Douglas Murray on free speech – fine if you’re inciting hatred against Muslims, unacceptable if you’re condemning Israel’s war crimes

Following Sayeeda Warsi’s admirable decision to resign from the government over its shameful response to Israel’s genocidal war on Gaza, the BBC decided that it would be a good idea to invite the notorious Islamophobe, Douglas Murray of the Henry Jackson Society, to appear on Newsnight to discuss the issue.

Murray sneeringly described Warsi as having been “a bit of a nuisance” to David Cameron, asserted that her resignation was motivated not by political principle but by resentment at her failure to get a ministry of her own, and went on to accuse Warsi of “creating herself as effectively the minister for Muslims”.

Ming Campbell of the Liberal Democrats, who had to struggle against Murray’s attempts to talk over him, argued that Israel’s actions in Gaza amounted to a violation of international law. Murray replied that such criticisms of Israel had encouraged “a grassroots movement particularly of young Muslims in this country who feel very whipped up by this, and people like Ming Campbell and Sayeeda Warsi have to be extremely careful before they start accusing the state of Israel of war crimes”. Although Murray didn’t spell it out, the implication was that critics of the Israeli government were provoking violent extremism among Muslim youth.

Last week Murray appeared in a Spectator video of a debate with Ben Soffa of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign in which he made the same point, much more clearly. (Well, I say “debate”, but it ended up descending into a lengthy monologue by Murray, who is evidently unhappy listening to views that are contrary to his own.) Here Murray stated explicitly that those who claim the wholesale slaughter of civilians carried out by the IDF in Gaza amounts to a breach of international law are responsible for promoting antisemitic violence.

Murray warned that “you might get young Muslims and others who think Jews are responsible for this because Israel is committing war crimes … if they see very wilful throwing around of accusations of for instance war crimes, it’s not surprising, given that, some people will feel whipped up into thinking the way we will respond to this is to raise awareness by violence, by intimidation, by thuggery”. He declared: “if you do that kind of thing, you are whipping up mobs into action.” Those who accuse the Israeli government and armed forces of committing such crimes, Murray asserted, are “significantly fuelling attacks on Jews, hatred of Jews, around the world”.

Murray thinks he’s a very clever man, but apparently he lacks the intelligence to work out that the primary reason for outrage at Israel’s actions in Gaza is that large numbers of innocent people have been killed, including an estimated 373 children. Whether or not people argue that this mass slaughter is contrary to international law is an entirely secondary factor. What actually provokes anger is family homes reduced to rubble, bloodied corpses strewn around the blasted streets and the horrific sight of dead Palestinian babies.

The argument that the killings in Gaza should be categorised as war crimes is in any case hardly a fringe view. Two weeks ago, at an emergency conference of the UN Human Rights Council, Navi Pillay stated that Israel’s military offensive had not done enough to protect civilians. “There seems to be a strong possibility that international law has been violated, in a manner that could amount to war crimes,” she argued. According to Murray’s reasoning, the mere expression of that opinion amounted to the incitement of hatred and mob violence against Jews.

It is not difficult to see what is going on here. Murray’s objective is to suppress any questioning of the legality of Israel’s military policy in Gaza and discredit critics of Zionist state terrorism by painting them as antisemites.

Of course, Murray takes a very different approach to the incitement of hatred against Muslims. While he claims that forthright condemnation of Israel’s military policy in Gaza is unacceptable because it promotes violent antisemitism, when it comes to vilifying Muslims he is a belligerent defender of free speech, for himself and others who share his views, without showing the slightest concern for the possible consequences of their expressions of anti-Muslim sentiment.

In 2006 Murray was a featured speaker at the Pym Fortuyn Memorial Conference in The Hague, alongside people like Robert Spencer of Jihad Watch – the US anti-Muslim extremist banned from entering the UK last year, whom Murray has hailed as “a very brilliant scholar and writer”. In his speech Murray claimed that the “creeping increase of dhimmitude” was facilitating a Muslim takeover of the West and argued that, in order to counter the process of Islamification, “conditions for Muslims in Europe must be made harder across the board”.

Just imagine what Murray’s response would be if a supporter of the Palestinian cause reacted to the slaughter in Gaza by claiming that, in order to frustrate a plot to establish Jewish domination over society, “conditions for Jews in Europe must be made harder across the board”. Murray would furiously denounce this as the most revolting antisemitism, fuelling hatred and violence against the Jewish community – and in that case he would certainly be right. But Murray felt quite entitled to deploy the same appalling rhetoric himself, directed against Muslims.

Along with Robert Spencer, another of Murray’s heroes from the international “counterjihad” movement is the Danish Islamophobe and English Defence League admirer Lars Hedegaard. Murray indignantly condemned (“why do people keep trying to silence such defenders of free speech?”) the decision to prosecute Hedegaard over an interview in which he stated:

“When a Muslim man rapes a woman, it is his right to do so…. A loose woman, a woman who is not under the protection and the guidance of her guardian is basically free to be raped. If she moves around in the city without any guardian, you can freely rape her. She is your slave…. Sweden I think is probably the most prominent example of this in the West, where Swedish girls are raped. Gang-raped etc. etc. There is nothing wrong in it, viewed from an Islamic perspective. This is your right. You are even obliged to do that.”

If anything could be characterised as “whipping up mobs into action” it was that. Yet, in a puff-piece for the Spectator, Murray not only failed to criticise Hedegaard but dismissed this as “hate-speech” in ironic quotation marks, implying that it was nothing of the sort. He reserved his condemnation for Hope Not Hate who, entirely accurately, had included Hedegaard in their Counter-Jihad Report. Murray claimed, without providing any evidence whatsoever to back up the charge, that HNH were therefore to blame for inspiring an attack on Hedegaard.

So Murray’s attitude to freedom of expression is to say the least rather inconsistent. When he and his friends whip up hostility towards Muslims, even if they use the most vile and provocative language, they are merely exercising their right to free speech and bear no responsibility for the likely results of their inflammatory words. But when someone expresses an opinion that is opposed to Murray’s own views, whether on the “counterjihad” movement or the military policy of the state of Israel, he attempts to bully his critics into silence by falsely accusing them of inciting violence.

Some might say Murray is guilty of hypocritical double-talk, but I think that would be wrong. He could perhaps more accurately be accused of double-think. Murray is so arrogant, so convinced of the incontrovertibility of his own views and the intellectual inferiority of his opponents, so lacking in any capacity for self-criticism, that he genuinely fails to comprehend the contradictions and incoherence of his arguments.

First published by Islamophobia Watch in August 2014