Don't be surprised by Lord Ahmed's anti-Semitic rant
Lord Ahmed's comments did not appear in a vacuum. They reflect a dangerous indulgence for conspiracy theory and Jew baiting in significant sections of the Islamic world
Last week The Times reported on an anti-Semitic rant from the Labour peer Lord Ahmed. In an interview on Pakistani television in 2012, Lord Ahmed remarked that the prison sentence he had received in 2009 for dangerous driving was due to pressure that had been placed on the courts by "Jewish friends who own newspapers and TV channels". He added: "My case became more critical because I went to Gaza to support Palestinians", something that these Jews "opposed".
These remarks are truly extraordinary. Lord Ahmed seems to believe that his actions were completely insignificant, until, that is, he came up against a vindictive Jewish establishment that was determined to punish him for his political views. Quite how this consortium of Jewish media magnates was able to manipulate the legal establishment is not clear. Still, there is no doubting that he was invoking the spectre of 'Jewish power’ to explain his misfortune.
What is so disturbing here is not just the arrogance of his comments or the rehashing of anti-Semitic tropes; it is the fact that Lord Ahmed is a distinguished peer of the realm, a figure regarded in polite society as a genuine Muslim moderate.
Why did a figure in such an elevated position issue such a racist diatribe? The simple answer is that 'blaming the Jews' has become a ubiquitous feature of Muslim discourse, even in liberal western societies. The notion of personal and communal responsibility has been undermined by a cult of victimhood and a belief in paranoid conspiracy theories.
To take one example, when the Muslim Council of Britain was asked to condemn Islamist terrorism, it did so equivocally. It blamed British foreign policy in Iraq, Afghanistan and 'Palestine' for stoking up Muslim anger, an argument that completely ignored how many more Muslims were being killed at the hands of their co-religionists. Terrorism was viewed as an understandable response to the alleged perfidy of Israel and its western backers.
Ahmed himself criticised the knighthood offered to Salman Rushdie by claiming that the writer "had blood on his hands". Apparently the blood of innocent people had not been spilt by fanatics but by the writer himself.
The same kneejerk tendency to blame 'the other' is true in the wider Muslim world. Mahathir Muhammed, a former Prime Minister of Malaysia and a leading advocate of economic modernisation, raised a few eyebrows in 1997 when he blamed Jews for the collapse of his country's currency. But he had spent decades making virulently racist statements about the alleged designs of international Jewry.
This Jew baiting is far worse in the Palestinian territories. Hardly a day goes by without the media organs of Fatah or Hamas purporting to reveal some sinister Jewish plot to undermine Palestinian society. Whether the claim is that Zionists are trying to destroy the al Aqsa shrine or harvest the organs of dead Palestinians, the Jews are somehow to blame for Arab misfortunes.
There has even been a televised blood libel. In a TV series broadcast several years ago on Al Manar television, a Jewish figure was shown kidnapping a Christian child before using that child's blood to make matzah. This is the ultimate attempt to denigrate the Jews and suggest that they are a parasite within Muslim societies. They are portrayed as the cause of Muslim powerlessness and decline, just as Jews were blamed for undermining German society in the 1930s.
Even though such blatant anti-Semitism is not shared by the western intelligentsia, the idea that Israel's behaviour is the root cause of Islamist aggression has taken hold to an alarming extent.
The truth about radical Islam is, however, very different, and much more disturbing. Islamist terrorism is caused by a virulently anti-western ideology that builds on concepts deep within Islam itself. The ideology is nurtured and financed by Saudi petrodollars and spread through institutes, schools and religious establishments. And while Islamism is not necessarily the dominant expression of the faith today, it nonetheless enjoys widespread support in many leading Muslim countries, including Egypt and Pakistan.
Blaming the Jews and the west for Muslim aggression doesn't stand up to reality.
Nor does it make any sense in relation to the Palestinians. They have been offered a viable political settlement on four occasions since 1937, and twice since 2000. Were it not for the fanatical rejectionism of their leaders, there would now be a Palestinian state living alongside Israel. The Palestinians are not victims of Zionism but of their own political miscalculations.
Yet somehow blaming the Jews for the backwardness of Islamic societies has a seductive quality. In the black and white world so adored by conspiracy theorists, the ills of mankind require simplistic explanation. How much more satisfying to posit some insidious plot by rich and powerful Jews than to question one's own faith or political institutions. It is sheer intellectual laziness.
Lord Ahmed's comments have not appeared in a vacuum therefore. They reflect a very dangerous indulgence for conspiracy theories and Jew baiting in significant sections of the Islamic world, including among highly educated people.
If the Labour Party has even a shred of decency, it should expel the peer forthwith for his remarks. One doubts if many people will be holding their breath.
Jeremy Havardi is a journalist and the author of two books, Falling to Pieces, and The Greatest Briton
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