Framing Muslims: How righteous speech becomes wrong in the UK

The Times has reported a dossier of comments on social media and in lectures by Sheikh Jaffer Ladak, the resident alim at Baab ul-Ilm Centre in Leeds has been passed to West Yorkshire Police.  Ladak’s comments cited by The Times, are not unusual or in the current moment even controversial.

This piece is an expanded version of this thread on X.


So apparently calling war crimes, well, war crimes is worthy of being reported to the police.  So says The Times, who report that a dossier of comments made publicly by Sheikh Jaffer Ladak about the genocide in Gaza, has been passed to the police.

One of the comments that drew The Times’ ire is regarding comparisons with concentration camps and Nazis.  Bearing that in mind West Yorkshire Police should take a look a look at Masha Gessen’s Hannah Arendt prize winning essay, ‘In the Shadow of the Holocaust‘.  Gessen is not shy to make comparisons:

“For the last seventeen years, Gaza has been a hyperdensely populated, impoverished, walled-in compound where only a small fraction of the population had the right to leave for even a short amount of time—in other words, a ghetto.  Not like the Jewish ghetto in Venice or an inner-city ghetto in America but like a Jewish ghetto in an Eastern European country occupied by Nazi Germany.”


Their acceptance notes explain: “Comparison is the way we know the world“.   This comparison is not new, especially not amongst the muted pro-Palestinian movement world-wide, including amongst anti-Zionist Jews, including those who are, or are descended from, Holocaust survivors.  Gabor Maté, the late Hajo Mejer, Marek Edelman.  A quick internet search will deliver many more names.  Here are some more who see no reason to shy away from the comparison.  The list is much longer.  To widen the lens from Palestine, the narrative that ‘Muslims are the new Jews’ in reference to the demonisation and violent expulsion from legal personhood of Muslims now and Jews in the early 20th century, also has both history and intellectual form.  Listen to Professor Santiago Slabodsky’s podcast on the topic here.

The fact that dossiers are submitted to the police about, and articles written demonising legitimate comments and indeed very necessary comparisons is an indictment of the political culture. This is racist framing of Muslim speech.  The Times, or the compiler of the dossier who remains anonymous, may not and clearly do not like war crimes committed by the Israelis to be named as such.  They clearly also do not like the comparisons being made between the experiences of Jews at the hands of the Nazis, and the experience of Palestinians at the hands of the Israelis.  These are however comments that are not only legal (a matter that is obscured in the reporting by referencing that the dossier has been submitted to the police) but are also born from a sense of moral outrage. A moral outrage that many share.

Gessen’s acceptance speech outlines the reason why comparisons are used, needed, important.  I am at risk of quoting almost all of it.  It is as powerful as the essay the prize for was won for.  As it happened the comparison of Gaza, the Nakba, the years between and the experiences of Jews persecuted, humiliated and murdered by the Nazis saw controversy fly and her award at one moment (almost) rescinded.  It is what fuelled the acceptance essay, in which she points out not only why the comparison of Gaza and the Warsaw and other Jewish ghettos apt but also the recent history of the comparison:

“When I made this comparison between Gaza and the ghetto, I thought I was making an original contribution to a discourse dominated by the bad metaphor of an “open-air prison.” I have since learned that the comparison has a tradition that goes back at least twenty years. In June 2003, British politician Oona King wrote an article for The Guardian describing her trip to Israel Palestine. On her first day in the Gaza Strip, a helicopter attack killed a woman and her child and injured dozens more. King wrote, “The original founders of the Jewish state could surely not imagine the irony facing Israel today: in escaping the ashes of the Holocaust, they have incarcerated another people in a hell similar in its nature—though not its extent—to the Warsaw ghetto.” The comparison, of course, was controversial.

“I’m not arguing that because other people have made the same comparison I have, I am right. What I am trying to do is add a time dimension to this conversation. What struck me about this comparison is that King made it three years before Israel imposed the siege regime on Gaza.”

This comparison was made three years before the siege of Gaza was imposed.  This was already the de facto situation before the Israeli regime imposed total blocks on who and what goes in and out.   This was before the Israeli project to destroy the economy of Gaza began in full.  This was before the military offensives of 2008-9, 2014, 2021 and the escalating ‘lesser’ raids and attacks.  This was nearly twenty years ago:  as the regime began to curtail how much food could enter Gaza, decided according to a calorie count of the bare minimum people need to survive. Today, there is no food, but famine – one of cruel deliberation – imposed upon the population as another weapon in the arsenal of genocide.

Funnily enough there is no mention of this context in The Times piece.  The racist framing of the piece does not only stigmatise Muslim speech, it reinforces attempts by policy-makers to shrink the political space and exclude pro-Palestinian and other calls for justice.  It also excludes the Muslim subject / citizen not just from the political space, but makes them cultural and social pariahs too.  This is how an environment of hate is created – the mutually enforcing and constituting layers of state and society: policy makers, media and law enforcement all in this case entrenching Islamophobia further into the state and social structure.

All this is happening while a distracting and discredited ‘debate’ – the so-called culture wars rage, where Muslims are routinely accused of opposing and actively curtailing free speech.  Muslims meanwhile – keen to show their compliance – rush to prove themselves free speech advocates (regardless of the nuances or double-standards that the issue of free and unfettered speech brings with it).  Well here is your chance, Muslim civil society.  Sheikh Ladak has expressed what most right minded people feel.  Speak up.

Arzu Merali is a writer based in London, UK.  Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @arzumerali.