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Jess Phillips reveals the moral cowardice of the elites

Why won’t anyone in the establishment be honest about the threat posed by Islamic sectarianism?

Brendan O'Neill

Brendan O'Neill
chief political writer

Topics Politics UK

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A rabbi rounded on by a mob and denounced as a ‘snake’. An election candidate hounded off the streets by people calling him a ‘Zionist devil’. Young female leafleteers harassed by older men bellowing ‘genocide’ in their faces. Voters told they will face the wrath of God if they make the wrong decision in the polling station. Tyres slashed, campaign offices daubed with the deathly slur, ‘Zionist child killer’, in blood-red paint. Where did these sectarian obscenities occur? Iran, perhaps? Turkey? Actually, it was right here, in Britain, in 2024, during the General Election.

Anyone still denying that we have a serious problem of Islamist intolerance has now officially crossed the line from ignorance to complicity. Islamic sectarianism burst into public view over the past six weeks. Numerous independent Muslim candidates stood for election, fuelled by anger over the war in Gaza. Some were successful. Shockat Adam, who said he was standing ‘for the people of Gaza’, beat Labour’s Jonathan Ashworth in Leicester South. ‘Pro-Gaza’ independents won the seats of Blackburn and Dewsbury and Batley. Both Jess Phillips in Birmingham Yardley and Wes Streeting in Ilford North came close to losing their seats to candidates standing on a ticket of rage with Israel.

And in some of these areas, the campaigning got ugly. Very ugly. Jews were harassed, women were bullied, Allah was invoked against any infidel thinking of voting for the ‘pro-genocide’ Labour Party. There were possibly even crimes. Police in the West Midlands have said they are aware of a ‘number of incidents’ of potential ‘criminal damage and harassment’ in the run-up to voting day in Birmingham Yardley.

It isn’t ‘Islamophobic’ to talk about this culture of menace, these flashes of intimidation that attended some of the ‘pro-Gaza’ electioneering. On the contrary, anyone who cares for democracy, for the right of citizens to campaign for office without being subjected to bigoted tirades or threats of God’s rage, will want to know how this ominous culture came about, and what we might do about it.

It was in Bury South in Manchester that a rabbi was publicly harassed and damned as a ‘snake’. It was Rabbi Arnold Saunders, the Conservative candidate for the area. A video clip shows him trembling as he is surrounded by hostile men outside a mosque, one of whom demands that he ‘condemn the IDF’ and says how dare you come here and ‘smile like a snake’. It was Labour’s Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi, who was seeking re-election in Slough in Berkshire, who was chased away by hollers of ‘Zionist devil’. He was handing out flyers outside a mosque when a group of men began to ‘hurl invective’ at him. ‘You’ve got the blood of Palestinian children on your hands’, one cried. ‘You Zionist devil, get out!’, said another. Dhesi fled the area.

It was the Conservative candidate for High Peak in Derbyshire – Robert Largan – whose campaign office was defaced with the blood-coloured slur of ‘Zionist child killer’. And it was in Jess Phillips’ seat of Birmingham Yardley that tyres were allegedly slashed and young women were bullied, with one being ‘screamed at by a much older man’ and another having the word ‘genocide’ bellowed in her face. It was there that voters were told that ‘God will judge them if they vote a certain way’. Phillips has described the run-up to voting day as ‘gruesome’ and the ‘worst election I have ever stood in’. The truth of this was brought home to the rest of us at the electoral count for Birmingham Yardley where Ms Phillips was barracked by ‘pro-Gaza’ campaigners and constantly interrupted with cries of ‘Free Palestine!’ and ‘Shame on you!’.

Phillips was challenged by a ‘pro-Gaza’ Workers’ Party candidate called Jody McIntyre, who managed to slash her majority from 13,141 to just 693. He described himself as a ‘consistent voice for the Palestinian people’. His election posters were emblazoned with the Palestinian flag. There were signs in Birmingham Yardley saying, ‘Vote for genocide, Vote Labour’, the implication being that Labourites like Phillips are the handmaidens of ‘Zionist murder’. (Even though Phillips resigned from Labour’s front bench last year to vote for a ceasefire in Gaza.) The campaigning tactics of some of McIntyre’s supporters were so ‘gruelling’, said Phillips, that she decided not to bring her children to the electoral count because she knew she would be harassed. And she was.

Things weren’t much better in the neighbouring constituency of Birmingham Ladywood. There, another Labour woman – Shabana Mahmood – also described a campaign ‘sullied by harassment and intimidation’. Ms Mahmood’s majority was cut from 32,000 to 3,421, largely courtesy of Akhmed Yakoob, a ‘pro-Gaza’ independent who won 12,137 votes. Yakoob holds some – how should we say it? – questionable views. He has ‘joked about domestic violence’, according to the Guardian, and he says that ‘70 per cent of hell will be women’. If there had been a white far-right bloke standing against a Labour woman who had cracked gags about misogynistic violence and whose campaigning style was ‘sullied by harassment and intimidation’, the radical left would be up in arms. Yet on Yakoob, they’ve been curiously silent. In fact, they’re cheering the ‘pro-Gaza’ independents for delivering a blow to the prestige of Keir Starmer’s new government.

The double standards of Britain’s left really are something to behold. When a few hard-right white blokes set up camp in Parliament Square in 2019 to bark insults at anti-Brexit MPs and journalists, the left wildly fretted over a ‘return of fascism’. Yet they’ve essentially shrugged their shoulders over the bullying of young women in Birmingham Yardley, the harassment of leafleteers and the iffy tactics of a candidate who once joked about violence against women. When a white working-class man with a beer belly says ‘Brexit now!’, they crap their pants and run for their bunkers. Yet when Islamist-leaning campaigners conjure up God’s fury with infidels and call a rabbi a ‘snake’, they say nothing. Fascism is fine sometimes, it seems.

Even those who have finally clocked that there’s a problem in parts of the UK are still refusing to name it. Even Jess Phillips, for all her impassioned anger with the men who bullied her and her supporters, will not say out loud what might be motivating these men. She still won’t name the ideology that possibly underpins their agitation with ‘strong women’, and their venomous hatred for the Jewish State above all other states, and their arrogant conviction that God will rain down judgement on any pathetic mortal who votes Labour or Tory. In her victory speech in Birmingham Ladywood, Shabana Mahmood said: ‘British politics must soon wake up to what happened at this election.’ Okay. But what did happen? What is the thing we must wake up to? What is it called? We hear condemnations of a culture, but the culture always remains unnamed.

People seem genuinely terrified of saying the i-word. They will not say ‘Islamic sectarianism’, or ‘Islamic intolerance’, or ‘Islamism’. If Christian fundamentalists had called a Jewish candidate a ‘snake’, we would name their fundamentalism and we would ridicule it. If alt-right activists had harassed young female campaigners on the streets, we would name their alt-right tendencies and we would criticise them. And yet when Islamist-leaning campaigners do these things, the right-thinking sections of society either look the other way or they condemn the behaviour without naming the thinking behind it. How can you tackle something, how can you ‘wake up’ to something, if you won’t say what it is?

In a sense, we shouldn’t be surprised. For years the political class, including the Labour establishment, has been running scared of naming this ideology that troubles us. From the grooming-gangs scandal to acts of Islamist terrorism (even saying ‘Islamist terrorism’ can get you into trouble these days), there has been a wilful refusal among the elites to discuss the specific ideological and religious nature of some of these events. This moral cowardice springs from a combination of cloying elitist pity for the Muslim community, who are presumed to be incapable of discussing some of the social problems in their midst, and an equally elitist fear and loathing of the white masses, who are looked upon as a mob-in-waiting who might pounce on their Muslim neighbours if we say too much about Islamist terrorism or Muslim grooming gangs. This cowardice is embodied in someone like Ms Phillips. Yes, she was brave to stand up to the men who jeered her on election night, but behind that facade was the same old craven reluctance to even hint at what these men might represent.

The reason liberals and leftists refuse to say the i-word – even when Islamists are harassing rabbis or marching in the streets to demand further jihad against the Jewish State – is because they don’t want to give succour to ‘Islamophobia’ and ‘racism’. I propose that the true racism here is not in wanting a frank discussion of ethnic separatism and Islamist chauvinism, but rather in refusing to discuss these things because you think Muslims are so fragile and vulnerable that the truth might hurt them. It is this patrician approach, this paternalistic urge to shield a minority community from debate, that really reduces Muslims to second-class citizens. Those of us who see Muslims as equal citizens must noisily reject any such silencing of difficult discussion.

Let us speak up, then. There is a reactionary if amorphous movement of Islamist-leaning ideas in this country, and it is a menace to women, Jews, democracy, reason and Muslims, too. Confronting it is essential. Naming it even more so.

Brendan O’Neill is spiked’s chief political writer and host of the spiked podcast, The Brendan O’Neill Show. Subscribe to the podcast here. His new book – A Heretic’s Manifesto: Essays on the Unsayable – is available to order on Amazon UK and Amazon US now. And find Brendan on Instagram: @burntoakboy

Picture by: Getty.

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Topics Politics UK

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