Mehdi Hasan (born 1979) is a British political journalist, broadcaster and author.
As a journalist and author, Hasan is the co-author of a biography of Ed Miliband and the political editor of the UK version of The Huffington Post. From a British Indian background, he is the presenter of Al Jazeera English shows The Café and Head to Head.
In 2015, Hasan will move to Washington DC to work full time for Al Jazeera.
Hasan was educated at Merchant Taylors’ School, a day independent school for boys at Sandy Lodge in the Three Rivers District of Hertfordshire, near the town of Northwood in North West London, followed by Christ Church at the University of Oxford, where he read Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE), and graduated in 2000.
Life and career
Hasan worked as a researcher and then producer on LWT’s Jonathan Dimbleby programme, with a brief period in between on BBC1’s The Politics Show. Following this, he became deputy executive producer on Sky’s breakfast show Sunrise before moving to Channel 4 as their editor of news and current affairs. He was appointed senior editor (politics) at the New Statesman in late spring of 2009, where he stayed until May 2012, then becoming political director of The Huffington Post website.
Hasan became a presenter on Al Jazeera’s English News Channel in May 2012. Hasan has appeared (six times) on the BBC’s Question Time programme, and the Sunday morning programmes The Big Questions and Sunday Morning Live.
Recorded at the Oxford Union, Head to Head is a programme in which Hasan has interviewed major public figures, had run for three series by December 2014 on Al Jazeera English. From 2015, working full time for the network in Washington DC, Hasan will host a weekly interview and discussion programme.
Views and opinions
In a 14 February 2013 article for the New Statesman, Hasan wrote:
The Iraq war was a strategic disaster – or, as the Tory minister Kenneth Clarke put it in a recent BBC radio discussion, ‘the most disastrous foreign policy decision of my lifetime […] worse than Suez’. The invasion and occupation of the country undermined the moral standing of the western powers; empowered Iran and its proxies; heightened the threat from al-Qaeda at home and abroad; and sent a clear signal to ‘rogue’ regimes that the best (the only?) means of deterring a pre-emptive, US-led attack was to acquire weapons of mass destruction. […] Iraq has been destroyed and hundreds of thousands of innocent people have lost their lives, as the direct result of an unnecessary, unprovoked war that, according to the former chief justice Lord Bingham, was a ‘serious violation of international law’.
A regular contributor to The Guardian, Hasan argued in November 2011: “Wouldn’t it be rational for Iran – geographically encircled, politically isolated, feeling threatened – to want its own arsenal of nukes, for defensive and deterrent purposes?” Pointing out the difference between America, and its allies, going to “war with non-nuclear Iraq” and their “diplomacy with nuclear-armed North Korea”, Hasan concluded: “The simple fact is there is no alternative to diplomacy, no matter how truculent or paranoid the leaders of Iran might seem to western eyes.”
Islam and Muslims
Hasan, a Shia Muslim, has written articles about Islam and Muslims for the New Statesman and newspapers. He has written in favour of secularism, writing that a “religiously neutral model of governance” is the only way for a country like India to “prosper”.
In April 2009, Hasan argued against the concept and idea of an Islamic state. He argues that “Today it is difficult, if not impossible, to identify a Muslim-majority nation that could plausibly be identified as a modern, viable and legitimate “Islamic state” and that “contrary to popular Muslim opinion, there is not a shred of theological, historical or empirical evidence to support the existence of such an entity.”
Hasan has been criticised for his remarks on religion. During a sermon delivered in 2009, quoting the Quran, Hasan said to an audience: “The kuffar, the disbelievers, the atheists who remain deaf and stubborn to the teachings of Islam, the rational message of the Koran; they are described in the Koran as “a people of no intelligence”, Allah describes them as not of no morality, not as people of no belief – people of “no intelligence” – because they’re incapable of the intellectual effort it requires to shake off those blind prejudices, to shake off those easy assumptions about this world, about the existence of God. In this respect, the Koran describes the atheists as “cattle”, as cattle of those who grow the crops and do not stop and wonder about this world.”
In response to criticism over the use of the term “cattle” to describe non-believers, Hasan wrote in his New Statesman blog: “The Quranic phrase ‘people of no intelligence’ simply and narrowly refers to the fact that Muslims regard their views on God as the only intellectually tenable position, just as atheists (like Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris) regard believers as fundamentally irrational and, even, mentally deficient.” The Islamophobia Watch website argued Hasan was the victim of a “witch-hunt”, writing that these allegations of extremism were “aimed at getting him dismissed from his job”. Hasan returned to this issue in August 2012 following criticism from the columnist Peter Hitchens. Hasan wrote: “the entire 45-minute speech is primarily an attack on Muslim extremists who try and justify violence against non-Muslims on an ‘ends justify the means’ basis”, but noted of his 2009 comments that his “phraseology was ill-judged, ill-advised and, even, inappropriate”.
In November 2009, Hasan wrote a column denouncing suicide bombing from an Islamic perspective. Hasan argued that “There is, in fact, nothing Islamic about so-called Islamic terrorism… So why are many Muslims so reluctant to condemn such cold-blooded tactics of terror?”
In April 2010, Hasan wrote a piece condemning the controversial Islamic advocacy of the death penalty for apostasy in the New Statesman. He states that “The sharia (or Islamic law), it is claimed, sanctions the death penalty for any adult Muslim who chooses to leave the faith, or apostatise. This is an intellectually, morally and, perhaps above all, theologically unsustainable position.”
Hasan wrote an article in The Guardian in September 2011 condemning the Iranian regime for its proposed execution of an “apostate.” “The death sentence given to Youcef Nadarkhani in Iran is an affront to universal moral values and a disservice to Muslims.”
In April 2012, Hasan wrote an article criticising British Muslims for being obsessed with foreign affairs and the anti-war movement. He criticised British Muslims’ apparent apathy towards national issues, “why is it that most British Muslims get so excited and aroused by foreign affairs, yet seem so bored by and uninterested in domestic politics and the economy?”
Following the allegation of antisemitism against Lord Ahmed in March 2013, Hasan referred to antisemitism in some sections of the British Muslim community as “our dirty little secret.”
In May 2013, he appeared at an Oxford Union Debate proposing a motion arguing that Islam is a religion of peace. The motion was carried.
In October 2013, on BBC Question Time, Hasan claimed that The Daily Mail was, among other accusations, “Muslim-smearing”. The paper responded by claiming that he had applied to them for a column in 2010, praising their editorial standards and some of their positions.
“What I would like is for my fellow lefties and liberals to try to understand and respect the views of those of us who are pro-life,” Hasan wrote in an October 2012 online column for the New Statesman. Hasan argued that the issue of abortion “is one of those rare political issues on which left and right seem to have swapped ideologies: right-wingers talk of equality, human rights and ‘defending the innocent’, while left-wingers fetishise ‘choice’, selfishness and unbridled individualism.” (He later regretted expressing himself in this way.) The article gained much attention on Twitter and Hasan was invited onto the Today programme (BBC Radio 4) to debate the issue with Suzanne Moore.
Telegraph blogger Brendan O’Neill thought both Hasan and his pro-choice opponents shared the modern left’s “instinct for paternalism” which contrasted, he asserted, with the pre-occupations of radicals a century ago, an era in which such figures, Hasan asserted, often opposed abortion. Labour MP Diane Abbott thought that “any feminist, worth the name, knows that control over [our] own bodies is ground zero for every educational, social and economic advance that women have made in the last century”. Cristina Odone wrote: “There are some things no one is allowed to speak of – especially if they are men.”
With James Macintyre. ED: The Milibands and the making of a Labour leader, London, Biteback Publishing, 2011. ISBN 978-1-84954-102-2
Summer of Unrest: The Debt Delusion: Exposing ten Tory myths about debts, deficits and spending cuts, Vintage Digital, 28 July 2011.