When Amazon (finally) stood up to hate

What’s clear is that people are ready to give up their moral compass to a company like Amazon who will shape and determine what is acceptable for them.

What’s clear is that people are ready to give up their moral compass to a company like Amazon who will shape and determine what is acceptable for them.

Amazon has recently banned the selling of far-right leader Tommy Robinson’s book ‘Why Muslims Kill’ from its site. The Muslim Vibe first called for Amazon to remove the book in 2017 and Mariam Hakim, who spearheaded the campaign, provides us with further insight.

Two years ago I wrote a passionate piece for The Muslim Vibe arguing that Amazon should not have been hosting and promoting a new book by far-right extremist Tommy Robinson. In this book Robinson and his (banned from Twitter) co-author Mclaughlin claimed to decipher the Holy Quran and explain how it calls all Muslims to turn violent and kill. 

I couldn’t quite get my head round why Amazon was openly hosting this hatred. The book labelled millions of peaceful, ordinary Muslims as killers, liars, and rapists. As Julian Bond, who reviewed the book, later wrote:

The book has been designed to create as much fear, hate, distrust and confrontation as possible…Interpreting the Quran as a manual for killing is a mark of the extremist…the authors are specifically encouraging hostility towards Muslims…your Muslim friends, colleagues and neighbours”.

This book was a tool used to spread hate. You only had to look at the front cover to know that this book did not make a distinction between a violent extremist Muslim or your average Western Muslim citizen. Moreover, the focus on the West is important, because the myth the book propagates is that Muslims are ‘taking over’ the UK and Europe – and this presents a sense of urgency because they are ready to kill others. Supposedly the Quran commands us to do this. Now imagine if an ISIS or jihadi extremist said that. Would Amazon publish it too?

I don’t think so.

I’ve been saying for years that Islamophobic extremists (like the far-right) and Islamist extremists (like ISIS) share the same narratives and violent ‘interpretations’ of scripture. They’ve created their own blood-thirsty version of Islam, with no room for nuance or a peaceful spiritual connection to the Divine.

Thus this book clearly was the product of an extremist mindset and could easily fall into the category of hate speech due to its xenophobic fear mongering.  Yet my main issue wasn’t with its authors cashing in on Islamophobia, but with Amazon for enabling them. 

How Amazon initially helped extremists

It was Amazon that was marketing this extremist book under ‘bestseller’ categories despite it being a new release. And it was Amazon that was carrying reader reviews promoting and defending the book’s content. The site would then recommend the book on to other users. Similarly, Amazon was marketing Rahim Kassam’s hate filled myth spinning book Sharia No Go Zones as a bestseller under the category of ‘Islamic law’ and ‘Islamic festivals’. It was clearly creating categories to highlight these books under – despite the ill fit – and give them greater visibility with users. 

This ‘bestseller status’ is important. It’s a sign for people. It cognitively impresses itself on to audiences as a seal of validation, a marker of credibility. It gives the author an air of authority. Robinson had continuously boasted about his books ‘no. 1 bestseller’ status on Amazon. It didn’t matter if anyone had actually read the book or engaged with the content – and many hadn’t as they were his die-hard fans. It was given a bestseller status regardless, which was effectively used as a validation of its content and its ‘truth’. 

Thus my issue was that Amazon was endorsing extremists, whose words were banned on social media for their hatred, yet proactively sold by Amazon for profit.

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The site was facilitating their work and economically supporting them as sellers. You see what makes Amazon unique is that it’s not just a standard book store, it’s an online market place, and it can heavily facilitate the marketing of the products it is selling.

It can become a catalyst for these books of hate to spread far and gain more influence. If Amazon refused to sell these books, the authors would have to do the hard work it takes to be their own independent sales people. They’d have to find their own warehouse, market it, post it, ship it, have their own site for reader reviews etc. Amazon cuts out the hard graft so that Islamophobes and xenophobes can glide through the process of publishing a book and get their scaremongering out to mass audiences.

The tide turned

Thankfully around March 2019 Amazon saw sense and removed Robinson’s book of hate from its platform classing it as “inappropriate content.” This means even third party sellers can no longer list the book on the site. It is banned.

It’s welcome news, especially for those of us who could see how this book aimed to radicalise people into becoming hostile towards Muslims. However, there are many questions left unanswered.

The main (if not sole) author of the book, McLoughlin, had been banned from Twitter for his extremist far-right views for many years. Although Twitter deemed his content inappropriate and worthy of suspending his account, Amazon took a long time to follow the same moral compass. It begs the question; how much is best practice around limiting hate speech being shared across the major players online? 

Why didn’t the sanctions and fines imposed on social media companies (at the time) also extend to a mainstream market place like Amazon? It certainly hasn’t felt like we’ve had a consistent public approach to content online. For example, swift action is taken to remove content found to infringe copyright rules, but a ‘laissez-faire’ approach is adopted when it involves hateful or illegal content.


Another issue was that there’s been very little outrage against the racist and xenophobic books currently sold and marketed through Amazon. On the contrary, I personally received messages with people claiming Amazon is ‘entitled’ to sell extremist books, that it’s ‘free speech’, and that users shouldn’t petition them on what they are selling.  

This isn’t about a diversity of books though. In the past Amazon has removed books and clothing that promoted paedophilia or Holocaust denial, so calling on Amazon to do better isn’t something new. 

There is, however, something deeper going on here. What’s clear is that people are ready to give up their moral compass to a company like Amazon who will shape and determine what is acceptable for them. Here, business-driven interests are determining what is normal for society and drafting our principles, rather than the other way round – and people seem ready to defend this. 

But the market place has no morality. Just because something has become an economic reality, i.e. the sale of extremist books, doesn’t mean that it is respectable or a desirable feature within our society. As James Ellsworth put it, extremism and “bigotry should be economically untenable. It certainly shouldn’t be profitable” and made possible by a mainstream company like Amazon. 

There seems to be a misunderstanding that Amazon is publicly penned, or is some sort of library. Amazon is a profit making power house. It doesn’t just allow you to buy a book, it markets them all to you. On some occasions a 1 star review on Amazon, which fifty users may tag as ‘helpful’,  does not immediately appear first when you click on a book. However, a 5 star review with only two ‘helpful’ ratings may appear first. This is not an impartial reflection of reality. This is digital marketing. Money drives progress (or regression) – not ethical responsibility.

The future

There were those who said by speaking up against Amazon’s involvement I was ‘making noise’ and therefore marketing the book myself. 

Yet we cannot bury our heads by avoiding these discussions or being in denial. We live in a post-truth age, where lies and half-truths can easily gain traction. It is a moral duty on all of us to strive for truth and justice – even beyond Islamophobic content – for the betterment of all humanity.  

There is still plenty of work to be done with Amazon. There’s still a whole host of racist books  being sold and facilitated. Many of these promote the white genocide/ ‘great replacement’ conspiracy theory by white nationalists who claim immigrants are ‘Islamifying’ Europe. Amazon seriously needs to clean up its act. Many of these books push readers to adopt radical positions on Islam and Muslims with very little insight; masquerading as some sort of product from a research think tank. And Amazon markets them and profits from them.

Racists and xenophobes will always find strength in our silence, so we must raise our voices and support those who challenge the status quo, especially when the status quo comprises of white nationalist conspiracy theories and far-right sensationalism against Muslims. 

It is up to us to speak truth to power and tell Amazon; stop promoting extremism and hate.

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