Kilroy-Silk mustn't stop Muslim self-criticism

Do we really want to relocate the Zionist paranoia which silences anyone who disapproves of the actions of the Israeli government?
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There is great jubilation at Robert Kilroy-Silk finding himself humiliatingly cut off the airwaves by his paymasters for a scurrilous attack on Arabs in his column in the Sunday Express, the latest of many blasts which one has come to expect of him. Much as I love to sound off, I consistently refuse to appear on Kilroy. One must have some standards in life.

After much too long, the BBC took the dramatic step of suspending the programme. Mr Kilroy-Silk is ever so slick, ever so rich, ever so irresistible to himself and others as he slinks between guests like an expensive Siamese cat. He provokes, flirts, soothes punters, encourages the verbally incontinent, all the while showing off his handsome hair. (L'Oreal should immediately offer him a contract.) How will he now survive without his milch cow? Because he absolutely believes he is worth it, worth millions of pounds of our licence fee money, paid by the very people he constantly slanders. Here is a choice sample of past remarks:

"The orgy of thieving in Iraq has more to do with the character of the people than the absence of restraining troops";

"Why don't they tell us the truth? Why imply the increase in promiscuity is due to promiscuity amongst the young, indigenous population when it is almost entirely due to immigration?";

"Are you fed up of some bleating blacks and Asians blaming their own failures on how their forefathers were exploited by the British Empire?";

Of British Muslims who criticize Britain: "They can clear off to Islamabad any time they wish";

And, of course, his description of the Irish as "peasants, priests and pixies'.

The BBC deserves a ringing endorsement for this action. It can't have been easy; and won't get any easier as the days go on. Various critics are stalking the corporation at present. They want to disable, weaken, shrink the power of the BBC for political and commercial reasons. (Tessa Jowell has personally reassured me that New Labour is not full of vengeance post the Gilligan confrontation and that charter review will be entirely fair. I believe her but am not sure others in the Cabinet are to be trusted on this.)

The clamour is about already, started by Kilroy-Silk, his secretary and his friend Jonathan Aitken. This is "censorship", "political correctness gone mad". We are told Black and Asian people work for him; appear on his show. The Commission for Racial Equality, which has reported the presenter to the police for incitement to racial hatred, is also likely to face the rage of right-wing warriors.

There are also some liberal bigots in this club of freedom fighters. They would be very wounded indeed to be described as old reactionaries but they too fiercely demand absolute freedoms to say what they wish and hang the consequences. The actor John Hurt was the latest of these. Interesting that he is about to play Alan Clark on the BBC, a hideous supremacist adored as a lovable rogue by millions, including lefties. Hurt defended aspects of Enoch Powell's views on immigration. How brave they think they are when they do this; how they whinge when robustly opposed. With so many media outlets determinedly un-PC, just what is valiant about these people?

I am sure we will hear from them this week as they dismiss calls for responsible discourse for a greater good. During the Rushdie affair, liberal writers, politicians and journalists - among them Fay Weldon, Conor Cruise O'Brien, Bernard Levin and even Roy Jenkins - let rip against all Muslims the world over because of the death threat passed on Rushdie by an Iranian leader.

It was a terrible time to be a Muslim in this country. From the New Statesman to the Sun, hateful anti-Muslim comments were a daily diet that we had to live with, choking back the sense of injustice and powerlessness. We had few friends then among the influential elite and no way at all of getting our voices heard.

Time has brought some sense and understanding among many Britons. I shall forever be grateful that, when 11 September erupted, all British newspapers and broadcast outlets understood that they had to act responsibly and they did, making sure that they described villains accurately. They also worked hard to explain the best of Islam. Change has also been brought about by Muslims and other Black and Asian Britons who have become more articulate, assertive, organised and have finally, in still miserably small numbers, entered some key institutions. They can now organise, and did over Kilroy-Silk's comments. He hasn't understood that the world has changed.

But this new Muslim power brings new obligations too, and dangers. Does this victory mean that all Muslim countries, communities and cultures become protected zones where no honest observers and commentators may enter? We have little enough dissent and debate. Do we really want to replicate the surreal Zionist paranoia which at present silences anyone who disapproves of the actions of the Israeli government? Is this not emulating the new McCarthyism, which blocks criticisms of US policies by using accusations of anti-Americanism?

History teaches us that victims of repression are always capable of unhealthy self-justification and oppressive practices. In the middle of the colossal struggles for a homeland in Palestine, some Palestinians still find time to murder their girls for reasons of "honour". Be wary of Muslims who want only praise and tolerance, who reject all reproaches and objective criticisms as signs of Islamaphobia or unforgivable apostasy.

There is a new polemic book about to hit Britain. The Trouble With Islam by Irshad Manji, a Muslim lesbian from Canada is hot; hot with revolutionary questions, anger and challenges, some too extreme for me, some absurd and dangerously simplistic. But we should read and debate it. We won't. Instead, Manji will face the usual murderous threats for daring to write that: "Through our screaming self pity and conspicuous silences, we Muslims are conspiring against ourselves."

This is a dilemma which affects other groups too. Black, Chinese, Hindu, Sikh, Muslim, mixed race Britons, economic migrants and asylum-seekers will always have to fight back against media bruisers such as Kilroy-Silk or Richard Littlejohn who vandalise the delicate social ecology of our nation by inciting hatreds and latent prejudices. But living in an open democracy means just that; there must be room and respect for informed disagreements and for opprobrium when deserved.

Afro-Caribbean Britons have learnt this before the rest of us. Never afraid to speak out when it comes to racism which has violated them for centuries, they too used to rise in fury every time anyone mentioned the disproportionate levels of crime in that community. Today, black Britons are publicly confronting drugs, guns, under-education, sexism, evils that are destroying their people.

Kilroy will hopefully never be back on the BBC. But British Muslims need to think beyond this small victory and its implications for the future.

y.alibhai-brown@independent.co.uk

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