By Arab News
By Neil Berry
The London columnist Melanie Phillips has been maniacal in her insistence that multiculturalism is leading inexorably to the Islamization of British society and the undermining of Britain as a secular democracy.
A shrill scourge of the liberal intelligentsia who is also a furious Zionist, Phillips is regarded by much educated British opinion as barely distinguishable from a fanatic. This, though, has not stopped her from being a regular guest on BBC television and radio discussion programs. Nor has it seemed likely that anything would ever compromise her standing as a veteran contributor to British public debate.
Yet at a stroke the Norwegian mass-murderer Anders Behring Breivik has rendered Phillips’ fulminations suspect in a way reasoned argument never could. The laudatory remarks about her attacks on immigration and multiculturalism in his voluminous Internet manifesto will not quickly be forgotten, any more than will his approbation of the Islamophobic, far-right English Defense League (EDL). Inescapably, an association has been planted in the public mind between her cast of thinking and Breivik’s destructive rampage. For all that Phillips may insist that he also invoked Churchill and Gandhi, in crude PR terms she has taken a considerable hit. She has suffered what the PR industry infelicitously terms “reputational damage,” and her typically screeching riposte that it is outrageous to implicate her in Breivik’s killing spree is unlikely to have undone that damage.
It must be said that not everything Phillips has to say can be dismissed as part of a deliberately alarmist anti-Islamic agenda. Muslim extremism remains a major cause for concern in Britain: witness the case of the British-born Bilal Zaheer Ahmad, jailed in July for 12 years for posting Internet messages exhorting Muslims to kill British MPs who supported the Iraq war. Phillips has, moreover, been right to lash the British security services for the ludicrous laxity of their handling of some notably menacing Muslims, such as the rabble-rousing radical cleric, Abu Hamza, who was permitted to remain at liberty long after there was compelling evidence to justify his arrest.
Yet the vision she projects of a Europe at the mercy of Islamization is the stuff of lurid fantasy. It is scarcely less absurd than the notion of the entire Muslim world being overwhelmed and de-sacralized by Western consumerism. The irony is that in being allowed to purvey views that exacerbate prejudice and misunderstanding she has been lavishly indulged by the very liberal establishment she abhors. Though not infrequently the object of her bile, the BBC has been one of her chief sponsors, lending its imprimatur to an inflammatory commentator who misses no opportunity to demonize all who disagree with her, often smearing principled critics of Israel as anti-Semites and accusing them of preparing the way for a fresh Jewish Holocaust.
It is indeed remarkable how far Phillips has been spared routine identification as a vendor of toxic opinions. Like Rupert Murdoch, she has perhaps yet to grasp that an era has come to an end. It would be understandable if she and Murdoch alike were currently contending with acute “cognitive dissonance,” a fundamental inability to reconcile their internal picture of the world with wholly unanticipated external developments.
None of this is to suggest of course that Melanie Phillips bears responsibility for Breivik’s macabre deeds. Yet beyond question she has done much to nurture a paranoid mental climate vis-à-vis Islam in Britain and beyond. Beyond question, too, she has helped to popularize the belief that politicians long conspired to deny what she contends is the infallible upshot of multiculturalism: Islamic separatism leading to extremism that in turn leads to terrorism. If British Prime Minister David Cameron has sought political advantage by linking multiculturalism with Islamist terror, it is in no small measure thanks to the demagoguery of Phillips and others like her. In many respects, she has been the respectable British face of vicious racist hostility toward Islam, and it is perhaps no accident that Phillips and the neo-fascist EDL were closely linked in Anders Breivik’s diseased mind.
One of the effects of the salience of Phillips’s views in the mainstream media has been to deflect attention from the threat posed by far-right extremism. Last week, on BBC television’s current affairs program Newsnight, the leader of the EDL, Stephen Lennon, spoke in apocalyptic terms, warning that the Oslo massacre was going to be replicated on British soil if the concerns of his movement regarding the Islamization of Britain are not addressed as a matter of urgency. Though Lennon denied he was issuing a threat, how else could such an outburst be interpreted? Effectively, the EDL leader was saying to Britain’s rulers: pay heed to the anti-Muslim bigotry that I and my movement represent or face the appalling consequences.
It would be rash to make light of the EDL leader’s portentous words, even if it is no more than an embattled minority who share his vision of a country where “British” values prevail and Muslims occupy at best the role of a deferential minority ever mindful of the need to proclaim their allegiance to those values. What is certain, though, is that today’s vastly heterogeneous Britain is not about to be remade in the image of a political faction that dreams of English racial purity. Least of all is there any prospect of widespread assent to the EDL’s Zionism, its cynical, Muslim-baiting admiration for Israel as an exemplary Western democracy.
The amazing thing about Melanie Phillips and the EDL is their conviction that they alone stand for sanity in a world gone mad. It seems unlikely that when it comes to multiculturalism Breivik’s actions have given Phillips or the leadership of the EDL the smallest pause. Yet the massacre perpetrated by the warped Islamophobic Norwegian has almost certainly given pause to millions of others. It is, perhaps, a modest cause for hope that those millions may include not a few who were hitherto highly susceptible to Britain’s professional peddlers of racist intolerance.
— The author can be reached at [email protected]