Saturday, October 2, 2010

Half-right, anyway

It is difficult to know what to make of Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, the ubiquitous Muslim journalist, writer, pundit who is also a fairly ubiquitous left-wing journalist, writer and pundit. Most of the time she spouts predictable left-wing rubbish ideas and has expressed the view that Boris Johnson winning the mayoral election was the equivalent of a coup in City Hall. She has also been known to spout rubbish about the fear that the Muslim community allegedly lives with in this country as they are all targeted by the secret police or whatever.

Yet she has written consistently and at some risk to herself about the lamentable position of women in Muslim communities, has opposed the burqua and has expressed great anger at our own Taliban putting pressure on parents and schools to deprive children of music and the arts in general.

The reason I started musing about the lady is because I actually heard her address a rather motley audience at Leighton House, the splendid museum that had been Lord Leighton's home in West London today. It was the opening of the Nour Festival of Arts that is designed to showcase (or so they say) modern Arab and Middle Eastern art and culture. Given Lord Leighton's interest in his own version of the Near East, his collection of artefacts, his paintings and certain aspects of the house, this is actually entirely suitable. The old boy would have been rather pleased. (The Arab Hall above is one of the great attractions.)

Ms Alibhai Brown spoke precisely for the five minutes allotted to her, which impressed me enormously, used as I am to the endless wafflings of politicians. The first part of her short address was dedicated to the subject of the article I mentioned above: the terrible perversion of Islam that rejects the idea of music, art, beauty, any sensuality. It is not what she remembers from her childhood in East Africa and, I must add, it is not what one gathers from descriptions made by travellers to the Mughal, Ottoman or Persian Empires. Quite the opposite: these places were seen by Westerners as the homes of unimaginable richness of senses, be that smell, taste or music. For a Muslim woman to attack the Taliban, whether the one in Afghanistan or nearer home can be dangerous. One has to admire her for doing this.

Then she went into her know-nothing left-wing mode. She talked of her surprise that she obviously thought we should share that a "toff" like Lord Leighton, one of Boris Johnson's class as she helpfully explained, should be so interested and involved with the East.

He was not exactly a "toff" having been born into a middle class business family and receiving a peerage (the first given to an artist) for his achievements. Furthermore, if Ms Alibhai-Brown really is going to write that book about Exotic England she had better find out a little more about the number of English people, toffs and others, who travelled to the Near East, studied it, wrote about it, even painted it. As a matter of fact, Lord Leighton was not really one of them. He does not seem to have gone further east than Italy.

As it happens, Ms Alibhai-Brown expressed herself pleased and excited by the thought that there were all these various links between England and Muslim cultures so why she should get so many things wrong in a few sentences is a mystery.

But there is one thing she does not like, as she told us, and that is colonization, which did terrible things to "us", well the colonized. Odd then, that she did not mention another aspect of Muslim culture in East Africa and that is the great slave empires of Zanzibar and Sudan. No, since you ask, the slave traders were not British or even Europeans.


  1. I heard Alibhai Brown talking about her upbringing in East Africa and owning up to the fact that her parents' generation and predecessors had been pretty beastly to the native Africans, behaving in a most superior manner.

    A funny thing then that she continues the tradition here, hectoring and lecturing us aboriginals and keeping us in our proper station as grateful recipients of the civilising effects of multiculturalism.

    The Arab slave trade is, of course, one of the great unmentionables as it doesn't fit the mindset of unique Western guilt. General Gordon knew that the Dharfur region of Sudan was one of its great centres and the tradition certainly carries on in the Sudan, as Baroness Cox demonstrated.

  2. Before you accuse Ms Brown of not knowing her facts, you should check yours. To say Leighton never went further than Itlay is completley wrong. He made numerous trips to North Africa and the Middle East. Where do you think he got the tiles etc for the Arab Hall? The Leighton House website tells us Damascus.

  3. Too true. He did make the odd trip to buy goodies. Apologies for the mistake. I had better read up a better biography of Lord Leighton before I start accusing anyone of anything, even of just plain rudeness. I believe, incidentally, that her name is Ms Alibhai Brown.