Baron Ahmed

Nazir Ahmed Baron Ahmed of Rotherham greets another great day for interfaith dialogue. (YouTube screenshot)

There is an ancient story about a Russian Jew in the Olden Days who saw his friend reading the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

“How can you read that horrible forgery,” he demands.  “It’s an anti-Semitic tissue of lies by the Tsar’s secret police!”

“Yes,” his friend replied.  “But when I read about how Jews control the world, I feel so powerful!”

So when I read this morning that Baron Ahmed of Rotherham in the County of South Yorkshire was sentenced to prison because Jews put pressure on the British judiciary I was chuffed.

Now, that’s power!

Not enough power to get him actually locked up, mind.  His sentence was suspended.  The International Jewish Conspiracy is powerful enough to throw a good scare into a British peer, but that’s about it.

In an Urdu-language broadcast he is said to have blamed Jews who own newspapers and TV channels for putting the pressure that got him his sentence.

This is at odds with what South Yorkshire police said at the time.  ‘Chief Inspector Andy Male, head of the South Yorkshire police road team, said the peer’s sentence “reflects the seriousness with which the courts, the Crown Prosecution Service and the police view this offence”.’ The offence? Texting while he was driving, immediately after which he ran somebody over and killed him.

Damned Jews!

Killing the guy wasn’t what got him the sentence.  It was the unrelated texting.  Of course, he’d never have been done for the texting if he hadn’t killed the guy.  To say that the sentence was caused by Jews instead of caused by his driving habits is a little bit anti-Semitic.

Lord Ahmed is not the first member of the House of Lords to say anti-Semitic things

Lord Ahmed is not the first member of the House of Lords to say anti-Semitic things:  the First Viscount Rothermere used to do it.  Baroness Jenny Tonge used to do it, and maybe she still does now that the Liberal Democrats have kicked her out.  There’s nothing illegal about being an anti-Semite in the UK as long as you don’t incite others.

He might have been risked a charge of incitement if he’d said something in the British media, but he was talking to people in his native Pakistan and perhaps he was speaking in the local idiom. It’s certainly not something he’d say if he’d been talking to BBC Radio 4.

So what caught Lord Ahmed out was context.  What in Pakistan is perfectly acceptable suddenly seems unacceptable in London.

The House of Lords

The House of Lords: any anti-Semites in here? (Photo credit: CC-BY-SA Leonora Enking, Flickr)

So does the more usual unspoken British anti-Semitism matter? Yes, and let me tell you why.  Baron Ahmed of Rotherham has helped build in my mind a stereotype of Northern English Muslims from South Asia, and I don’t like having that kind of stereotype in my mind.

Whereas the Muslims I know aren’t anti-Semites, Lord Ahmed is building a picture of the Muslims I don’t know.  The Northerners I know seem to be largely free of anti-Semitism.  The South Asians, even the members of the House of Lords I know aren’t anti-Semites.  Just because one British Muslim Asian Northern peer is a bit of an anti-Semite doesn’t mean all are, and I’d never have said something that fatuous, if Lord Ahmed hadn’t made me.

Rotherham, in Yorkshire, has a fractionally higher proportion of ethnic minorities than the national average.  It’s geographically distant from me, economically depressed, and apparently in need of regeneration.  The local regeneration plan is called Rotherham Renaissance and it is, according to the town’s web site, projected to attract £2,000,000,000 in investment; and to me that number means they’re dreaming

Yvonne Ridley stood as a candidate there in 2012 for the Respect party.  She has written, For too long have we allowed the long, poisonous tentacles of Zionism and Islamaphobia to twist and weave their way into British courts.  She used the codeword “Zionism”, but that same Elders of Zion concept of Jews’ influence on the judiciary is there.  Ridley didn’t win, possibly because she’s just a little bit bigoted and that didn’t sell well among the decent folk of Rotherham.

A box of giant squid tentacles

Long tentacles and lots of them! They’re from giant squid, but the ones on Zionists are very similar. (Photo credit: CC-BY NTNU Vitenskapsmuseet, Flickr)

Rotherham needs all the help it can get, and now this Northern town is the home of a very slightly anti-Semitic Muslim Asian Labour peer.  The Labour Party can throw him out, and maybe the House of Lords can (though I’d be surprised).  Rotherham is stuck with him.  British Muslims are stuck with him.  British Asians are stuck with him.  And that’s why it’s a bad thing for Lord Ahmed to be a little bit anti-Semitic out loud.

So Lord Ahmed, don’t apologise to me for your remark.  I’m not going to lose any sleep over your Elders of Zion fantasy.  Don’t apologise to the Labour Party or to the Chief Rabbi.  The people you need to apologise to are your neighbours in Rotherham, your fellow Muslims and your fellow Asians because you’ve made them look bad.  You’ve made them look bad, and they don’t deserve that.