The New Stateman's choice of senior editor confirms that the magazine has abandoned its liberal principles
Mehdi Hasan is the current senior editor (politics) of the New Statesman. His previous posts include roles at Channel 4 (where he produced a documentary on Islamophobia called It Shouldn’t Happen to a Muslim), Sky News, BBC and ITV.
The New Statesman has long prided itself on its left-wing, liberal and agnostic reputation. Hasan’s appointment is possibly the final nail in the coffin of this image, which has been gradually eroding over the last decade.
In July, an audio tape was released by a leading blog, Harry’s Place, of a fiery speech Hasan delivered at the al-Khoei foundation, a Shia centre in London. Much of it is innocuous and in places he criticises the Taliban and urges Muslims to open their minds to other cultures and religions.
However, there are some sections of the speech which have caused great consternation. Addressing an audience made up mainly of young Muslims, he says: “The kaffar, the disbelievers, the atheists who remain deaf and stubborn to the teachings of Islam, the rational message of the Koran; they are described in the Koran as, ‘a people of no intelligence’, Allah describes them as; not of no morality, not as people of no belief — people of ‘no intelligence’ — because they’re incapable of the intellectual effort it requires to shake off those blind prejudices, to shake off those easy assumptions about this world…In this respect, the Koran describes the atheists as ‘cattle’, as cattle of those who grow the crops and do not stop and wonder about this world.”
Shortly after the speech emerged, Hasan wrote a response to Harry’s Place where one might have expected him to clarify that he does not in fact think that non-Muslims are no better than your average farm animal. No, instead he hides behind the “citing religious scripture” defence, saying that he was merely quoting the Koran. This simply will not do. It has not been accepted as a defence against incitement to racial and religious hatred in UK courts, and nor should it be by British civil society. He also defends his usage of the term “cattle” by claiming that atheists use similarly offensive language when they describe believers as “sheep”. This is not so much of a defence as it is a confirmation of his own denigration of non-Muslims, regardless of what some atheists think of religious people.
Hasan has not said or written anything which would suggest that he adheres to the core Islamist ideology, and indeed he has rejected the concept of an Islamic State, one of the essential precepts of this belief system. On the other hand, to say that Hasan is a shining example of moderation is to display a very low opinion of what one expects from British Muslims. There are many out there far more enlightened than him.