The thesis of Peter Oborne’s new book is that Muslims are unfairly victimised by the authorities. He focuses on the US, France and the UK.
He doesn’t convince. He argues for example that Asian-heritage men are not disproportionately involved in ‘grooming’. Simply not true. And 18% of prisoners in the UK are Muslim, way in excess of their proportion in the population of 4%. And of course Islamists have committed a string of atrocities in the UK: for example the Manchester Arena bombing, the London Bridge attack and the Westminster attack.
Oborne describes the UK’s Prevent counter-extremism programme as ‘the backdrop against which a cold war on British Islam has been waged’. That expression comes from a 2011 paper by David Miller, Tom Mills and Tom Griffin – which Oborne cites in his reference list. Referencing a tendentious paper by Miller – dismissed from Bristol University for antisemitism – does not exactly advance his thesis …..
Inevitably there are Muslims who are wrongly implicated in the counter-extremism programme. It’s inevitable – but it doesn’t mean the programme should be discontinued!
In addition Oborne grossly distorts the Prevent statistics. On page 289 he states that in the year April 2020 to March 2021 ‘86% of referrals to Prevent were false positives’. His source is here. It goes without saying that you will not find the 86% figure. What you will find is that of 4915 referrals to Prevent in the year, 688 were adopted as ‘Channel’ cases (‘Channel’ is the government’s intensive deradicalisation programme, see here). So 4227 (or 86%) were not so adopted. But that does not mean these 4227 were not on the path to extremism! They could have been referred to other sources of support. In addition people who are already being investigated for terrorism-related crimes (or ‘should be’) are not eligible for Channel!
In fact several of Oborne’s statements in support of his case strain credulity. For example he states evidence-free that the Murdoch press ‘produced a relentless diatribe of fabrication, propaganda and bile aimed at Muslims’. And he argues that the US government needed an enemy ‘to fill a vacancy in the aftermath of the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989’ – so it chose Islam. Ridiculous.
Like the Miller/Mills/Griffin 2011 paper, Oborne implicates the think tank Policy Exchange in the alleged ‘cold war on Islam’. He devotes a 16 page chapter to this estimable organisation and in particular to its Director, Lord Godson (discourteously Oborne fails to recognise his elevation to the House of Lords even though it was announced in 2020, giving him plenty of time to edit his manuscript). Policy Exchange is said to have ‘dismantled the British approach of tolerance’ (!).
Bizarrely Oborne writes that Policy Exchange ‘urged that with Islamists the UK should abandon the strategy of engagement used during the Troubles in Northern Ireland with republicans.’ Bizarre – because he doesn’t understand what happened in Ireland. The ‘engagement’ which led to the Good Friday agreement was only possible because the IRA renounced terror. Very different from Islamists.
However what made me read this book was not its central theme of victimisation of Muslims. It was this review by Malise Ruthven in the Financial Times:
Part of the strategy by the extremist fringe, known as the “management of savagery”, is to stir up trouble in the west by encouraging Islamophobia to alienate Muslim communities, and here they have many unintentional accomplices on the right. Oborne shows this by trawling through the American media, where he exposes Islamophobic currents that are often linked to Israel, with Israelis happy to collaborate with Christian Evangelicals who regard a maximalist Israeli state occupying Arab lands as the prerequisite for the second coming of Jesus.
‘He exposes Islamophobic currents that are often linked to Israel….. ‘ Again echoes of that infamous Miller/Mills/Griffin 2011 paper (even though that focused on the UK rather than the US).
Let’s probe Ruthven’s statement…. The only connection in the book in the US between Zionism and hatred of Muslims is Oborne’s statement that Daniel Pipes and David Horowitz are ‘fervent Zionists’. (What is a ‘fervent Zionist’? A Zionist supports the re-establishment of Israel in the Middle East. It’s binary – either you do or you don’t. So how can one be a ‘fervent’ Zionist??). And Oborne fails to produce a single piece of evidence that either of them was ‘Islamophobic’ (that is, hating all Muslims, as opposed to just Islamists).
The accusation that anti-semitism motivates any condemnation of Jewish or Israeli terrorism has been the stock-in-trade of Zionist leaders ever since Menahem Begin’s Irgun killers slaughtered the whole village of Deir Yassin, near Jerusalem, in 1948.
It’s none other than our old friend – the Livingstone Formulation – beloved of antisemites since time immemorial. The accusation that Jews (and NJ supporters of Israel) use the charge of antisemitism to stifle legitimate criticism of Israel. The antisemites who resort to this slander can never provide an example – for good reason – there isn’t one.
Back to Oborne. Clearly he doesn’t understand the meaning of the word ‘Zionism’. He writes (p131) that Trump ‘was committed to a Zionist policy’. What does this mean? That Trump recognised the right of Israel to exist? Of course he did!
On page 133 Oborne writes of Trump’s ‘unconditional recognition of undivided Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.’ Wrong. Congress has recognised Jerusalem as the capital since at least 1995, setting aside funding to move the Embassy. But the law allowed the President to invoke a six-month waiver, reissued every six months on national security grounds.
Remember that Oborne has form as an IDS sufferer ………
Addendum: Let’s look at some of the other whom Oborne namechecks, either in his acknowledgement or his references: