THE LEVANT – By Denis McShane, former European Minister – Is the choice of words over the slaying of James Foley by a British Islamist really helpful? The normally sober Financial Times today has an op-ed where the IS Islamists killers are called ‘disturbed, deluded and deranged’ before the author turns of his adjectival tsunami to express his (and our) disgust at what happened.
But we have been here before. Similar language was used when the Stern Gang hanged two British soldiers who had been abducted in Palestine in 1948. British Jews were told they had to stand up against terrorism and denounce the atrocity – for which Israel has never apologised or paid compensation to the murdered victims’ families.
In the 1970s, similar language was used about IRA killers. Sir Nigel Bridge QC who presided over the trial of the entirely innocent Birmingham bombers said he regretted the death penalty had been abolished as he could not sentence them to hang. Naturally, he was made a peer and promoted to the appeal court for such language as he condemned six innocent men to life sentences.
Every time something cruel happens, the reflex is go into the rattle bag of clichés of condemnation. What that does is prevent serious thought about the politics and ideology behind the decision to fly a plane into the World Trade Centre, murder Daniel Pearl in Pakistan because he was Jewish, and now butcher James Foley because he was American.
Unlike France where serious scholars like Giles Keppel have been writing about Islamist ideology for years and where soft Islamist ideologues like Tariq Ramadan face excoriation on television Britain has been in denial about the reach and influence of Islamist ideology.
For the City and the ruling Conservatives under Margaret Thatcher and John Major it was vital not to challenge the Wahabi creed of Saudi Arabia whose arms purchases and oil sales made London rich. More recently the Gulf States like Qatar which openly fund hard-line Islamism bank-roll politicians with huge fees for boring speeches and keep much of the UK luxury life-style business in handsome profits.
The Royal Family are complicit in rolling out red carpets for men from the Gulf whose world view is based on oppression, and denial of key human values like religious freedom, respect for women’s rights as well as intellectual inquiry, media freedom and gay rights.
Inside Britain there has been a 25 year long growth of Islamist ideology which has sunk roots in organisations that have influence with Britain’s 2.7 million Muslims. Many of these come from poor families still rooted in village patriarchical traditions in Kashmir or Bangladesh. Unemployment rates in these communities is much higher than is realised and education attainment often low.
The insistence on bringing over spouses – young women and men – from the sub-continent who can barely read or write English reproduces poverty and dis-integration. The TV channels are tuned to Pakistan stations, the papers read are in Urdu, the religious services are not in English and men and women never co-mingle at public events.
None of this is challenged because any such challenge is condemned as either racist or an assault on multicultural values. As an FCO minister in November 2003 I had to deal with an Islamist attack on the British consulate in Istanbul in which 26 people, including a young woman diplomat from Manchester, were killed. At the same time, a 24 year old Muslim from South Yorkshire had gone out to Tel Aviv encouraged by the relentless hate of the Islamists and their fellow-travellers like George Galloway for Israel. He was tasked to kill Jews but instead pressed the wrong button and blew himself up.
In a speech to my constituency I said it was “time for the elected and community leaders of British Muslims to make a choice: the British way, based on political dialogue and non-violent protests, or the way of the terrorists against which the whole democratic world is uniting”.
The heavens fell in. The Guardian and Observer and World at One made it a major story as British Muslim organisations called my remarks “outrageous” and “disgraceful”. Shahid Malik, then a Labour MP, who saw himself as the parliamentary spokesperson for British Muslims attacked me openly as did Trevor Philips from the Commission for Racial Equality.
In the Foreign Office there was a great kerfuffle. Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, spent an inordinate amount of time cosseting his Muslim constituents in Blackburn. He had brought in an official from the Muslim Council of Britain to advise the FCO on outreach to Islamist outfit like the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. To attack their values was heresy. I was told I was close to being fired as a minister unless I signed some grovelling climb-down which as a coward I did. I also liked and respected my Kashmiri constituents and did not want to hurt them.
But perhaps if all politicians, journalists and intellectuals had told the truth about Islamism, ten, or better twenty years ago Britain might have been equipped to understand what drives British citizens to go out and commit these atrocities.
There was a wake-up call after 7/7 but under David Cameron for whom reaching out to British Muslims amounted to just having a token Sayeeda Warsi as decoration in his cabinet the coalition never understood the problem.
Whitehall has gone to sleep about Islamism and its doctrine of hate against women, against gays, against free expression, against Jews, against Israel’s right to exist.
By all means call the most extreme violent Islamists deranged and deluded. But such language has no impact on them. The emerge from a culture based on Islamist ideology, both hard and soft. This deforms the religion of Islam, but it must be confronted intellectually, politically and with vigour and resources if we want to Britain to be a country where Muslims can worship but Islamism is eradicated.
Denis MacShane is a former Minister of Europe. His Prison Diaries has just been published.