Sunday, 22 March 2009

An olive branch to Nick Cohen

Many of us were unimpressed by Nick Cohen's column last Sunday, since his unguided missile polemic was so much at odds with the actualite. I am calling time on the blog war, since the point has been made (and since I have put my challenge about the facts formally to the Obs to resolve).

So today's Observer carries a rather gentle letter from liberal-lefties, British Muslim and otherwise, who have been working to challenge violence and extremist ideologies, and to construct the shared British citizenship we need.

Nick Cohen is wrong about the liberal-left

Nick Cohen needs to find a new column to write. Yet again last Sunday, he declaimed that the liberal-left has failed to engage or support liberal Muslims, asserting that leading voices and institutions refuse to challenge Islamist extremism as well as opposing the BNP. But this is nonsense. It can be easily disproved by what we have all said and done.

Many of us have been working consistently together to secure the liberal and democratic values we want our shared society to promote and uphold, against erosion from every direction and extremism from every source. Innovative projects to challenge extremism and promote a shared British citizenship led by a diverse range of democratic Muslim voices such as the Radical Middle Way, Muslims for Secular Democracy, City Circle, Progressive British Muslims and New Generation Network have had strong engagement from groups such as the Fabian Society, ippr, Demos and Liberal Conspiracy, openDemocracy and Democratic Audit.

But too often, too many in the media prefer to give platforms to the most extreme, polarising and least representative voices and crowd out the mainstream conversation we believe most of our fellow citizens want to have. We make a comradely call on Nick Cohen to stop shouting, to rejoin the conversation, engage with the work going on across the liberal-left and to become part of the solution.

Sunder Katwala Fabian Society; Navid Akhtar; Fareena Alam, Fuad Nahdi Radical Middle Way; Yasmin Alibhai-Brown; Anthony Barnett Convention for Modern Liberty; Farmida Bi Progressive British Muslims; Yahya Birt, Usama Hasan, Asim Siddiqui City Circle; Rachel Briggs; Tony Curzon-Price openDemocracy; Sunny Hundal Liberal Conspiracy; Dilwar Hussain Policy Research Centre; James MacIntyre New Statesman; Dr Nasar Meer, Prof Tariq Modood Bristol University; Peter Oborne; Ed Owen; Chuka Umunna Labour ppc for Streatham; Stuart Weir Democratic Audit

We would of course be happy to arrange for Nick to meet and talk with some of this group about the work they are doing, and his own concern about whether and how extremism is being challenged. And Nick's tour for his latest book ('Waiting for the Etonians') sees him in conversation with Tariq Modood at the Bristol festival of ideas on May 12th. (Next Left will need a reporter: volunteers welcome!). A particular thank you to Sunny Hundal of Liberal Conspiracy for his in mobilising a liberal counter-attack.

The most extreme ranters never find it difficult to command media attention. Most British Muslims reject their wrong-headed message that the Muslim faith is incompatible with our democratic society, yet the busy reader of the Daily Express or Daily Mail must undoubtedly risk getting the opposite impression, and would never know about the range of efforts to challenge extremism.

We should - and do - expect a higher standard from the liberal press, and from public broadcasters too. Extremism must be challenged. I hope too that opinion formers and decision-makers in the media will now think more seriously about why they tend to give so little attention and voice to all of those with something positive and constructive to offer.

Failing to do that would be the real betrayal of liberal values - and of liberal Muslims too.

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Sunder Katwala said...
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