December 12, 2005

Engaging with MPAC UK...or not

There has been quite a lengthy, though not entirely accurate or definitive, post on the recent Muslim Public Affairs Committee's meeting titled "The Big Debate: Zionism: the real enemy of the Jews", at the Engage and Harry's Place websites so I won't bother trying to remember the whole thing here. Rather I want to explain why I thought it was necessary to engage with MPAC whilst noting that those who believe we should Engage with racist war criminals believe that we should not engage with their opponents and critics. This is a cut from my own post to the Just Peace list. The first post here is from Linda Grant.
I don't think anti-Zionism is ant-semitic. Never have done. You might even say that some of my best friends are anti-Zionists. But I do think that making up conspiracy theories about shadowy cabals of Zionists out to control the world; using language like 'cockroaches', 'parasites' etc to describe Zionists, is a re-treading of archetypal anti-semitic doscourse, with the word Zionist inserted where Jew used to be.
Now as it happens I thought that Linda was referring to MPAC but she wasn't, she was referring to some stuff at the Durban conference. Anyway, here's my response.
Are you referring to MPACUK? If so I don't think they actually make up conspiracy theories though many of them seem to believe a few and the imagery they have used whilst offensive to those of us who are well versed in European history is not so to those who are mostly first generation Brits (I believe from Pakistan). Rather than getting in their faces and accusing them of being "racist scum" I think a bit of engagement is quite helpful. Of course the zionists' propensity for exaggerating and fabricating anti-semitic incidents is no help here. And when the best that zionists can offer to explain America's largely uncritical diplomatic, military and financial support for Israel is to say that "Israel is the only democracy in the middle east" or even refer to the holocaust, then conspiracy theorists have an open field and the fact that zionists can get meetings banned with one phone call because of religious "intolerance" or some such has the same effect.

I see from Harry's Place that people who think that ethnic cleansing is perfectly acceptable if the perpetrators are Jewish think that dehumanising imagery makes for "racist scum" if the subjects are zionists or Jews. This isn't mere hypocrisy, it's a deliberate distraction.

I think Stephen Marks got it right when he paraphrased The Life of Brian - he's (some MPAC chap) not anti-semitic, he's a very silly boy.

The Harry's Place (I'm not accusing you [that's Linda Grant] of being a Harry's Placer but it makes similar reading to Nick Cohen's ridiculous "anti-semitism" article and comments http://www.nickcohen.net/?p=13) and to the Engage site) contributors at the meeting castigated MPAC for having two anti-semitic articles one of which linked to David Duke. I actually phoned the woman who posted it and she had clearly never even heard of David Duke, she simply copied and pasted what, in her naivete, she believed was a straightforward anti-zionist article that someone had sent to her. They removed the offending articles and for that they were accused of dishonesty. It was said at the meeting (I think by me) that they had apologised for the offending pieces and that they had removed them because they were wrong but, feeling they were on a roll, one of the Harry's Placers then accused them of anti-semitism for referring to Cameron's victory as "Likud wins" as anti-semitic when it was just plain silly (as Stephen Marks said at the meeting to the embarrassment of the MPAC speaker). The "Likud Wins" headline was based on celebrations at the Conservative Friends of Israel for Cameron's victory.

I think at a time when Muslims are being told by ministers that they can expect disproportionate police attention and that a man can be shot several times in the head for looking like he might be a Muslim, principled anti-racists should be engaging with Muslims rather than waiting for them to put this or that foot wrong and then sneering at them and denouncing them when they do. I feel that, at the time of writing, MPAC can be engaged with and I hope I'm not wrong. Zionists, of course, will hope that I am wrong and they will actually want a Muslim group to be anti-semitic to justify the racist rule that zionists themselves support.

Incidentally, out of the three speakers, Stephen Marks got the most applause for his insights into history, his criticisms of the Alan Hart book and for his criticisms of some of MPAC's articles, in particular the propensity for conspiracy theories and grotesque imagery.
I referred above to inaccuracy in the Harry's Place or Engage write ups. In one of them (maybe both) it is said that the only counter-argument to the panel came from the Harry's Place people and a heckler (that is three in total) and yet the first person to speak complained of MPAC's "parochialism" in only addressing Muslims and the second one complained that the MPAC speaker was "patronising". Also, as I said above, the speakers didn't all agree with each other. In particular Stephen Marks was critical of Alan Hart's book, which I would describe, from what little I have read, as rather eccentric.

UPDATE: see this post on Indigo Jo Blogs
And surely, the most important concern for a "Public Affairs Committee" is its own public affairs; if they cannot look after their own, how can they look after anyone else's? One might remember the collapse of Sophie Rhys-Jones' PR career after she told Mazhar Mahmood (in his fake-sheikh persona) what she thought of a whole load of royals and other public figures. I have never believed that MPAC are a racist or malicious organisation, but the nuances of anti-Zionist versus anti-Semite will be lost on any observer who reads continual accusations of Zionist conspiracies whenever the author experiences some difficulty or other. Unless you have evidence that there is a Jewish conspiracy, don't talk of one! And "evidence" does not mean that something did not go your way! You need to understand your audience, and in this country the audience may well be sympathetic to Palestinian rights issues, but they also know that conspiracy theories commonly emanate from malicious or unhinged people, and commonly results in one's argument being dismissed out of hand as the howlings of a moonbat. This is, in fact, how MPACUK are viewed by a fair number of observers at the moment.

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