Did I ever tell you about the time I had to debate rape culture, Islamophobia and radicalisation on a typically balanced BBC TV panel comprising me, a Muslim, a feminist Labour MP, a Muslim feminist and another Muslim, with two lefties presenting and about another 50 in the studio audience?
‘Never again,’ I said to myself afterwards. But I know it’s a lesson that I’m never going to learn, for at least three good reasons.
- The bookers for these programmes are so charmingly persuasive. (They have to be because they have so few right-wing people in their contact books that they’ll do almost anything to get you on.)
- Being on TV is probably better than not being on TV.
- You always kid yourself that this time it’s going to be different.
It never is, though, as I really ought to have realised the moment I arrived at the venue, a warehouse somewhere appropriately youthful and echt in Manchester, and the production team and my fellow panellists were so nice and welcoming.
‘Ooh, they really like me and respect my views and intend to give me a fair hearing,’ I thought as I joined them for a beer and a nerve-calming fag.
Not a bit of it. The reason I was there was for the reason right-wing pundits are always there — as the token nutjob, invited only to give a semblance of statutory balance and to act as a sacrificial victim (not unlike the prisoners the Aztecs used to dress up in glorious feathers and treat like royalty in the minutes prior to cutting out their still-beating hearts and kicking their bodies down the pyramid steps).
It’s the same pretty much whatever show you go on, from Sunday Morning Live to Question Time and Any Questions. Partly it’s genuine politeness (they really are happy that you were stupid enough to submit to this ordeal), partly it’s to lull you into the appropriate sense of false security so that when finally you’re thrown to the wolves your astonishment is more dramatic.
This Manchester experience, though, was in a different league of awfulness. The first question — from the audience — was about why it was that so many young British Muslims are becoming radicalised. As one after another of my fellow panelists ducked the issue with mendacious pieties about ‘Islamophobia’ and ‘foreign policy’, I realised with slo-mo dawning horror that when my turn came I would have one of two options: either I would make nicey-nice with glib nothings like all the other dissemblers, cowards and apologists either side of me. Or I would be the character in the H.M. Bateman cartoon: ‘The Man who said it has Everything to do with Islam’.
As Orwell once said: ‘In times of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act.’ Well rarely have I vented my inner Che more than I did that night in Manchester, not just on the subject of Islamic radicalisation, but also on such issues as ‘rape culture’, which the other panelists seemed keen to pretend was a genuine problem, but which I had to point out was pure fantasy a paranoid invention of third-wave feminists and social-justice warriors with no evidential basis in the national crime statistics whatsoever.
The only parts of Britain where the term might apply, I heroically/suicidally went on, were places like Rotherham, where at least 300 young girls had been groomed and raped by gangs of Muslim men. ‘Well someone had to say it,’ I thought. But apparently I was the only one in studio who thought so. It had been in the newspapers for weeks, yet as far as the audience, my fellow panelists and the two comperes were concerned, I might as well have made the whole thing up. Not one rose to back up my point. Not one!
At least not until an exceptionally brave member of the audience stuck up her hand and said that a friend of hers had been abused by one of these very rape gangs. But far from inviting her to elaborate on this point, the (Cambridge-educated) compere just couldn’t get his mic away fast enough.
We’ll go on doing it, of course, we Douglas Murrays and David Starkeys and Mel Phillipses and Peter Hitchenses and other swivel-eyed loons of the rabid right. Not because we much enjoy it or because we’re going to get a remotely fair hearing or for the (miserly) fee but because we know that if we don’t tell it like it is, no one will.