The official website of Mohammed Ansar
As far as I’m concerned, the smear campaign was based on my faith and it was racist. Involved in this were a number of journalists and British public figures, from BAFTA winners who have an ugly hidden history with Savile, to anti-Muslim pro-Trump media trolls, to neo-conservative ideologues. It was coordinated with a raft of disgusting and defamatory hit pieces coming out like a barrage of sickening punches to the kidneys. Or more accurately, below the belt. It was a feeding frenzy of lies and disinformation.
It was a tough time. A year earlier I’d had a heart-attack. They knew. I was still in recovery. Solace and kinship came from Russell, who told me not to worry. We prayed. He’d just suffered awful libels from The Sun with false stories questioning his fidelity to Jemima. He had sued them successfully. Russell told me it would all blow over, that these things didn’t last. In my lowest ebb, he was a source of strength and I’m not sure how I would have managed without his kindness. It appeared that the perception was that I was suddenly one of Britain’s leading Muslim commentators and so I had to go through the process. Put through the wringer.
The white legal establishment didn’t want to deal with claims from Muslims about racism and Islamophobia. Especially against the white media establishment. Keir Starmer, a man I have the utmost respect for and have met on several occasions now, as then Director of Public Prosecutions was doing his best to shift the prosecutory guidelines on social media harassment. I decided to keep my head down. The playground bullies would stop. Surely. It was merely an initiation: welcome to the world of British public life, you can have your head flushed down the toilet, then you get to play. As a grammar school boy, I recognised it. It’s the British way.
As it turned out, I was very wrong. It didn’t stop. The harassment was incessant. Repeated. Never-ending. It was about white power brokers deciding who does and doesn’t get to speak in the mainstream media. It was about control. It was about marginalising dissenting Muslim voices. It was about untouchable BBC front line celebrities abusing their power and position. It was about me knowing where the bodies were hidden. It was undoubtedly about my religion and race but for which none of this would be happening. It was about who is and isn’t an acceptable Muslim in British public life.
Many people fell victim to this racist, anti-Muslim, smear campaign which was being meted out in such elevated rags such as The Sun, Spectator, The Times, Telegraph and on a host of personal blogs and far right, anti-Muslim publications. Sun Tsu said when you beat the grass, the snake jumps. And jump they bloody did. A slew of mainstream journalists and television personalities, producers and editors jumped ship and pulled away. A surprising number from the left wing press. With the likes of Alan Rusbridger following anti-Muslim social media troll channels who were spearheading the campaign, what was I to expect? I was condemned as a charlatan. They spat and ran. It was like the bullying I had to endure in the 70s, all over again. It was a sickening mob mentality, an unfairness. A horrible wrong. From then on, I’d come to define these people like that: Paki-bashers.
I had expected more from the likes of Suzanne Moore but it’s not the stupidest thing she’s ever done. And I’m still a fan of hers. I didn’t mind Suzanne flipping. Despite the fact she was no longer an influential contemporary voice, she was a beautiful afterglow of a bygone era. A voice I liked to hear. But yes, I was hurt by her back-stabbing. I didn’t really know her that well other than a fleeting friendship on social media but it was certainly insulting and humiliating. As a general rule, I would expect any good and honest journalist to call you, or sit you down for a coffee and say “I heard these things about you, are they true?” To which I’d get to sip my latte, look them straight in the eye, say “fuck no” and then explain how racism and Islamophobia works in the media.
Festival appearances were cancelled. The Huffington Post got cold over my blog. The Guardian pulled a video comment piece and then denied its existence. A friend and colleague who is now a producer on Question Time wrote to me, the gist of which was “we wanted you on but you know how it is with the claims about you”. At some point we’ll get around to dealing with Mentorn, their dodgy financial dealings, their anti-Muslim agenda and how they seem to run a monopoly over the BBC’s public opinion-shaping debate programs. They are entirely the reason the BBC needs reform.
At the same time, new friendships were made. There were some who could see beyond the falsehoods and who very privately, offered me guidance, assurances and solidarity. Good people. People who will never truly know how valued their trust and friendship was. It was a cool drink in the desert. Public figures and news media journalists I considered friends, who I won’t name here, were being sent private direct messages on Twitter being told by the BBC public figure that they shouldn’t talk to me, they should stay away, that I was an extremist. That I mistreated my wife. They had shown me messages and met with me to tell me. That same BBC figure has said to some he worked for Mi5; he had subsequently made it his job to contact media outlets to block my appearances and help coordinate the smear campaign. Glenn Greenwald had warned me through the Snowden leaks that there was a template circulating amongst certain circles for carrying out campaigns for online reputation damage. My Wikipedia page was trashed and taken down. Then again. My children were abused online and even campaigns to support their county cricketing careers weren’t beyond the pale for targeted harassment. After the smear campaign caused the Joe Wells gig in Portsmouth with me and Alex Andreou to be cancelled, I issued a press release to a select group of media professionals. Savile’s protégé became aware that I was going to expose his campaign of racism and Islamophobia and so he wrote to me privately, begging that I don’t expose him. In return, he said he will ensure all the obstacles to mainstream media work would be removed. The heavens would open.
I’ve never craved the spotlight, it had always been about social justice for me. After a life fighting racism and prejudice, three decades supporting communities, raising six kids and now with three grandchildren, having survived a sudden instant death heart attack and then following Woolwich being placed atop of Al Shabab’s kill list; I had come to a self realisation. Who you are and how you define yourself is important in life. I was apparently a little beyond the reach of dirty bribes and the pursuit of fame. It was clearly his modus operandii to curry influence with people. Really, I couldn’t be arsed with it.
That was news to me. I think there’s always a part of us that likes the idea of selling out for fame and fortune but I guess I’m just not built that way. And so I told him, in no uncertain terms, where to stick his offer. For me, it seemed like a bribe – hush money. In response he helped with an anonymous hit piece in the Private Eye smearing me. Again.
[Yes ‘Ratbiter’, Mark Lewis told me who you are. You’re a pathetic smear monger, a liar, and both you and the scoundrel at the BBC, Savile’s protégé, deserve everything coming to you.]
The aim was to marginalise a Muslim voice which was on the Left, who vehemently stood against the likes of the Quilliam Foundation, Gove and the Henry Jackson Society. The breaking point came when I was beginning to be put under pressure to acquiesce to the prevailing gatekeeper narrative: Muslim faux-reform, pro-Zionism, pro-Quilliam. I refused. Unequivocally.
The Left had been in crisis. Blairites and Glasman’s Blue Labour were shamelessly tearing the Labour Party apart. It had become obsessed by people looking to topple Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell, at seemingly any cost; with wet media lovies, too eager to sell out to people aligned with nefarious corporate and elite interests. For self interest. For gain. For self aggrandisement. It was allowing itself to be divided and conquered. Weak. Fragile. Febrile.
One of my ideological allies on the Left had been Owen Jones. Although we weren’t personal friends we moved in the same space, appeared on the same radio and television programs (rarely at the same time, might I add). We spoke from the same place, about the same issues. We had mutual friends. I was a Muslim kid from a poor council estate, from a working class background. I had a lot of respect for his messages. He was young. Ideologically driven. Pure-hearted. We needed alliances on the Left, as part of our rainbow coalition to stand against the politics of prejudice and hate. For an old codger like me who had been working in and for communities my whole life, it was reassuring to see new faces and new voices. Kurt Cobain said it was the duty of the youth to challenge corruption.
I was sat at Labour conference with union leaders who would laugh at the young crop of socialists like Owen who were yet to mature. I believe the phrase was ‘wet behind the ears’. Tony Benn would be turning in his grave to see his legacy bearers supporting war, selling out to Islamophobes for fear of their scorn and unable to resist old tactics of divide and rule. Owen had come under pressure to disenfranchise me during the heat of the smear campaign. He did so. Willingly. Insultingly. When we were due to share a platform at the People’s Assembly event in Southampton he asked the union organisers to no-platform me. They refused. In email exchanges, he had made it ‘Mo or me’. Rather embarrassingly, they decided to stand with a little known local Muslim activist who had been supporting poor and diverse communities across Hampshire and Southampton for many years. Not everyone is wowed by celebrity. Certainly not the Unions. Owen hurriedly organised himself to join the lovely Paloma Faith at her gig that night. He needed to save face. And that would be what he’d tell people was the reason he couldn’t attend. It was far from the truth. Ironically, the best chroniclers of that tale had been my trolls.
After the Southampton event, I asked Sam Fairbairn and Clare Solomon from The People’s Assembly (both of whom have been gracious and apologetic) to speak to Owen, to get some sense into him. Owen was then approached by my friends at the disability rights group WOW Petition. Along with Jeremy, John and the late Michael Meacher, I had lobbied on their behalf and worked hard to help get a Parliamentary Commons debate on the scourge of the work capability assessment. People were dying. Stubbornly, Owen stood fast. It was sheer arrogance. By now he had become self aware – manipulated by anti-Muslim trolls, media power brokers and a smear campaign, he had become part of the problem: dividing the Left and disenfranchising Muslim voices. Part of an Islamophobic campaign. I can see why it was easier for him to bury his head in the sand. Apologising is hard. Humbling. But it didn’t make it any more right. Owen continued his Islamophobia tourism, now a total and unashamed hypocrisy. With each word to condemn anti-Muslim smear campaigns; a false virtue; a slow creeping; an ever increasing pretence.
Local elections and the populist socialist movement lead by Jeremy, John and the Unions had turned the tide in 2015. Sadiq Khan’s London mayoral campaign shone a light on smears from the Right. Lynton Crosby’s plans to divide communities along racial and religious lines and to scare the white electorate into voting Tory (or UKIP) had backfired. Dishonourably. It had worked in Australia, New Zealand and in the UK General Elections but Londoners are a special breed. The fog lifted. The genie was out of the bottle. All the whilst the mainstream media, beholden to corporate interests and the power brokers of prejudice, refused to acknowledge the truth of a revolution in our time. Populist socialism had gripped Scotland and England. Against all the odds, Jeremy had increased the Labour share by 4%. In a year. Labour membership was increasing. Nicola had won her mandate in Scotland. The defining opposition were, naturally, now the Longshanks.
There had been a political awakening. People began to remember that politics was about communities and defining not only who we are but who we wish to be. It was about collectivism – that we are stronger together. We were rejecting the ideas that we should sell our schools and health services to corporate interests. We were rejecting the notion that the elite could siphon funds from the disabled and hungry, and into their own pockets. I took my children to see John McDonnell. To listen to Billy Bragg. To carry placards on the streets of London. In Arabic, we call this fitra: the natural disposition. People are naturally hard-wired for justice and fairness; to be united; to care for one another; beyond boundaries of race, religion, sexuality. We just had to remember.
The reality is this. The effort to undermine British democracy and the Left, through reduction in short money, reorganised constituency boundaries, the new electoral register disenfranchising 800,000 voters (disproportionately likely to vote Labour), the death-by-a-thousand-cuts massacre of the Unions, the Scotland question and the effective establishment of a One Party state in England; to return England to democracy and people power will need us to to be strong and united. We have to be resilient and resistant to the politics of prejudice and hate. We can no longer afford to be divided.
It is true that the foundation of every state is the education of its youth. That being the case, let this be a lesson for us all. I can’t bear grudges against those who have been sold a lie, yet who are working for a better future of unity and peace. But let us not be in enmity to one another. Life is precious. Opportunities few. Our time on this earth is limited.
There is much to do.