On September 26, controversial British Muslim convert and journalist, Yvonne Ridley, delivered an address at a radical Islamic conference in Melbourne. Promoting her ‘speaking tour’ in Australia, the contentious Ridley, who converted to Islam in 2003 after she was kidnapped by the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001, appeared on ABC Radio‘s “AM” program the following day. Ridley is well-known for her role as a former presenter and current frequent guest on Press TV, the Iranian government’s English language station, notorious for its anti-Zionist, anti-Western propaganda, and for her apologetics – sometime sounding almost like justification – for Islamist and Arab terrorism.
Not that you would know any of this from the ABC interview itself.
Interviewer Rachel Brown’s only reference to Ridley’s controversial past was when she introduced her British guest by noting that since her conversion to Islam, Ridley has “been labelled a firebrand radical convert.”
This was Ridley’s cue to offer a factually challenged defence, implying sexism and racism were behind any such criticism. She stated, “I’m not a firebrand. I speak my mind. The fact that some male journalist in Australia decides to call me firebrand because I wear a scarf is really irresponsible.”
Yet, rather than further questioning or challenging Ridley’s frankly false assertion that criticism of her was solely because she wore a headscarf, Brown took Ridley’s assertion at face value and simply proceeded to discuss with her the radicalisation of disaffected Muslim youth, treating her as merely a “UK journalist” and presumed expert offering a “presentation on the media, and engaging youth” at the conference.
A juxtaposition of Ridley’s most recent appearance on “AM” with a previous interview conducted with her on the same program back in 2007, reveals the extent of Brown’s failures as an interviewer on this occasion.
When asked in 2007 by ABC reporter, Jane Cowan, about calls from Labor’s then immigration spokesman, Tony Burke, for Ridley to be banned from entering Australia due to her extremist views, Ridley replied that her “views have been taken out of context and have been dredged up by mischief-makers who have an Islamophobic agenda.”
Yet in contrast to Brown’s uncritical journalism last week, Cowan did not let Ridley deflect the question with a fact-free allegation that any critics were simply racists and pushed the British guest to qualify previous comments she had made praising suicide bombers as “martyrs.”
JANE COWAN: But if you’ve been reported as saying you support suicide bombing, would you now here condemn it, no matter who perpetrates it?
YVONNE RIDLEY: I condemn shoddy journalism and poor research, and people like you should know better than to try and tackle people like me over things that have allegedly been said or not said.
JANE COWAN: But this is an opportunity for you to clarify your views, and …
YVONNE RIDLEY: I’ve clarified them. What don’t you understand? Listen, I have told you exactly what I have said, now you tell me why you need me to condemn something that is as plain as, you know, as the language that I’ve just said. What didn’t you understand about what I have just said?
JANE COWAN: My question is, do you or do you not support suicide bombing?
YVONNE RIDLEY: Of course I don’t…
The question thus remains, why, this time around, did the ABC portray Ridley simply as an ordinary political commentator and fail to disclose her extremist leanings and apologetics for terrorism – something the ABC was well aware of in 2007?
While Ridley replied to Cowan’s questioning by in the end reluctantly denying she supported suicide bombings, she in fact often resists and avoids saying she condemns them – which is different from saying she does not “support” them. For instance, in 2004, AIJAC’s Andrew Friedman questioned her following a lecture at Monash University about remarks she had allegedly made defending Palestinian suicide bombers, including the targeting of Israeli children, earlier that year.
Those earlier statements, spoken as the “Second Intifada”, featuring numerous suicide attacks on Israeli cafes supermarkets, buses and other civilian areas, was raging, were reported by the Times (UK) (“How many insults can one newspaper proprietor take?” by Andrew Pierce, Feb. 3, 2004 – no longer online). The key excerpt of the report was as follows:
Ridley, who is now a regular freelancer for the Express magazine, told a Belfast audience last week that child victims of Palestinian suicide bombers were not innocent because they grow up to join the Israeli army. She also said that phrase “suicide bomber” was insulting. “Let’s call suicide bombers by their proper name, which is martyrs.” Ridley who recently converted to Islam, said there was no such thing as an innocent Israeli, because they were either in the army or supported it. Her remarks, to the Islamic Student Association, will cause fury among Jews living in Britain. “There are no innocents in this war,” she told the audience.
Her answer to Friedman’s question about these controversial statements was not exactly forthcoming – in fact she typically avoided the question about her views on suicide bombings while instead appearing to blame Israeli parents and settlements, as reported in The Review (now the Australia/Israel Review) April 2004 (“Terrorism 101: Ridley’s Believe it or not”, p. 21):
When challenged to confirm her views – just six weeks before her visit to Australia, Ridley reportedly said the phrase “suicide bomber” is “insulting”, and that terrorists should be called by their “proper name, which is martyrs” – Ridley says she has been misquoted, but refuses to disassociate from the ideas. Asked to set the record straight, she insists on writing her views in full, adding that they should only be quoted in full:
Question: You have been quoted in support of Palestinian suicide bombers. Is this accurate?
Ridley (quoted in full): “All the settlements are illegal and I find it horribly irresponsible that Israeli parents deliberately expose their children to danger by illegally occupying territory which is deemed illegal under international law.”
When pressed that her statement did not address the issue of suicide bombers, Ridley refused to clarify, and rejected repeated attempts to pursue the issue further, even claiming that a direct repetition of the text of her written statement was a “misquote.”
Meanwhile, that occasion in Belfast was not the only time she insisted that suicide bombing perpetrators are “martyrs”. Here’s what she said at an anti-Iraq war panel on August 23, 2003 (retrieved from the website of the sponsoring organisation Just Peace, www.4justpeace.com, on March 17, 2004 – no longer online):
“Muslims have lost confidence since Sept. 11th. Something as simple as suicide bombers being martyrs is being denied by prominent Sheikhs. The dictionary definition of a martyr is someone who gives his life for a cause – suicide bombers are martyrs.”
In 2006, she reportedly labelled Chechen terrorist leader Shamil Basayev, the mastermind of the Moscow theatre siege and the horrific attack on a school in Beslan, Russia a “shaheed” (Islamic martyr) in an admiring article following his death.
She also reportedly wrote an article in 2006 in which she sought to justify al-Qaeda bombings in Amman, Jordan and expressed her preference for the al-Qaeda terrorist, Abu Musab al Zarqawi, over the Jordanian royal family, and in 2011, following the killing of Osama bin Laden, called his death “murder“, and said of Bin Laden he “was, after all, no Hitler, Pol Pot, Idi Amin, Stalin or Caligula.”
She has been much less kind to US President Barack Obama, who ordered the attack on Bin Laden. In 2012, she said Obama was “an out of control psychopathic killer with a loaded God complex.”
She is an open sympathiser with Hezbollah and Hamas. At an Al-Quds Day rally in Britain outside the US embassy in October 2006 – a day of “solidarity” with the Palestinian people which she admiringly noted had been founded by Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini – she said in front of a cheering crowd, “it’s great to see Hezbollah flags flying” amid crowd chants of “long live Hezbollah.”
And in 2009, she made clear her open support for Hamas, saying:
If I could use my Palestinian citizenship, it would be to vote Ismail Haniyeh and Hamas back in again in Gaza. Victory to intifada 3! Victory to Hamas!
Ridley further confirmed that she had personally donated money to the Hamas terrorist organisation, in contravention of international sanctions and possibly British law:
“I brought cash and I am happy to say I have given that cash to George Galloway and we have both given that money to the Palestinian Prime Minister, Ismail Haniyeh, which has broken UN sanctions. If they want to charge us, if they want to arrest us, bring it on.”
Meanwhile, her views on Israel are not only extreme – she calls it a “disgusting little watchdog of America that is festering in the Middle East”, “a vile little state…propped up by America” and says things like “anyone who knows me and why work [sic] know I loathe the Zionist state and what it stands for…” and “We have to end the Zionist state” – her statements have repeatedly veered into traditional antisemitic language and discrimination.
Ridley is a founding activist in George Galloway’s infamous left-wing Respect party in Britain, and was a Parliamentary candidate for the party in 2012. Galloway made headlines in August this year after he declared, in an example of blatant ethnic discrimination, his constituency of Bradford was to be an “Israel free zone.”
Ridley said something similar in an address at Imperial College in London in February 2006, when she declared Respect a “Zionist-free party,” noting; “if there was any Zionism in the Respect party they would be hunted down and kicked out.” She went on to attack Britain’s mainstream political parties as being “riddled with Zionists” – echoing some traditional antisemitic themes.
This was hardly the only time. In 2009, at a pro-Palestinian meeting she said, “The Zionists have tentacles everywhere. We’ve seen with the disgraceful behaviour from the BBC that this interference goes right to the very top of the media, into the very heart of our homes.”
In 2008, she attacked the Jewish-born then-British Foreign Minister David Milliband with the following words, “Milliband is a gutless, little weasel who lost more than his foreskin when he was circumcised.”
Then there was the time she demanded a boycott of Coca Cola, telling a rally, “Drinking Coca Cola is like drinking the blood of Palestinian children” – invoking imagery used in the traditional antisemitic blood libel.
She also went on to also demand boycotts of Starbucks and Marks & Spencer, alleging these companies supposedly help Israel buy “bullets to put in the backs of Palestinian schoolgirls.” But claims that these companies somehow support Israel are untrue – and arguably have antisemitic undertones. Starbucks does not give anything to Israel but appears to have been targetted by false allegations that it does so because its CEO, Howard Schultz, is Jewish. The same can be said for Marks and Spencer – it was co-founded by a Jewish family, some of whom were actively pro-Zionist but claims that the company has any sort of special relationship with Israel, other than the commercial purchase of some Israeli products, are denied.
Meanwhile, pro-boycott activists claim that “the company’s owner, Phillip Green, supports Israel through business deals and investments.” Green is Jewish, but he actually had no role in running Marks & Spencer, and has never been its “owner” (he made a failed takeover bid for the company in 2004). Finally, Coca-Cola itself is alleged by boycott activists to have been a “staunch Israel supporter since the mid-1960s” – meaning merely that it has long sold soft drinks in Israel despite the Arab boycott of Israel, nothing more.
When asked about her previous role as presenter on Iran’s government-controlled Press TV station, Ridley defended her post stating it “gives a different perspective to the coverage that you get from the mainstream media.” Indeed, this is the channel’s commonly claimed raison d’etre, “break[ing] the media stranglehold of western outlets…[and showing] the other side of the story.” Yet, in reality this explanation is merely an attempt to put a post-modern shine on often the blatant propaganda arm of a holocaust-denying and terror supporting regime which furthermore frequently publishes and airs blatantly antisemitic content – for examples, see here, here and here.
Yet, today the ABC appears to see it own raison d’etre served by not only giving Ridley a platform, but one in which, unlike in 2007, she is lobbed “Dorothy Dixers” to give an unchallenged response to her critics by making blatantly false claims about what their concerns are and accusing them of racism.
Press-TV is, of course, paid for by Iranian taxpayers. It is worrying indeed that the ABC seems to feel that Australian taxpayers should also pay for Ridley to be given an uncritical platform despite her poisonous apologetics for terrorism, extremism, and conspiracy theories about “Zionist tentacles”.
– Gabrielle Debinski and Tzvi Fleischer