So, Naz Shah MP has been suspended from the Labour party this afternoon, for sharing Facebook memes that can easily be described as anti-semitic / racist. A number of people will be relieved by that move and think "glad to see we are taking anti-semitism and racism seriously - there is no place for that kind of stuff in our politics". It's a convenient thought, but it is also rubbish. In UK politics, how and whether we deal with racism depends on who says it, not what is said. Last week, a guy who wants to run for leader of the Conservative party wrote that Obama hates the UK because of his part-Kenyan heritage. ‘He hates us because he's black!’ But hey, it's Boris, so... "ho ho ho - what a clown" - is the likely response. There was a bit of outrage, but it would have been ludicrous to suggest Boris should be thrown out of the party. A day later, everyone moved on. Take another example.
A month ago, I revealed that Zac Goldsmith recently endorsed his ex-brother-in-law, Imran Khan, after he said that Afghani insurgents were fighting for "freedom" (against British, American and Afghani government troops). If his rival Sadiq Khan had said this, it would have been a front page story on the Evening Standard and Daily Mail. But... it's Zac Goldsmith! He's one of us! Not one of the dangerous Muslim guys... I’m sure he didn’t mean it.
The media stayed quiet. I suspect the Guardian view is that he’s an affable, anti-imperialist, plucky politician, and they still remember his playboy days. The rest of the press is right-wing, and they always defend their own side close to an election. (I must have imagined a four-page Evening Standard exclusive on Sadiq Khan’s “extremist” ex-brother-in-law from ten years ago).
Today, I revealed more. Imran Khan has said worse about Israel, on public television, than Naz Shah did. He isn’t a British politician of course, but he was recently endorsed by one. The very man who criticised his rival for ‘giving cover to extremists’. So, Zac Goldsmith should be asked about his endorsement at least, and whether he agrees with Imran Khan and still stands by those words. Why isn’t Goldsmith accused of giving cover to extremists?
But it’s unlikely Goldsmith will be asked difficult questions like that. His friends are too powerful and the press don’t want to rock the boat with less than a fortnight to go.
Whether we confront racism and anti-semitism equally still depends on who you are, not what you say. Naz Shah was unlucky not to have more powerful friends.
Sunny Hundal is a journalist, author of 'India Dishonoured', lecturer on digital journalism at Kingston Uni and an entrepreneur. Visit his website by clicking here