Labour MP Denis MacShane has a rambling piece in the current issue of Tribune, which purports to examine “how Labour should respond to Islamist politics”. The primary purpose of the piece is to offer critical support to the thesis in Melanie Phillips’ paranoid rant Londonistan that Islamism is a threat to Western civilisation. MacShane distances himself from some of the language used, but concludes that “Phillips’ book should be read…. Britain does need to wake up to the problems she discusses”.
The level of ignorance and contempt for facts in MacShane’s article is quite breathtaking. He tells us that the Muslim Council of Britain is “linked to the Muslim Brotherhood”. Presumably he means the Muslim Association of Britain – which is just one of hundreds of MCB affiliates. MacShane refers to a speech he made in 2003 “after a young man had gone to Israel, strapped explosives to his body and sought to kill innocent Jews”. This would appear to be a reference to Wail al-Dhaleai, who was reported to have died in a suicide attack on US troops in Iraq.
In his 2003 speech – which he now claims was uncontentious, even banal – MacShane said: “It is time for the elected and community leaders of the 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.” MacShane claims that the head of the CRE, Trevor Phillips, “wrote a whole page in The Observer denouncing me”. Phillips wrote no such article in the Observer. There was a report in that paper which noted that MacShane’s supposedly uncontroversial speech had “provoked a furious reaction from Muslim leaders, who said that they had condemned terrorism time and again”. Trevor Phillips was quoted in the report as saying:
“It would have been smarter if Denis MacShane had found out what British Muslims have been saying since, before and after September 11 on the issue of terrorism. Had he taken the trouble to do so, he would have known that his criticisms could not possibly apply to the leadership of mainstream Muslim opinion in Britain. This type of language will simply drive Muslims, who believe that once again they are being stereotyped, into the arms of extremists. He could have spoken to David Blunkett and Jack Straw, both of whom know the British Muslim community quite well, neither of whom would have made these remarks.”
Phillips also said that the use of the phrase “the British way” was offensive: “On the face of it, it is a little undiplomatic for a Foreign Office Minister to suggest that the British have a monopoly on rational and civilised behaviour. Anybody who hails from a colony could adduce several centuries of evidence to the contrary.”
According to a Guardian report, MacShane’s constituency party passed a resolution, proposed and seconded by two local Muslim councillors, which expressed no confidence in their MP and called on the party’s national executive committee to discipline him. The motion stated:
“Denis MacShane is inciting racial and religious hatred, by publicly implying in the press that the Muslim community elected members and leaders are in favour of terrorism and being anti-British. We feel these comments are ill-informed, designed to portray us in the media as conspiring against the state. The Nazis in world war two similarly accused the Jews, disputing their patriotism, which was so well executed that it led to what we now know as the Holocaust.”
In short, if the Labour Party is to discuss the issue of Islamism, the last person they should be listening to is Denis MacShane.
Talk don’t walk on principles
By Denis MacShane
Tribune, 28 July 2006
“LONDONISTAN” is the name clever French diplomats gave to Britain’s capital city in the 1990s. The French were furious that ideologues and organisers of hate and terror were given refuge in London and allowed to continue their various activities.
France suffered its own version of July 7 in the summer of 1995. Eight people were killed and many wounded after an Islamist bomb was left on the Paris Metro. One of the men wanted in connection with the killings was Rashid Ramda. He fled to London. Lawyers, judges and civil liberties campaigners leapt to his defence. For 10 years, they found dozens of reasons why Ramda could not make the short trip across the Channel to answer questions from the French police.
It was one of the most shaming episodes in British extradition history. We demand that the men we want to interview are brought back to this country for questioning. Friendly governments are happy to assist. In the case of Ramda, justice had to wait until Charles Clarke was Home Secretary to find the political leadership with the courage to co-operate with a fellow European democracy whose citizens had been killed by a group wanting to take over Algeria in the name of religion.
In the 1930s, if a political group or individual had set about promoting anti-Jewish hate, or openly denouncing parliamentary democracy, or insisting that law was subordinate to theological absolutism, or believed that schools and universities that taught “wrong” ideas or had “wrong” students and should be closed, or insisted that opponents could – indeed, should be – killed, then the Left at that time would have been up in arms to take on and defeat such clerical fascism.
The Taliban is not known for its tolerance, liberalism or rationality. Yet it was openly supported by some British citizens up to 2001. A political speaker in London in 2004 had this to say: “These are the Jews, a continuous lineage of meanness, cunning, obstinacy, tyranny, licentiousness, evil and corruption.” Had such language been used by someone in the fascist British National Party, there would have been uproar. In fact, the remarks were made by a preacher at a London Muslim Centre. No one seemed to care. In the 1930s the Left knew its politics. By the time of the Taliban, the Left had stopped thinking.
In her book Londonistan, Right-wing columnist Melanie Phillips lists in pitiless detail these and other examples of the most foul, hate-filled incitement that is the negation of democracy and everything the labour movement has ever stood for. Unfortunately for her case, Philips mixes an indictment of what needs to be opposed with every tawdry, illiberal, ugly, anti-family, anti-British, xenophobic passion that obsesses her and her newspaper, the Daily Mail. In her columns. Phillips issues more fatwas than anyone else on the planet. She denounces every modest effort to make Britain a better place to live in.
It took years of campaigning by progressive politicians against the reactionary elements of the day to allow British Jews and Catholics some civic and political rights in Britain. Even today, many British Jews and other minority faith, believe that being observant can be a barrier to their full integration.
British Muslims, in particular, think this. Before 1997, they had to live under a Government that had nothing but indifference to their place in British society. British Muslims looked with horror at Tory Foreign Secretaries sitting on their hands doing nothing to stop the massacre of European Muslims in Europe.
British Jews have every right to express solidarity and sympathy with Jews in other countries, notably the Middle East. So, too, do British Muslims as they look at what is done to their co-religionists in Kashmir or Palestine. The likes of Phillips deny them that right.
She rages at Europe, comprehensive schools, halal meat, human rights legislation, and modest efforts to teach some truth about British colonial history. On and on like a Wagnerian soprano, she rails against modernity. Yet yesterday’s Britain. in which she grew up and which she invokes as a model to return to, was often anti-Semitic and anti-Catholic. If she reads what Lord Rothermere had to say about Jews in the 1930s, she may wonder why she works on the Daily Mail.
This lack of history, lack of context and lack of sensibility undermines Londonistan – which is actually a very important book. She claims that I was fired as Minister for Europe because of a speech I made in December 2003 in which I urged British Muslims to denounce terrorism. I made the speech to the general committee of Rotherham Constituency Labour Party after a young man in Sheffield had gone to Israel, strapped explosives to his body and sought to kill innocent Jews. I did not think my remarks were contentious. After July 7, they would have been banal. But late in 2003, Trevor Philips wrote a whole page in The Observer denouncing me. The Foreign Office would not allow me to defend my position. I had to listen to Shahid Malik and others attacking what I had said. Inside the Foreign Office, the matter was dealt with by a young man who came from the Muslim Council of Britain, which is linked to the Muslim Brotherhood.
I was surprised that a foreign body whose founders and successors, including current leaders, have made no secret of their view that Muslims should live under religious rather than secular democratic institutions and law, should have such influence in a British department of state. I do not share the absolutist view that Britain should have no contacts with groups like the Muslim Brotherhood. But I do not think policy or Whitehall administration should be subcontracted to any outside body. Neither the Roman nor Anglican churches, still less Jewish faith groups, have such direct presence in the heart of Britain’s premier department of state.
The CBI and TUC would love to have their man at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. But they don’t. However, the Muslim Brotherhood, whose founder, Hassan al-Banna invoked the Nazi Third Reich as a model and called for the return of “an Islamic empire” in Mediterranean Europe, does.
I have no idea why I was removed as a minister and it does not worry me in the slightest. Red boxes are here today and gone tomorrow. If anything, Labour is looking tired and some warhorse ministers who look like they have been in office for too long could recover some youth and energy on the backbenches. But if a minister is to be dismissed for telling the truth, even if that telling is not perfectly timed, this or any Labour Government is in trouble. And instant pundits should work out whether they will be saying the same thing in a few months’ time.,
I prefer “jaw-jaw” to “war-war” and Melanie Phillips is wrong to declare all-out war on politically active Muslims in Britain. But dialogue cannot mean surrender of core Labour principles about free speech. There can be no promotion of violence, no concessions on equality for women and gays, no invitations to speakers who denounce Jews or find weasel words to justify terrorism. It is on political terrain that the issues have to be discussed and resolved.
Slowly, we are now seeing published material which puts before the public words and ideas from Islamists that are the opposite of everything Labour and European democracy has stood for. Nick Cohen is finishing a book which all should read. Martin Bright of the New Statesman has just published an important pamphlet on this issue. I disagree with some of his arguments but it is good they are in the open. It is a shame he had to go to a Right-wing thinktank to be published. The likes of the Fabian Society, the Institute for Public Policy Research and Compass are making a massive mistake if they leave debate and investigation into Islamist extremism to the Right.
At the end of the 19th century, the Tory Prime Minister, Lord Salisbury, said: “I would no more give the vote to the Irishman than I would to the Hottentot.” That kind of racism found expression in Tory anti-Semitism and anti-Catholicism.
Islamist politics is one of the most important issues for the future of the Left and for democracy. Getting the right answers will define the world’s future. Labour has to shun Islamaphobia. But it has to find answers to calls for censorship and for implicit support or justification of killing travellers on the London Underground. It needs to find answers to those who place the rights of humankind below theological interpretations of God’s will – whatever that may be.
A hard difficult time lies ahead of us. Phillips’ book should be read – do not be put off by her rants against Europe and all her other pet hates. Britain does need to wake up to the problems she discusses. But if we resort to her language, we will make the problems much, much worse.
Denis MacShane is Labour MP for Rotherham and worked at the Foreign Office from 1997 to 2005 as parliamentary private secretary and then a minister.
Londonistan: How Britain is creating a terror state within by Melanie Phillips is published by Gibson Squire Books Ltd price £14.99