Al Jazeera Host Mehdi Hasan Apologizes for Past Criticisms of Non-Believers

“I have always regretted the dumb and offensive comments I made in my 20s, on atheism and homosexuality,” Hasan tells TheWrap

Mehdi Hasan

Al Jazeera host Mehdi Hasan apologized over the weekend for remarks made a number of years ago that disparaged LGBT people and non-Muslims.

“Like a lot of journos (humans?) I’ve said things years ago that I now deeply regret. Chief among them for me is, more than a decade ago, in my 20s, when I wasn’t a public figure, I gave a bunch of speeches to students on Islam/extremism. And I said dumb offensive ranty stuff,” he said in a Twitter thread on Monday.

“Speaking without notes, & trying to be bombastic, I made stupid sweeping remarks about non-Muslims, especially atheists. I cringe now when I rehear/reread those remarks. I made stupid offensive analogies to animals. Argh. I’m embarrassed to have to write about all this again,” the thread continued. “But I don’t want to defend/explain today. I just want to say, I’m sorry.”

Hasan currently hosts Al Jazeera’s English-language programs “Upfront” and “Head to Head.”

In old recordings that resurfaced this week but have percolated for years, Hasan compared non-Muslims and atheists to “cattle” and included “homosexuals” in a long list of behaviors and categories which he said argued were transgressive of Islam.

“All of these ulama unanimously agree that at the very minimum if Yazid was not a Kaffir — then at the very minimum he was a fasiq, a transgressor, a breaker of Islamic laws, a corrupt individual, a tyrant, a killer a drunkard, a dog lover, a music lover, a homosexual, a pedophile, a sexual deviant, someone who slept with his own mother,” Hasan says in an old recording of what appears to be a sermon on Islamic law.

“In this respect the Koran describes the atheist as cattle. As cattle of those who grow the crops and do not stop and wonder about this world,” he said at another moment.

You can listen to his statements here. 

Hasan, who also works as a columnist for the liberal website The Intercept, said he was inspired to raise the issue of his own past remarks after the attack in Christchurch, New Zealand, earlier this month that left 50 dead.

“I have always regretted the dumb and offensive comments I made in my 20s, on atheism and homosexuality. They still embarrass me, but they haven’t been representative of my beliefs for over a decade,” he told TheWrap in an additional statement. “Rather than bury them, I chose to raise them myself in a Twitter thread over the weekend to try and urge us all to reckon with our prejudices and to challenge hate speech – whether witting or unwitting – wherever we find it.”

Hasan also noted that he has previously addressed his past remarks in pieces for both the Huffington Post and New Statesman.

Reps for Al Jazeera did not immediately respond to request for comment. In a statement, The Intercept said they stood behind their columnist as well and applauded his decision to face his past remarks.

“Mehdi Hasan is a highly accomplished and deeply principled journalist and political commentator. We applaud his decision to put out a reflective and self-critical series of tweets over the weekend, showing regret and contrition for remarks he made more than a decade ago, when he was in his twenties and not a public figure,” they said. “We stand by him and his trailblazing journalism and podcasting for The Intercept, where he has used his platform to defend universal human rights and to denounce bigotry of all kinds, including anti-Semitism, homophobia, white nationalism, and Muslim extremism.”