10 June 2022 Seeking better British Values

An audience of over 300  were present at the London Muslim Centre, Whitechapel on 9 June 2022 for the book launch of Peter Oborne’s The Fate of Abraham, Why the West is Wrong about Islam. The event was ably chaired by East London Mosque Trustee, Ruhana Ali, and in addition to the author’s presentation, the audience benefited from the insightful observations of Professor Salman Sayyid, University of Leeds. In a Q&A session, Peter Oborne explained that the title of the book was a riposte to the neo-Con attempt to place Islam as the threat to a ‘Judeo-Christian’ heritage, when in fact Judaism, Christianity and Islam were part of the same Abrahamic tradition. He noted that the venue of the book launch, in the precincts of a mosque, synagogue and nearby local churches, was an apt testimony to this.

In his view, it was a “gross moral error” of Western strategists to have conceived the ‘war on terror’ as a reconfiguration of the Cold War, in which the Soviet Union as enemy was replaced by Islam.  The author noted that he had been reading the Qur’an “quite a lot”, and appreciated Islam’s message of compassion and humanity. He noted the lack of coverage of his book in the mainstream British media because it did not demonise Muslims and Islam: “their choice of stories is not neutral”.  His own investigations of  the Trojan Horse affair in Birmingham  and the  coverage of ‘Rotherham Grooming Gangs’  revealed the  shallowness of the media coverage and the recurrence of medieval tropes. For Peter Oborne, Tahir Alam was “a true British hero” for his perseverance and willingness to walk alone for a worthy cause – raising educational standards in the sink school of a deprived inner city area.  Peter also noted how Muslims paid a heavy price for Islamophobic journalism: “the Christchurch killer had ‘For Rotherham’ written on his ammunition.”  The Fate of Abraham draws on much first-hand interviews and travel, not just in the UK but places such as the Southern Philippines to better understand how the Moros were an early victim of American Islamophobia.  

Peter Oborne described himself as a Tory for whom ‘British values’ are to do with tolerance and decency: “it is a generous identity – you can be Jewish and British, Muslim and British.” He remained a great admirer of the Eighteenth-Century parliamentarian Edmund Burke, who spoke truth to power. He noted the closing down of the public space, notably the difficulty faced by activists for the Palestinian cause, persecuted on charges of antisemitism. The Tory Party today was “structurally Islamophobic” with a leader lacking in honesty.

Professor Salman Sayyid  noted that “journalism was often the first draft of history” and Oborne’s wide ranging book would stand as an important contribution. The author was a journalist who took his craft seriously  and  had the courage and forthrightness to write about Muslims in a way “that was against the grain of the current  ‘what is wrong with Islam’ genre.” The Fate of Abraham would do much to dispel Islamophobia. Peter Oborne concurred that diversity in society was a positive aspect that served “as an engine for creativity”. In writing this book, the author explained that he had been motivated by the wish “to do something for this country.” Judging from the long queues formed for the book signing, what he had to say struck a chord with those present.

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