Aisha Iqbal: Let’s not blur the lines between courage, free speech and hate

Sarah Champion MP
Sarah Champion MP

I increasingly fear the souls have fallen out of two of my favourite things - journalism and politics.

I present, as exhibits A and B, the examples of The Sun and Donald Trump.

How - just how - in a 21st century world that has survived two world wars, apartheid, multiple genocides and acts of evil, and still managed to keep the flicker of basic human decency alive, are these two allowed to get away with the things they do get away with every day, and not be held accountable? The events of this last week are a prime example.

Trump’s astonishing response to the events in Charlottesville, Virginia - when he failed to outright condemn the actions of neo-Nazis at a march which left one woman dead - and The Sun’s appalling ‘The Muslim Problem’ column and subsequent failure to apologise for its hateful undertones, are surely proof positive that our gatekeepers are regressing into the worst version of themselves, and dragging our society down with them?

Words, actions and re-actions echo in history, but some politicians, and some ‘journalists’, seem to have forgotten that.

For The Sun to deny that the words it chose - very deliberately - to publish are reminiscent of Nazi anti-Jewish propaganda of the 1930s is an outright lie, especially in the context of its previous Katie Hopkins ‘cockroaches’ debacle, and that particular writer’s ‘final solution’ tweet post the Manchester tragedy.

They knew what they were saying and they said it.

And it WAS Islamophobic.

It’s pretty simple. Write the same article with the words ‘Jewish’ or ‘gay’ or ‘black’ replacing the word ‘Muslim’, and try and explain it away in the same mealy-mouthed way.

It was another example of the relentless, shameless, hateful soul-selling and clickbaiting that defines much of what we see and read nowadays.

Message to The Sun’s editors: If Muslim and Jewish leaders are uniting to condemn your actions, then I think you would be sensible to listen.

I don’t deny the central subject matter to the whole row - the issue of the disproportionate number of men with ‘Muslim’ names and Pakistani heritage involved in certain types of evil sex crimes - is an important discussion point.

But by taking all nuance out, The Sun is dragging our beloved profession into the gutter. I’ll leave others to judge if there is any change from the norm there.

Sarah Champion, the MP who also spoke out about the problematic and complex issue of grooming gangs and ethnicity, has resigned from the shadow front bench after backlash against her column.

But I actually DON’T think she should have resigned.

Because her comments were, in my view, (on the whole) courageous and constructive. The wrong person fell on their sword over the wrong article, I believe.

It’s all about knowing the limits between free speech and hate speech, between courage to speak uncomfortable truths, and using that as an excuse to spout hate and/or score a cheap headline. That’s not courage, that’s cowardice. And it’s insidious and it’s damaging.

For problems to be solved, difficult conversations do have to be had, there’s no denying that.

On my weekly community radio show on an Asian-focused and run station, I have held regular debates on the issue of grooming gangs.

We have featured Asian and Muslim campaigners, religious experts and victims. I spoke recently to one woman whose (Asian Muslim) daughter had been groomed and exploited. Another man spoke about the horror of finding out that someone he knew had been one of the people found guilty in a recent court case, and how the community cast him out. No community wants to be associated with evil.

There is brilliant work going on at grass roots level by groups such as Together Against Grooming (a Muslim and Asian led campaign group) and Leeds imam Qari Asim said just this week that the community “cannot avoid the question that men of their heritage are disproportionately involved in localised, street grooming of vulnerable girls”.

“The solution must come from within,” he said, and I agree with him. But I also suggest a solution IS being sought from within.

Communities ARE trying to deal with the problem from the inside, and through important work with the authorities.

But why does The Sun-type response to such heinous revelations always fall back to simplistic arguments along the lines of ‘something has to be done about these Muslims in our midst’ - inviting the inevitable and even more simplistic refutations from the usual ‘angry Muslim’ spokespeople?

Having said that, I - as a woman from a Pakistani Muslim background - am angry, as is every single person I know who is of a similar heritage.

I am angry at that minority of Pakistani men who are dragging my beautiful, rich, vibrant heritage into the gutter with their evil actions.

I am equally angry with my so called ‘colleagues’ in the national press who, again and again, insist on wheeling out tired rhetoric and - let’s call it what it is- hate speech, to demonise and dehumanize huge swathes of people,

So consider this a clarion call to fellow journalistic purists and politicians and communities alike.

Let’s bring common sense back into the way we solve our problems.

And let’s stop this blurring of the lines between courage, free speech and hate.