Review of “Londonistan”

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I waited for some time to pick up my copy of Melanie Phillips’s book Londonistan, largely because I have a conscience about paying for books which are as full of damaging gibberish as this one is. I ended up waiting until the first paperback edition, which was reduced as new paperbacks often are, and I’m glad I did because this one has an extra chapter which was not in the original. The original cover, featuring that kid with the “I love al-Qa’ida” hat from the tiny anti-Danish demo by a bunch of idiots last year, has been replaced with an image of three women in niqab, one of them giving a V sign to a bunch of journalists. A recent interview with Phillips, by a writer for the Guardian for which she used to write herself, describes her hysterical and hectoring tone and notes:

She is not cynical, or saying it for effect. She means every word and the key to her analysis is her belief in a general collapse of values or, in her words, “the creation of a debauched and disorderly culture of instant gratification, with disintegrating families, feral children and violence, squalor and vulgarity on the streets”. This is combined, she believes, with a profound anti-semitism among people who do not realise that “the fight against Israel is not fundamentally about land. It is about hatred of the Jews”. She hears echoes from the past today, talking of “a climate in Britain that has alarming echoes of Weimar in the 1930s”.

(More: Austrolabe.)

Having read this book (and her blog), I’m not entirely sure of this, although I do not have the dubious advantage of having met Phillips myself. The book shows distinct signs of being aimed at an American audience - perhaps an American Jewish audience in particular: the use of the phrase “Prime Minister Blair”, an American usage which is not heard much in the UK, and this passage, which seems clearly aimed at giving a certain impression to her audience:

Hardly had the turmoil at Heathrow subsided than the British were jolted again. After a series of anti-terror raids around the country, they learned to their astonishment that the tiny hamlet of Mark Cross, deep in rural East Sussex, may have been the site of an Al Qaeda training camp. The grounds of a Gothic pile on the edge of the village were said to have been used as a school for terror were Muslim boys were indoctrinated and selected for holy war against the West.

… This was a big shock. Mark Cross is a quintessentially English village in the affluent south of England. To find that it had unwittingly harboured Islamic terrorists made people begin to feel that England itself might similarly discover one day that it had been transformed into something monstrous without anyone noticing what was happening.

This section is in a new afterword which is only in the paperback, and it clearly relies on the readers’ ignorance of British geography. Whether you’d call Mark Cross “deep” into East Sussex (it’s about six miles south of Tunbridge Wells, which is in Kent) is a matter of opinion, but what might make it convenient for people from London supposedly running a terrorist training camp is that it is less than an hour’s drive from the edge of London and was in the grounds of an Islamic school (albeit one which has since been closed down as unsatisfactory by the government). It is known that the school’s principal, Bilal Patel, was disturbed by Abu Hamza:

Last weekend it emerged that radical Muslim cleric Abu Hamza booked a weekend for him and his followers at the school after he saw an advert for the retreat in a London mosque.

Bilal Patel, the school’s imam, said he was immediately worried about Hamza’s behaviour and on what impact the sight of the cleric and his 15 followers would have on the neighbours.

Furthermore, Phillips’s comment about the village “unwittingly harbouring” terrorists or supposed terrorist activity is idiotic and misleading. In any English village, with the exception of perhaps a few private developments calling themselves villages, people are free to come and go as they please, particularly if the village lies on a main road as Mark Cross does (in this case, the main road from Tunbridge Wells to Eastbourne; see this map) - there is no question of “the village” being somehow responsible for whoever uses land or a building in or near the village unless it is owned by the parish council or by locals; in this case, it was owned by the Islamic school. Who is she trying to deceive with this? As so often is the case with this book, rhetoric is used in place of actual argument or evidence. (Another example of an apparent attempt to play on American readers’ ignorance is her claim, on page 27, that the British media has seen no counteroffensive against the supposed dominance of the left; the fact is that, like the USA, the UK media has long had its share of jabbering, bully-boy talk show hosts, including Jon Gaunt, who presented BBC London’s morning phone-in show for several years until he was moved to the Midlands in 2005. The present host of that show is Phillips’s admirer Vanessa Feltz: [1], [2], [3], [4].)

Phillips’ book is complex (even though it’s quite short), but its central point is that Britain has laid itself open to terrorism through falling into a sort of supine multiculturalism, a culture in which anything goes and in which articulating the dominant culture is seen as racist. Not only has this led to general cultural decline and an upsurge in immoral behaviour, but to the country becoming a soft touch for foreign radicals who want to take over the countries which granted them refuge. She also argues that the “liberal establishment” have swallowed a false narrative regarding Israel, and feed this to people through the media and academia, and that the Church of England has lost its nerve, has given up trying to give a moral lead and is affected by a mixture of anti-semitic “replacement theology” and the liberal “myth” about Israel.

The misleading and over-dramatising starts early in this book. In her first chapter, she notes that London “has become the human entrepot of the world”, whose “urban landscape is punctuated by women wearing not just the hijab, the Islamic headscarf, but burkas and niqabs, garments that cover their entire bodies from head to toe - with the exception, in the case of the niqab, of a slit for the eyes - in in conformity with strict Islamic codes of female modesty”. In all the years I have been Muslim, I have seen plenty of women in niqab but only a handful of women with veils which cover their eyes in London at all and not a single burka, if this is taken to mean the Afghan/Pakistani top-to-toe garment (the term burqa is used in some Gulf regions to mean the same as niqab, but the burqa without a slit for the eyes obviously refers to the south Asian version). And I go to the Edgware Road area often. She alleges that niqabs “create a niggling sense of insecurity and unease”, which may be true for her but not by any means for everybody - not for me, for example - and it is something people somehow manage to live with in countries where it is much more common than it is here, “as the open nature of London’s society is vitiated by such public acts of deliberate concealment, with faces and expressions — not to mention the rest of the body — concealed from sight”. As someone who has lived in London for most of my life, I can assure Mel’s American readers that it’s not an “open” society, but one where people do not notice or talk to each other much and where people stand and do nothing as others are harrassed or even attacked in front of them. For all we communicate with each other, we might as well all wear niqabs. London has a very atomised society, where there are plenty of people but where it is very easy to be lonely.

In the next paragraph, she complains that “as you travel across London you notice that district after district seems to have become a distinctive Muslim neighbourhood”, and that similar patterns are repeated in “rundown northern cities such as Bradford, Burnley [and] Oldham”. In the case of London, this is simply nonsense. With the possible exception of a few small areas of inner east London, nowhere in London is Muslim-dominated - this includes the residential areas around the Edgware Road and everywhere else in which there are clusters of Muslim-run businesses (or Arab- and Indian-run businesses, since not everyone from these two groups is Muslim). Some do have prominent Asian communities, but these are often religiously mixed: for example, Tooting has a very strong Hindu presence (you only need to look at some of the shops to confirm this) alongside its Muslim population. There are a few ghettoes, but Muslims are not the only population with this characteristic. The north Peckham area could be called a ghetto, but it’s definitely not Muslim-dominated.

Her history of how Muslim radicalism in the UK started shows obvious over-simplification and ignorance. She claims on page 37:

Islamism is the term given to the extreme form of politicised Islam that has become dominant in much of the Muslim world and is the ideological source of global Islamic terrorism. It derives from a number of radical organizations (sic) that were founded in the early part of the last century, which all believe that Islam is in a state of war with both the West and the insufficiently pious Muslims around the world.

The first was the Tablighi Jamaat in India/Pakistan, secessionists who believed that Muslims must return to the basics of Islam and separate themselves from non-Muslims.

Is is not necessary to explain what the Tablighi Jama’at actually do? Their principal activity is to take groups of people, usually men, out of their usual for a short stay in a mosque, usually in another city (occasionally another country), in which they read inspirational stories (usually from a series of books by the movement’s founder) and work on perfecting their religious practice. The name actually means “Propagation Movement” and I have seen it translated as “preaching party”. It has its detractors within the Muslim community, and among the more common criticisms is that it is too apolitical. It is quite possible to travel with Tablighi groups and not to encounter political discussion. The TJ itself is absolutely not a political group, although I am sure there are many political activists who are also associated with the TJ.

She continues:

The second was the Muslim Brotherhood, which was founded by Hassan al-Banna with Sayed Qutb its leading ideologue. Its creed is known as Salafism and is deeply anti-Semitic; this creed is virtually indistinguishable from Saudi Wahhabism.

The Muslim Brotherhood has actually had among its ranks scholars who are not Wahhabis or “Salafis”, notably the Syrian Abdul-Fattah Abu Ghuddah. Hassan al-Banna was not a Wahhabi - in fact, he belonged to a Sufi order, even if there have been moves in that direction since his death - and is quoted as saying that the dispute with the Jews is not over religion, something Yusuf al-Qaradawi has expanded on by saying that it is simply about land. Some people affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood share certain Wahhabi beliefs and some Wahhabis have Brotherhood-derived political leanings, but it does not make them indistinguishable; the background of Wahhabism is as a religious movement associated with a ruling family, not in opposition to colonial rule and then to secularism.

Phillips proceeds to give a run-down of the Muslim terrorists who have passed through or been radicalised in the UK. Among them are Richard Reid, “who was converted to Islam at Brixton mosque in south London”. She does not state something which was well-known at the time, which is that his actual radicalisation took place at Finsbury Park. It could not possibly have happened at Brixton, because the stance of the leadership there against political agitation of any kind is well-known to the Muslim community, and could have been discovered by the sensationalist media by asking just a few questions in the right places. The Brixton community are actually despised by the “radical” Wahhabis who regard them as Saudi stooges and sell-outs. She then informs us of Azahari Husin or “Demolition Man”, who was involved in the Bali bombing, who studied at Reading in the 1980s. The fact is that his involvement in terrorism began much later than that, in Malaysia.

Despite giving the usual assurances that “there are hundreds of thousands of British Muslims who have no truck whatsoever with terrorism, nor with extremist ideology”, she then alleges that “the British Muslim establishment has been hijacked by extremist elements funded and promoted by the religious establishment in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and elsewhere”, and that “there has been no suppression by British Muslims of the ideology of holy war”. For the benefit of Phillips’s American readers, British Muslims have no ability to suppress it because we have no police force: if we did, the takeover of Finsbury Park mosque would most likely not have been possible, or would have been quickly reversed. Groups like the MCB do not control Muslims, or Muslim organisations; they simply represent them. All we can do is argue, and in the Muslim media people have been doing just that. Abu Hamza, for example, received a scathing assessment by Fuad Nahdi in Q-News, who wrote this in the February 1999 issue, not long after he was linked to a terrorist incident in the Yemen:

So the interview began with me sitting quietly next to Abu Hamza fiddling with a camera and trying to keep calm at his desultory answers to Shagufta’s [this is Shagufta Yaqub, Q-News journalist and later editor] well-crafted and incisive questions. Soon it was obvious that my worst fears were being realised: here was another clown, a pathetic creature who is the product of some shady concotion beyond the realm of Islamic understanding.

At close quarters Mr Abu Hamza does not come across as a stupid man. He is reasonably charming and speaks of himself and his beliefs with uncontrollable enthusiasm and self-confidence. But behind the veneer of pleasantness and suavity it is easy to detect a mean and guile spirit untouched by any kind of deep spirituality or sagacity.

Q-News similarly responded fiercely to al-Muhajiroun’s “Magnificent 19” publicity stunt, printing an article calling the people involved morons and suggesting that their posters be put inside bins rather than stuck on them. It was promoting the likes of Hamza Yusuf, Shaikh Nuh Keller, Zaid Shakir and Habib Ali Jifri long before the UK government thought they might be a good way to tackle extremism. After the arrest of Abdullah Faisal, it printed a lengthy article by Nazim Baksh which gave a history of extremism in Guyana, where he and Faisal spent some time, in which various young radicals caused a lot of trouble in the Muslim community. In recent years, various websites, forums and blogs have appeared in attempts to promote the mainstream message without becoming stooges of government, as the aforementioned scholars came to be accused of being after they participated in the Radical Middle Way tour.

Phillips’s second chapter, The Human Rights Jihad, contains an attack on the Human Rights Act as it has been implemented in British law recently, something the political Right in this country seeks to reverse. While it may well have resulted in some bizarre court cases and perverse judgements, the fact is that it is the nearest thing we have to a Bill of Rights in the UK, something Americans - at least, White Americans - have taken for granted since their country’s foundation. The nature of such a Bill is that it takes preference over ordinary legislation - which, in the UK, is easier to pass than virtually anywhere in the world since there is only one elected House, usually dominated by one party, which overrides the other, unelected, house, making it easy to pass bad legislation in a panic or on a whim. Phillips takes issue with Lord Bingham, who “said that the Human Rights Convention [on which the HRA is based], which existed to protect vulnerable minorities who were sometimes disliked, despised or resented, was an ‘intrinsically counter-majoritarian’ instrument”, and that decisions affirming the rights of such minorities would likely provoke criticism from politicians and the mass media, who “generally reflect majority opinion”. She extrapolates (p.70):

So majority opinion, it seems, is essentially illegitimate, and the role of the judiciary is to use human rights law to override it. This unashamed justification of judicial supremacism is as antidemocratic, subversive and unjust as it is arrogant. It does not allow for any wrongdoing by any ‘disliked, resented or despised’ minority, but presupposes that it is in the right by virtue of being such a minority.

Majority opinion is only illegitimate when it seeks to deny a minority the rights it itself enjoys, which is something the founders of the American political system understood. It is particularly important that the whims of the majority be restrained when they are expressed in a panic, in response to a human disaster or atrocity of some kind, or when “public opinion” is represented in the screamings of the popular press, such as the newspaper for which Phillips writes. In the past, Phillips’s own community might well have been the target of such legislation; now that this is unlikely, and the likely targets are another minority, which she dislikes, she has no problem affirming the right of Parliament, and the majority, to trample over minorities.

The book has a section on multiculturalism, called “Multicultural Paralysis”, which contains the fairly typical analysis of how the British have become unwilling to transmit “their” culture, particularly through the education system, that you would expect from a Daily Mail writer. Sadly, she is not talking about the decline of Morris dancing, which I can confirm is not generally taught in schools - at least, not in London. She intersperses her complaint with examples of such things as piggy banks being taken off shelves to avoid offending Muslims, and one of Alan Buchan, the editor and owner of the Aberdeenshire-based North East Weekly, who was prosecuted for inciting racial hatred when he “published an article opposing a resettlement plan for asylum seekers in his area”. What he actually said can be read here (at FOX News of all places):

Under the heading “Perverts & Refugees,” Buchan wrote: “The people of rural England have been in massive rebelling (sic) over the establishment of refugee centres holding upwards of 5000 immigrants because they were fully aware that their communities would be swamped and turned into cesspools.

… “The reason that the people of rural England have reject (sic) this is that they know their communities would be turned into ghettos where murder, rape, robbery, assault, break-ins and numerous other crimes became prevalent.”

This is more than just opposing an asylum centre, I am sure the reader will agree. American readers might reject this as contrary to freedom of speech, but we have already discussed Phillips’s own attitude to restraining Parliament in the interests of people’s rights. She contrasts this with Yaqub Zaki, who proclaimed that he would be “very happy” if there were to be a terrorist attack on Downing Street (the Prime Minister’s and Chancellor’s residence) and would not care what happened to the “inmates” of the Prime Minister’s house. In the present climate, such a statement might well attract prosecution, but as it happens, it neither incites hatred against a racial group (and only racial groups were protected at that time) nor does it actually incite violence.

In a later chapter, Phillips casts aspersion on the “moderate” character of British Muslims, claiming that “if ‘moderation’ includes reasonableness, truthfulness and fairness, the reaction by British Muslims to the London bombings was not moderate at all”, because it did not admit “communal responsibility” or that the actions had anything to do with Islam. As ever, she condemns Muslims for not immediately accepting the official version - that it was a Muslim terrorist attack - before much proof had emerged, and there was reason to doubt it in this case, since we know that the bombers had return tickets among other signs of intending to return home. The community can only be held responsible for an attack if it is carried out by the armed wing of an organisation which represents us, which, in this case, it was not. The community can only do so much to curb extremism if it, and not hundreds of small organisations, control the community’s infrastructure. There is no Muslim body which can dictate what goes on, or what gets taught, inside all mosques in the UK. There are no archbishops or Chief Rabbis for us.

She also takes issue with various statements which were issued after the bombings. The statement by the British Muslim Forum dissatisfies her because it quotes the well known verse from Surat al-Ma’ida, with a section dotted out: “Whoever kills a human being … then at is as if he has killed all mankind”. She alleges that the section dotted out, “except as punishment for murder or other villainy in the land”, is a carte blanche to kill in response to any kind of alleged “villainy”. Except it isn’t, because the scholars have interpreted “villainy” to mean banditry. Furthermore, Islam does not allow the punishment of one person for the deeds of another: the custom of vendetta killings found in some regions, in which a man may be killed for the misdeed of his brother, is totally contrary to Islam. She also objects to Muslims mentioning their hostility to western invasions of, and interference in, Muslim countries, when its role in inspiring the anger of some Muslims is undeniable. It did not start with Iraq or Afghanistan: the sanctions regime against Iraq, with a generally-agreed six-figure death toll, said to be worth it by Madeleine Albright, predated the last Iraq war, as did the failure to take action against the Serb Chetniks as they raped and massacred their way across Bosnia, while refusing the Bosnian government the means they needed to defend themselves. Nobody has ever said that it justifies killing innocent people, but to dismiss it as a contributor to terrorism is simply self-satisfying selective blindness. She is also very quick to accuse Muslim organisations of failing to condemn violence other than the sort seen in July 2005; the fact is that non-violent resistance simply does not always work. In general, to defeat an armed enemy or oppressor takes arms. It is very convenient and hypocritical to preach non-violence to a people when you actually support their enemy.

In chapters six and seven, Phillips posits an “infallible litmus test” to judge whether “moderate” Muslim opinion is indeed moderate, which is “the attitude to Israel and the Jews”. She accuses the general British public of swallowing Arab and Muslim propaganda, and alleges that “Muslim hostility to Israel is rooted in Muslim hostility to Jews”, as if any other attempt at a foreign takeover of a tract of Muslim land would have been welcomed with open arms. The chapter contains a long list of examples of Muslims absorbing the anti-Semitic propaganda of old Europe, and repeats the standard pro-Israeli put-downs of the Palestinians’ claims to their own land. She complains that the British do not accept the pro-Israeli narrative of events, among them excuses that “the Jews are as entitled to a state of their own as any other people”, to which it might be said: like the Basques, you mean, or the Chechens, or any number of ethnic groups in Africa who are denied their own state due to colonial boundaries which have been deemed to be set in stone?

She alleges that anyone walking down the Edgware Road is likely to see anti-Semitic and Holocaust-denial literature on open display, that there has been “a murderous rage against Israel, expressed by one Muslim organisation after another”, and that there has been “virtually no prosecutions” for fear of provoking a Muslim backlash. She does not reference this assertion, but the prosecution of Abdullah Faisal included charges of “using threatening and insulting words” and “using threatening and insulting recordings”. The media reported his comments about Jews and Hindus, but not what he said about Muslims of different schools of thought to his own, which was every bit as likely to incite hatred and violence. Abu Hamza was jailed also, for inciting racial hatred. Both men gave lectures which incited violence, and if any prosecution was likely to lead to violence, it would have been one of these, not an action against an Egyptian book merchant for selling conspiratorial or Holocaust denial material in Arabic. The “public interest”, in this case, could have meant that the use of public money to prosecute people for the distribution of reprehensible, but not dangerous, material to a minority audience in a foreign language is not worth the money, especially as success could by no means be guaranteed; it might be pointed out that, while far right activists have been prosecuted, the white Holocaust deniers and conspiracy-mongers from whom these Arab writers and publishers get their material generally are not. We might also consider that Phillips, or her source, are not telling the truth about this material; we might remember Carol Gould searching for people wearing poppies in “every hookah café, every electrical shop and every hijab boutique” on the Edgware Road, when in fact there are no hijab boutiques on the Edgware Road (there are actually very few dedicated hijab shops in London; Islamic bookshops also sell other merchandise like hijabs). There is one fabric shop, and one hijabi salon (above a shop), but no boutique.

She also has a chapter on the Church of England, which she alleges is “on its knees before terror” on account of the conciliatory stance of some of its clergy after the July 2005 bombings. Unlike American churches, which “have been in the forefront of the defence of Western values”, the Church of England has “been in the forefront of the retreat from the Judeo-Christian heritage”. Melanie Phillips is, of course, not the only person to have made similar observations about the Church of England’s weak moral stance - many Muslims say the same thing. Phillips alleges that the Church is silent about the persecution of Christians in countries like Pakistan, when perhaps the Church regards quiet diplomacy as a better way of going about such matters than making loud speeches, which might incite senseless mob reactions. She finds much fault with the Church’s sympathising with the Palestinian cause, of course, alleging both that they are a result of the Church losing its “moral compass” but also of a revival of what she calls “replacement theology”, which stated “that all God’s promises to the Jews - including the land of Israel - were forfeit because the Jews had denied the divinity of Christ”. She claims that the Catholic church renounced this doctrine because it “faced up to the excruciating role it had played over centuries in dehumanising and demonising the Jewish people, a process which had paved the way for the Holocaust”. The Anglican Church, she claims, “failed to conduct a similar process”, without noticing that the Church is not predominant in any part of mainland Europe, which is where the vast majority of this persecution took place, including the Holocaust; the Continent’s religions are Lutheran, Roman Catholic and eastern Orthodox. Without denying that anti-Semitism exists in the UK, the major focus of persecution in Britain has been the Catholics, who were the victims of mob violence into the 20th century.

While castigating the Church for abandoning its values and for “apologising” for bringing Christianity to the world, she somehow finds it in herself to object to the Church failing to abandon one of its core beliefs, namely that Christianity is right and that previous religions, like Judaism, are abrogated, and that like anyone else who rejected the Messiah, Jewish or otherwise, they have no claim to a special relationship with God or to the land they were promised, and given, when they still had such a relationship. Islam has similar beliefs about Jews and Christians, while the British Chief Rabbi attracted criticism from other rabbis for articulating a belief that there is truth in religions other than Judaism. It is entirely logical also that British Christians should sympathise with their own co-religionists in Palestine, who are Palestinian Christians, and not with those of another religious community in the UK, who sympathise with their own. The main Christian denomination in Palestine is Greek Orthodoxy, and when their patriarch Irineos I tried to sell Palestinian land to Jewish investors, he was de-recognised by his church colleagues and ultimately demoted to a simple monk. That church, which is not accused of compromising its moral values, clearly does not accept Christian Zionism.

In her conclusion, she proposes intrusions into Muslim life which no other group within society has witnessed within living memory. She demands, for example, that organisations linked to “Islamist ideology” be closed down, because while they might not advocate terrorism, “their advocacy of Islamisation creates a breeding ground for violence” and “Islamist ideology is a conveyor belt to terror. Given the small number (we are talking double figures) of British Muslims who have actually carried out terrorist attacks in recent years, and the fact that there has been only one successful attack in this country this century, this is a major exaggeration, and no other ideology has been banned in this country because of having been linked to terrorism; she does not attempt to prove that it is Muslim Brotherhood or Hizbut-Tahreer’s ideologies which motivate people towards terrorism, as opposed to the teachings of one or two small groups on the Wahhabi extremist fringe, on which Abu Hamza and Abdullah Faisal both sit. She demands that Muslims’ “practice of marrying their young people to cousins from the Indian subcontinent … stop because it is a threat to social cohesion”. Quite apart from the fact that it is not only Muslim Asians who do this, and that it is not by any means always cousins, the fact of a few bombs going off in London do not justify intruding into an entire community’s family life. She demands that the British state “stop the drift towards a parallel Islamic jurisdiction under Sharia”, when in fact no such thing is happening other than the establishment of a few voluntary mediation schemes and halaal financial services, and “no longer turn a blind eye to polygamy, following the recommendation of Dr Ghayasuddin Siddiqui that imams should be allowed to officiate at marriages only upon the production of a civil marriage certificate”.

Two problems appear here. First of all, an Islamic marriage does not need an imam. This is a fairly widely-known fact; a marriage can be conducted in someone’s living room, or on a bus, and takes only the agreement of the two parties and the presence of two suitable witnesses. Second, the authority of Ghayasuddin Siddiqui is highly dubious. His “Muslim Parliament” originated as a front group for the Iranian state in their attempt to control the Muslim community here. It has never functioned democratically, either under Kalim Siddiqui’s or his leadership; see this entry (the existence of this organisation has been frequently used by anti-Muslim agitators as proof of the emergence of a Muslim parallel state). It is ironic that, much as Jews continually complain of being divided into good and bad Jews on the basis of support for Israel (an example of the genre here), Melanie Phillips does the same here, identifying “good Muslims” as those who bad-mouth large sections of their own community and echo her agenda, or whose sectarian concerns mesh with her agenda. Indeed, among the “good Muslims” she identifies is one “Aisha Siddiqa Qureshi”, whose sole contribution to human literature appears to be this article in “Muslim World Today”. On reading this article, all I can say is that no Muslim could possibly have written it; its terms of reference are all Jewish and it occasionally breaks into calling Jews “we”. It must have been written under a pseudonym.

Indeed, a major irony of this book is that, in the paperback afterword, she notes that as a result of the British establishment’s “cultural cravenness”, the Muslim Council of Britain in February 2007 issued “a long list of demands including the provision of separate sports lessons for boys and girls, separate changing cubicles, the addition of beards, hijabs and religious artefacts to school uniform” and so on, which she claims “amounted to a programme for the wholesale Islamisation of the British school system”. She believes that the MCB were “emboldened” to issue such “demands” by the over-accommodating nature of the British establishment; what is it that emboldens Phillips to issue a long list of demands regarding how the British state, or indeed other western states, treat Muslims? The MCB’s suggestions were about the treatment of the children of those he represents; what Phillips demands is state interference in whom members of another group marry, and curbs on that group’s freedom of speech. Quite what Mel’s American readers think of that, I’ve no idea.

The reader might notice that I’ve only really skimmed the surface of this book. It may have the shrill tone of a bad blog entry, but it is after all book length. It would take a book to expose every distortion, every false connection and every reference which does not lead where it should; perhaps someone will write it. Last June she gave an interview to her old newspaper, the Guardian, in which the interviewer found her with a world view which “seems tightly closed - immaculate, airless, finished”, quick to take offence and obsessed with the idea that she might be misunderstood or misrepresented; it is ironic, then, that there are so many misrepresentations in this book, including repetitions of scare stories about piggy banks and the like issued by the tabloid press and references to terrorist scares which, while they caused much disruption, actually did not result in significant finds of weapons or to convictions for terrorism.

Her paranoid and hysterical attitude towards “anti-Semitism” has attracted criticism even from within her own community: Jonathan Freedland wrote this article in the Jewish Chronicle last month in which he noted that American Jews, including very prominent ones, had gleaned from Phillips’s writings that Britain in 2007 really was like Europe in the 1930s, in which it was not safe to walk the streets as a Jew. And while racist abuse and attacks against anyone in the streets must be condemned, a mood of anger against Israel and lack of sympathy for it in the press cannot be compared to the front-page attacks on other ethnic and religious groups. There may well be echoes of Weimar in 21st century Europe, but the targets of popular vilification certainly will not be the same as last time round.

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