Ken: Why West must take share of the blame

Ken: Why West must take share of the blame

Evening Standard, 19 July 2005

Ken Livingstone today suggested that decades of western intervention in the Middle East and the Iraq war may have an impact on the bombers. The Mayor pointed to abuses of captured Iraqi prisoners at the notorious Abu Ghraib prison and of detainees at Guantanamo Bay by American forces. He said the ban on moderate Muslims, such as former singer Cat Stevens, from entering the United States would also have contributed. He said the war on Iraq ‘wouldn’t have helped’ and said the CIA had funded Osama bin Laden to fight against Soviet forces only for him to turn against the West.

Giving his first City Hall press conference since the London bombings, Mr Livingstone said: “We created these people. We built them up. We funded them. This has been a terrible legacy. This will all have some impact on how these young men’s minds were formed. This particular strand of extremism was funded by the West in Afghanistan. Osama bin Laden was just another businessman until he was recruited by the CIA. I suspect the real problem was that we funded these people, as long as they were killing Russians. We gave no thought to the fact that when they stopped killing Russians they might start killing us.”

He also revealed that controversial Muslim preacher Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who was banned from entering the US and who was reported to be attending a conference in Manchester next month, was in fact not going to attend. The Mayor’s office recruited an Arabic speaker to contact Al-Qaradawi’s office and was told that the sheikh was “unaware of any invitation to come to Britain”.

Mr Livingstone, who met Al-Qaradawi at City Hall last year, also said academics described him as a “leading progressive Muslim”.

He rounded on sections of the press for continuing to misrepresent Al-Qaradawi, claiming this pandered to “Islamaphobia”. The Mayor said Al-Qaradawi had strongly condemned the London attacks, saying they were “evil acts characterised by barbarity and savagery which are condemned by Islam”. Mr Livingstone said: “You couldn’t be stronger in your condemnation.”

He said it was wrong to claim that Al-Qaradawi supported Palestinian suicide bombers, adding: “Given that the Palestinians don’t have jet fighters and don’t have tanks, they only have their bodies to use as weapons. In that unfair balance, that is what people use. I don’t think he is urging people to go out and become suicide bombers.” He added: “The consistent double standards about the Middle East has created disaffection with youths.”

Al-Qaradawi’s decision not to visit Britain means the Government no longer faces the awkward question of whether to ban the radical preacher from entering the country. The Ramadhan Foundation, the educational institute behind the Muslim Unity Convention, said last weekend that the cleric would attend if he was fit enough to travel. But today the group’s chairman, Mohammed Umar, said he would reassess the invitation in the light of talks with Greater Manchester Police and the Home Office. Mr Umar also defended Al-Qaradawi, saying that he should not be “demonised” and was a force for moderation and inter-faith dialogue.

The preacher, born in Egypt and based in Qatar, drew protests from Jewish groups and gay rights organisations when he visited London last year as Mr Livingstone’s guest.