By Paul Goodman
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I once got into a tussle with Mehdi Hasan. He accused me of "guilt by association" for asking whether whether the Muslim Brotherhood in Britain shared the view of Hamas that Osama Bin Laden was an "Arab holy warrior". He was duly let down the very next day, and I wrote about it. Mehdi complained about my headline on the piece. I believe it was perfectly fair. Readers must make their own judgement.
None the less, I confess to admiring Mehdi's willingness to rush in where angels fear to glance, let alone tread. He usually does so in detail: his argument that more borrowing would be good for the economy or that there is no alternative to diplomacy with Iran may be wrong, but my advice would be not to tangle with him if you don't know your stuff on either, or on anything else for that matter.
He is a skilled controversialist. If Mehdi wanted to start a civil war in the BBC's Night Garden, he would be more than capable of it. Consider his rousing ending to his valedictory Guardian article attacking Islamophobia: "Who's with me?" he cried – an appeal both heartfelt and calculated to cause internet mayhem. (By the way, the Editors of this site didn't criticise Sayeeda Warsi's appointment to the Tory front bench, as that piece suggested: one of our contributors did).
This helps to explain why he has over 35,000 followers while I have – sigh – a mere 4000 or so. He will have even more after his Huffington Post piece yesterday, which ran under the uncontroversial headline: Being Pro-Life Doesn't Make Me Any Less Of A Lefty. It was the equivalent of this site running a piece called Being Pro-EU Doesn't Make Me Any Less Of A Tory. (Any offers?)
Cue abuse from the left – see the selected tweets above. Were we to run an article from a pro-EU Tory setting out his view, the author would have a rough time in the threads and on Twitter, and the discussion would soon turn personal. But my sense is that the abuse would be less vitriolic, less vituperative. Why has the left turned so venomous about abortion? I suspect that the answer is bound up with the estrangement between the left and traditional religion.
Obviously, this isn't so in many cases, since some women simply feel strongly that any man who expresses a pro-life view is assaulting their automony and their body (though as Mehdi pointed out, quoting Anthony Wells of YouGov, "polls consistently show . . . that women are more likely than men to support a reduction"). And, no less obviously, there are many people of faith on the left of politics: Labour's last two leaders were practising Christians.
None the less, the modern left has a strongly secularist flavour. If you doubt it, ask yourself on what part of the political spectrum opposition to faith schools is strongest. As it happens, Mehdi wrote that his pro-life views are not a product of his religous views. He said that Islam isn't opposed to abortion in all circumstances – differing authorities hold differing views – and wrote that he "would be opposed to abortion even if I were to lose my faith".
I'm not sure that anyone can predict what the impact of such a life-altering event would have on them. None the less, let's observe due courtesty and accept his claim. Even so, though, none of us can know what views we would hold if we were not the people we are. One cannot prove a negative. Mehdi cannot prove that his views are uninfluenced by his being a Muslim, any more than I can prove that mine are unaffected by having coverted to Catholicism.
But whether they are or not, many of those who disagree with him on the left think it is. That's the point. And their belief is the driving cause of their rage. That's the point, too.