As Leaders of Britain’s Muslims appealed to Prime Minister Tony Blair to reduce tensions after last week’s terror alert, a former London police chief has inflamed the debate by blaming Muslims for terrorist networks in the country.
“When will the Muslim community in this country accept an absolute, undeniable, total truth: that Islamic terrorism is their problem?” wrote Lord Stevens, former commissioner of London’s Metropolitan Police, in an opinion column for the News of the World.
In their open letter to Mr Blair on Saturday, Muslim leaders urged him to alter his political stance on the Middle East, which they said provided “ammunition to extremists who threaten us all”.
Lord Stevens, whose continuing responsibilities include the inquiry into Princess Diana’s death, called on Muslims to “stop the denial, endless fudging and constant wailing that somehow it is everyone else’s problem and, if Islamic terrorism exists at all, they are somehow the main victims”.
He also defended racial profiling at airports and other hotspots, saying resources were being wasted on searching everybody out of a sense of fairness.
“I’m a white, 62-year-old, suit-wearing ex-cop—I fly often, but do I really fit the profile of a suicide bomber?” Lord Stevens wrote.
His comments clash with a speech delivered last week, before the latest arrests, by Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Tarique Ghaffur, who said profiling had discriminated against Muslims and added to racial tensions in Britain.
“Of course, there’ll be instant squealings that this is racism. It’s not,” Lord Stevens insisted.
“It’s exactly the same as recognising that, during the Northern Ireland troubles that left thousands dead, the IRA were totally based in the Catholic community and the UVF in the Protestant.”
Other reports yesterday claimed that the leader of al-Qaeda in Britain had been captured in last week’s raids.
The unnamed man, one of the 24 individuals seized last Thursday, was described by the Sunday Times as suspected not only of masterminding the foiled plot to bring down trans-Atlantic airliners, but also of involvement in other planned atrocities over the past few years.
Pakistani police allege that Rashid Rauf, a 26-year-old arrested by them last week, was acting as an agent there for the British network, organising cash support and training.
British security agencies have been loath so far to claim direct al-Qaeda involvement, although US Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said on the day of the arrests that the alleged plot bore the group’s hallmarks.
US President George Bush on Saturday told Americans that those behind the foiled plot shared a totalitarian ideology with Lebanon’s Hezbollah.
Twenty-two Britons—principally young, British-born men of Pakistani descent—are still being questioned in British police stations.
One person has been released without charge, and a 24th is due for a hearing today to determine whether police may continue questioning.
In Australia, Prime Minister John Howard said he had serious doubts about the latest UN resolution on a ceasefire in Lebanon because it did not clearly state how Hezbollah was to be disarmed.
He said that unless there was a Palestinian state side by side with an Israel whose right to exist was recognised by all the relevant countries, there was never going to be peace in the Middle East.
Mr Howard said that if Australia contributed to the Lebanon peacekeeping force, it would be a small “niche contribution”.
“We have made no decision to send Australian forces, and it should not be assumed we will,” he said.
The anti-war-on-terror lobby has had a bad week. Not that it hasn’t kept its end up. Oh no. Faced with a threat so devastating that it seemed more like a world-domination plot from a Superman comic than a hard-headed act of war, there was nothing for it but to fall back on semantics.
George W. Bush was pilloried for referring to “Islamic fascists” by, among others, the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu. Using that kind of language “on the ranch in Texas” did not help, he said, to make society “a good, neighbourly place”.
I don’t know what the ranch in Texas has to do with anything, but Dr Sentamu seems not to understand the difference between describing Islamic fundamentalists as fascistic, and saying that all Muslims are fascists.
Similar confusion seemed to prevail in much of the broadcast media. I heard one television interviewer ask a Muslim spokesperson if he thought that Mr Bush’s “name-calling” had any point.
Name-calling? This makes it sound as if he had said: “Al-Qa’eda are a bunch of big fat poops.”
The word “fascism” means an extreme totalitarian system that suppresses human rights and democratic freedoms.
Islamic fundamentalism is fascistic in the precise, technical sense of the word.
The war-on-reality brigade took aim at Tony Blair’s “arc of extremism” phrase, too: it was simplistic and misleading to claim that all Muslim terrorists, from the Chechens to Iraqi Sunnis and Kashmiris, were somehow linked in one wicked confederacy.
And yet many of those same sceptical sophisticates who wished to distinguish so carefully between the various Islamic discontents would also claim that the answer to all our problems was to solve the Palestinian problem (and thus withdraw our support for Israel), which is certainly of little relevance to the anger of Kashmiri separatists with whom most British Muslim suspects identify.
Al-Qa’eda began talking about the Palestinian question after 9/11, only when it found itself having to give a plausible public account of its motives.
Until then, it was frank about its actual goal, which is to re-establish the Caliphate over the historic Islamic empire.
So maybe those who wish to conciliate this movement, who believe that it can be negotiated with in some rational way, would like to tell us where they would begin making concessions.
Would they like to explain to the citizens of Turkey that they may have to sacrifice their secular democracy and be ruled again by the theocracy from which they had broken free?
Or perhaps they could persuade the residents of Spain that, since Islam would like to rule the Alhambra once again, they must, in the interests of meeting al-Qa’eda halfway, consider sacrificing this region.
Next, perhaps, would be the recognition of sharia law in Muslim-dominated regions of Britain and France.
No wonder the liberals are in disarray. What we are up against is quite outside the limits of our rational political discourse.
This enemy does not even bother to offer explanations for its actions that fall within the acceptable bounds of Western debate: it is overtly racist, explicitly imperialistic and unapologetically inhumane.
So it is left to the media to make the apologias. First, the home-grown terrorist threat was the fault of racist Britain for denying opportunity and educational advancement to Muslim youth.
Then it turned out that most of those involved in the propagation of terrorism were middle-class and university-educated.
At least two of the suspects arrested in the latest alleged plot are converts to Islam: they cannot be said to have suffered a lifetime of embittering discrimination for their newly embraced faith.
This phenomenon is more reminiscent of Baader-Meinhoff than of the intifada—a fanatical cult of rebellious malcontents who are “alienated” (the word of the moment) by the actions of their government and the mores of their country.
This pernicious nonsense is treated by the BBC as if it were the height of reasonableness.
When a committee of Muslim spokesmen announces that, while it condemns violence etc, it nevertheless finds it somehow understandable that Muslim youth should be so “alienated” by the Government’s foreign policy that they become willing recruits to a murderous lunatic sect, their statement is described as a bid for peace rather than a blatant piece of blackmail.
What exactly does it mean, this message of “peace”: that you can only be safe if we get the foreign policy we want—otherwise some of us may feel justified in blowing you out of the sky?
That is what most of the broadcast vox pops on the British Muslim street seem to imply. Is this what the majority of the Muslim community really wants said in its name?
I find it hard to believe that the gentle, devoted Muslim families who I know feel this way. But perhaps the BBC believes that it is helping race relations in Britain by pointing a microphone at every young male hothead on the streets of Walthamstow and Birmingham, without bothering to ask who he speaks for, how many people he represents, whether even his parents agree with him.
Or by “balancing” every discussion with an equal number of Muslim moderates and extremists, implying that their numbers within the community are the same.
The trouble with the more benign elements among the Islamic community is that they are peculiarly diffident, especially if they are elderly or female—which makes the media’s over-reliance on self-appointed “spokesmen” especially dangerous.
Whose considered judgment is it that the broadcast (unlike the print) media should cringe in the face of extremist Islam?
Where is the famously aggressive examination of Today when it is faced with a rant against America and Britain for “attacking Islam all over the world” (even though Britain and America went to war in Bosnia to defend Muslims)?
In the US, Democratic senator Joseph Lieberman, who supported the Bush foreign policy, has just been thrown out by his party primary—in effect, de-selected—in favour of an anti-war candidate who may be in a better position to exploit voters’ disenchantment with events in Iraq.
For what may be similarly opportunistic reasons, the Tory party is backing away from support for Israel, even though Israel is the West’s proxy in this global confrontation as much as Hizbollah is Iran’s.
This is a critical moment. What we must call the “free world” will either decide that it must unite unequivocally against a force so dark that it is almost incomprehensible to democratic peoples, or else succumb to a daydream of denial that is nothing more than appeasement.