Posted by on June 22, 2017 at 1:52 pm

James Mendelsohn

James Mendelsohn is a  Senior Lecturer in the Law School.  In this blog he talks about how the recent terror attacks in the UK have once again brought issues surrounding extremism and incitement into sharp focus.

“Recent terror attacks in the UK have once again brought issues surrounding extremism and incitement into sharp focus. So too has last Sunday’s “Al Quds Day” march, which was sandwiched between the atrocities in central London and Finsbury Park. In this context, some of the language used in relation to Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, has been particularly concerning.

Al Quds Day

The Al Quds Day rallies originated in Iran following the 1979 Islamic Revolution. They are now held in a number of other countries too, and typically call for the destruction of the state of Israel and the downfall of the USA. In the UK, the annual London rally has drawn attention in recent years owing (among other reasons) to the parading of the Hezbollah flag. Hezbollah’s military wing has been proscribed in the UK as a terrorist organisation since 2008. It is therefore unsurprising that, following the Manchester and London Bridge attacks, many called for this year’s march to be banned; or, at least, for a ban on the parading of Hezbollah flags. (In the event, the rally went ahead and drew attention not only for the flags but also for some of its rhetoric.)

Sadiq Khan

It is concerning, however, that some have singled out Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, for failing to prevent the march from taking place, in spite of pleas for him to do so. As pointed out by the Campaign Against Antisemitism (“CAA”), and as acknowledged by Khan himself, however, the Mayor does not have the statutory power to ban the march. Indeed, CAA explicitly notes that:

“despite various calls from within the Jewish community for the Mayor of London to take action against this procession, he has no statutory power to do so and criticism of him for failing to exercise a power he does not possess is misplaced. Both the Mayor and the Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime have been very helpful in facilitating contact with the right people within the Metropolitan Police Service, and we are grateful to them for their efforts.

Under existing public order and counter-terrorism legislation, the only person with the ultimate power to stop the march would have been the Home Secretary, Amber Rudd. This has not prevented some from blaming Khan for failing to exercise a power he does not possess; and, in some cases, specifically linking this to fact that he is a Muslim. Here are just a few examples (typos etc in the originals):

“Appalling but not surprising. We have a Muslim mayor, so God help us.”

“Well fancy that! And as the London Mayor IS a Muslim – well surprise surprise!”

“Khan is Muslim And he is using his job as a hobby horse which there must be rules against folks should ask for him to be investigated to see if he is using his post to influence people to his religion . If so that should be a sackable offence Split illegencies he should only have illegence to the crown while in a Job like this leave Islam at the door.”

A number of other examples are documented here.

“Dual loyalty”

Such comments seem virtually indistinguishable from the traditional antisemitic libel that British Jews cannot be trusted because they supposedly owe greater allegiance to Israel or to alleged global Jewish interests than they do to the UK. This libel has been expressed or echoed by various individuals and publications in recent years, including the former diplomat Sir Oliver Miles, the Labour MP Paul Flynn, the New Statesman and the Daily Mail.

If it is unacceptable to make such comments about British Jews, it should be equally unacceptable to make such comments about British Muslims. Clearly, this does not mean that Khan’s record on Islamist extremism cannot be scrutinised. What it does mean, however, is that he needs to be held to the same standard as other politicians, rather than being the subject of special attention simply because he is a Muslim. To single him out for failing to exercise a power he does not have, and to link this to his Muslim faith, is as objectionable as suggesting that Jews in public roles work against the interests of the UK or the US.

Words matter

The language of anti-Muslim prejudice often mirrors the language of antisemitism. Often, however, those who are rightly concerned about the one, fail to spot the similarities with the other. If extremism of all hues is to be defeated, both types of prejudice need to consistently and vigorously condemned.”

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