by Emma Webb
Monday, 9
March 2020

Trevor Phillips, heretic

Labour's suspension of the anti-racism campaigner reflects the party's turn towards zealotry
by Emma Webb
Labour’s suspension of the anti-racism campaigner reflects the party’s turn towards zealotry. Credit: Channel 4

In 9th Century Islamic Spain, non-Muslims were second class citizens, paying a special tax — the jizya — to ensure their protection and remind them of their place in society. So, when a monk, born in Cordoba under Umayyad rule, was challenged by two Muslim men to say who was greater — Mohammed or Jesus — he was understandably hesitant to answer.

Convinced that he would be protected if he gave his honest answer, the monk told the Muslim men what he believed: that Mohammed was a false prophet and therefore immoral. In April 850, he was arrested, found guilty of blasphemy and beheaded for insulting the Prophet. Recorded in Memoriale Sanctorum, this monk became Saint Perfectus, one of the Martyrs of Cordoba.

According to legend, his last words blessed Christ and condemned Muhammad and the Quran. He was allegedly the first martyr at the beginning of a period of persecution against Christians in Al Andalus.

Today, it is easy to relate to Saint Perfectus’ hesitance. You might not lose your head, but you could lose your job — however vanilla your opinion. Even recounting this story might get me in trouble.

According to the widely adopted definition of Islamophobia, it is prohibited to make certain statements about the prophet Mohammed or claims about Islamic history, such as: “Muslims spreading Islam by the sword or subjugating minority groups under their rule”. Understandably this has led to concern from historians, academics and other faith groups over its potential to limit free speech and discussion of the less rosy aspects of Islamic history or doctrine.

Despite warnings that it could be weaponised to silence dissidents and function as a back-door blasphemy law, the Labour party are going full steam ahead. Case in point is the Party’s suspension of well-known anti-racism advocate Trevor Phillips, on accusations of Islamophobia.

According to today’s Times, among the statements being investigated are Phillips’ concerns about the Pakistani-Muslim men involved in the Rotherham grooming gang scandal, and about an opinion poll showing sympathy for the motives of the “Charlie Hebdo” attackers.

Writing in the Times, Phillips reflected that tyranny is not always a pounding fist on your door in the middle of the night but it can take the form of “a bureaucrat’s warning: recant, repent, denounce your fellow deviants and you may save your livelihood”.

After 30 years in the Labour Party and a life time’s work devoted to combating racism, the language of the letter he received was the “cold-eyed, accusatory prose of the zealot”, he said, “I am accused of heresy, and threatened with excommunication”.

Labour’s actions have now left the party shorn of another dissenting voice, marking another step in its slow descent towards authoritarianism.

Join the discussion

  • Trevor Phillips has been one of the few genuinely bi-partisan figures in modern politics – if Labour are really so far off the deep end that he can now be condemned as a bigot then they may be beyond saving.

  • Could this be a good thing, in an ironic way?

    Lots of print media and broadcast media people will be looking at each other thinking, “but I agree with him”. As well as the general population.

    It might be a wake-up call to show how easy it is to be defamed for having
    real concerns on societal issues.

    Perhaps certain broadcasters will grow a backbone on this.

  • it is hard to imagine a more repulsive organisation than the current Labour Party. Yet still 10 million people voted for them.

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