War of words as politics lecturer turns up heat on Kilroy-Silk

Britain’s leading expert in middle eastern studies, York Professor Haleh Afshar, has hit out at “BNP recruiting” Robert Kilroy-Silk

As the national debate sparked by the ex-talk show host’s controversial newspaper article continues, prominent figures have emphasised its damaging consequences and welcomed his resignation.

Afshar, a poitics lecturer who has publicly challenged Kilroy-Silk’s view of history, accused the television presenter of having “fuelled the fire of Islamophobia and contributed to the BNP propaganda machine.” She said his claim that Arabs have contributed little to human development, as well as his portrayal of the Middle East as uncivilized, “showed an extraordinary lack of rudimentary historical knowledge.” Afshar was also critical of the indiscriminate “inflammatory comments about the universal oppression of women and the amputation of limbs.”

Having backed the BBC’s decision to suspend the host, she added: “(He) has expressed what has been seen by the largest minority group in this country as racist and unfounded opinions. There is a general agreement that comments made in his article would not have been acceptable had the subject under attack been ‘blacks’ or ‘Jews.’” However, “Mr Silk has a right to free speech and he can write what he likes, so long as there is a right of response by people who have been denigrated by him.”

The Kilroy-Silk article, which carried the headline ‘We Owe Arabs Nothing,’ appeared in the Sunday Express newspaper earlier this month. BBC executives pulled the host’s daytime show a week later following numerous public complaints. Although Kilroy-Silk formally quit his presenting job on 16th January, he remains head of a television company that produces material for terrestrial channels. He claimed the article, previously published in an edited form in April 2003, was re-printed in error after his secretary sent the wrong column to the newspaper. “Blaming editors and secretaries is not normally an option unless they re-write the material in a way that does not reflect the author’s actual meaning,” Afshar remarked.

Afshar’s concerns about the Kilroy-Silk article’s apparent endorsement of far-right political groups are of particular relevance to York, given recent reports of BNP activism in the Acomb area. However, Cllr Ceredig Jamieson-Ball, representative of Heslington Ward, played down concerns that the BNP might capitalise on the comments made. “Locally I wouldn’t have thought they’d have much impact, but it would be naïve to say that it isn’t a possibility,” he told nouse. “If we find that they are, the Liberal Democrats, and I expect the Labour Party, will counter their arguments directly.”

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