Monday, 18 July 2011

A response to Richard Burden MP on racist extremism

Following up on my previous post about extremism in the Labour Party and the racist preacher Raed Salah…

On Friday 15 July, Harry’s Place ran an article on Richard Burden MP’s without-irony call for, at the same time, banning unpleasant Christian preacher John Hagee, while defending unpleasant Islamist preacher Raed Salah. When I retweeted this piece, highlighting what I thought a highly hypocritical stance, Richard responded to me with a comment that the article was "misleading" and a link to his website, where he has posted a defence of his position.

Although not entirely surprised by the arguments, it was Richard’s bizarre attempt to deflect criticism by turning the issue towards the deportation criteria of the Home Office, that finally led me to respond in the below letter:

Richard Burden MP
House Of Commons

18 July 2011

Dear Richard,

An open letter to Richard Burden MP

Thank you for sending me, via your tweet of 15 July, the link to your position statement on the issues of Pastor Hagee and Raed Salah: you have given me the opportunity to raise with you an issue that has been bothering me. Having read the statement, I felt it appropriate to give a more detailed reply than Twitter would allow.

I, like many other party members who support Palestine’s right to self-determination, am surprised at your recent actions. In particular, I am surprised you have chosen to ask parliamentary questions and issue a statement on your website about the extremism, racism and homophobia of Pastor Hagee, given your own agreement to share a platform with someone with not dissimilar views, Raed Salah, who happens to be an Israeli-Palestinian Muslim and not an American Christian.

By way of explanation, I should also like to comment on the part of your statement which refers to Sheik Salah:

1.                  I am surprised that you have decided to try and make this an issue of consistency of application of the law on deportation, when the real issue is whether or not we all, by our actions, should support people with reprehensible views. I do not support Pastor Hagee and, like you, find his views reprehensible. But his views and his entry to the UK, although they may provide a convenient distraction, are clearly irrelevant to the principal issue of the Raed Salah meeting in Parliament, which happened before this latest episode. I suspect, by the way, that Pastor Hagee will not be appearing on a platform with any other British MPs, and in that they will all have shown considerably better judgement than yourself, Jeremy Corbyn and Jenny Tonge.

2.                  You were scheduled to appear on a platform with a known racist with terrorist links. You may not accept this description, but you should at least consider the freely-available evidence:

a.                  You must know that he is a leader of the Islamic Movement, an organisation which is, essentially, one of the political wings of Hamas, an organisation internationally recognised as terrorist and having links to Al-Qaeda. The Hamas Charter contains elements which are manifestly racist. A good place to start is with Articles 22, 28 and 32, the latter of which refers to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a well-known racist diatribe against the Jewish race.

b.                  I should also point out the Islamic Movement’s mourning of the death of Osama Bin Laden. For avoidance of disputes over sources, you can see an original source document here in Arabic which, thanks to Google Translate, is nowadays easily understandable to anyone.

c.                  If you do not believe that is enough to link Salah with racist extremism, perhaps I can draw your attention to one of Salah’s racist poems. I do not have a copy of the original Islamic Movement journal in Arabic. However, the translation is reproduced in the Jerusalem Post and the Daily Telegraph and you are welcome to prove me wrong if you truly believe it never appeared there.

d.                  Finally, if you still require proof of Salah’s racism and homophobia, I should like you to watch the following short video, showing Salah’s laughingly recalling in an interview how he drew a Swastika on a Jewish teacher’s blackboard as a child. Not particularly funny, I’m sure you’d agree. He also makes clear his views on homosexuality, which he calls a “a great crime”. This is not allegation. It is fact.

3.                  It is irrelevant whether or not you met Mr Salah prior to the meeting.

4.                 Your defence of your position on Salah seems entirely inadequate:

a.                  It is not enough to say “He denied the statements that had been attributed to him”, i.e. that he claimed not to be a racist. Racists often deny that they are racist.

b.                  Neither is it enough to say he has not been convicted of race-related offences, if you think there is a reasonable chance of conviction. Charges are proceeding against him with regard to hate speech, as I’m sure you know. Your assumption seems to be that you are certain he will be acquitted. Also, to state the obvious, there are leading members of the BNP who do not have criminal records: it does not mean we should share a platform with them.

c.                  Neither is it enough to say “I am not aware of any evidence being produced to back up the allegations”. Just because you are not aware of any evidence, does not mean that evidence does not exist, or that you could not, with a few minutes on Google, locate such evidence.

To be clear, what concerns many is not whether Salah has or has not been convicted of criminal offences, but whether his actions indicate him to be a suitable person with whom to share a platform. He is not.

5.                  People in public positions cannot afford to wait for someone to be convicted of a crime in order to take sensible precautions about the image of their party that they are displaying to the world. The fact that the meeting was also in the Houses of Parliament clearly runs the additional, exacerbating risk of bringing Parliament into disrepute, for which reason the authorities rightly clamped down on the meeting. I cannot understand how you cannot see this as a problem and that you continue to feel that you, Salah and the PSC were unfairly treated. You can rest assured that this is not a view which is remotely widely-held in either the rest of the party or the country.

6.                  If a holder of public office does not take elementary precautions to check with which people they will appear, and do the necessary research as to whether they are suitable, it is a natural corollary that their fitness for that public office is likely to be called into question.

In this context of the above, I am sure you can see that the side issue of deportation and consistency of Home Office rules comes across as something of a red herring.

Richard, I believe you to be an honourable man who believes he is helping the cause of self-determination for Palestine, which I believe to be a noble one. But it seems quite clear, from the cross-party support which the actions of the government enjoyed, that the the actions of you and your colleagues surrounding this meeting of the PSC have done nothing to further it, or the good name of our party, the Labour Party. Indeed, quite the reverse.

A good start might be to admit your mistake and apologise.

I look forward to hearing your response to the above and particularly to the evidence in point 2.

Yours sincerely

Rob Marchant
The Centre Left


UPDATE: Later that day, I received the following response from Richard by email:

Dear Rob,
Thank you for your letter.  I think most reasonable people reading my website, tweets and other statements would consider my position on these matters to be both consistent and clear. I am sorry if you do not consider them to be so but perhaps we are just going to have to agree to differ about that.
Yours sincerely
Richard Burden MP
Birmingham Northfield

Well, Richard. Your position is that you are "not aware of any evidence being produced to back up the allegations". You now have the evidence in the links above. You have, really, no excuse to continue supporting this racist.

If, having read this, you yourself would like to respond to Richard Burden MP, you can do so at

This post was linked at a mini-post at Harry's Place.

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