside more legitimate questions as to whether a newspaper should employ a reporter who belongs to a controversial political group linked to the promotion of anti-semitic views.

I did a Technorati search for blog pieces on the Aslam controversy and I discovered that some of the articles were indeed false and libellous - most obviously the accusations of violence. Democracy Guy has an article headed “The Guardian Fires Its Al Queda Columnist”, which is simply untrue. HT are not al-Qa’ida; they are a political party, with a fundamentally different methodology and set of beliefs from al-Qa’ida and the Wahhabi fringe in general. Their vision of a caliphate is different as well, including a permanent Parliament for example. Also mentioned in the above-quoted article is the fact that one of the critics is known for relentless attacks on the Guardian: “[he] spends his time indoors posting repeated attacks on the Guardian for its stance on the environment, its columnists such as Polly Toynbee, and its recent intervention in the US presidential election campaign”.

Much has been made of HT’s hostility to Jews, and Abiola of Foreign Dispatches links to a HT communique on (also cited in the Guardian’s background article) - an anonymously-written article of the sort that used to be handed out to people coming out of Friday prayers. Whether this piece came from the leadership or from some other elements in HT is therefore not known. Bear in mind that HT is based in Jordan and its founder was Palestinian. Europeans have particular sensitivities when talking about Jews which Arabs may not have, and which Europeans often don’t have about other groups. If the Guardian had employed a Polish trainee who belonged to an organisation in whose publications similar sentiments about Russians had been expressed, for example, it’s unlikely that such a controversy would have ensued.

The fact that HT is banned on university campuses, partly due to anti-Semitism, has also been widely mentioned. The HT groups concerned were those led by Omar Bakri Muhammad, who as is well-known, left (or was expelled from) HT, and set up his own organisation. The bans on HT in countries in Europe, which often have lesser standards of freedom of speech than are enjoyed here, may not be entirely relevant.

The Guardian is understandably concerned that an opinion piece by one of its staff was published without the author’s interest being declared. “Astroturfing” (political activists pretending to be ordinary people in order to give the impression of a popular movement) is a real problem, particularly on the radio, but Aslam’s piece does not appear to me like “turf” for HT. The article is about how young Muslims are more concerned about politics and about Muslims in other parts of the world than their fathers and immigrant grandparents are or were; the politicised youth are not all HT or Muhajiroun, but there is wide frustration with the attitudes of the elders who run mosques in the north in particular.

And the points made in the article are valid ones, and the article is not the only place in the British media where such opinions have been expressed since the 7th of July. It’s highly likely that Mr Aslam was attracted to HT by its political program, which (particularly among English speakers) is expressed in terms familiar to western ears, and not by the hostility of elements in the party to Jews. Aslam has said he is not an anti-Semite, and such a case of someone being attracted to an ideology, or other belief system, rather than to some people who propound it who are bigots or have other ugly opinions would hardly be unique.

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