In the aftermath of the London transport bombings of July 2005, a number of respected leaders of Islamic communities in the UK, whilst condemning the bombings without reservation, called nonetheless for an official inquiry into their cause.
This line of thinking left me puzzled. After all, the causes of the bombings were surely very clear. The bombings were caused by bombs, transported by identifiable bombers, some of whom were thoughtful enough to have bequeathed us videotapes in which they freely confessed to the murders they were about to commit. The bombers were British-born Muslims. They perpetrated their crimes in order to punish British citizens randomly for the policies of the elected British government. Let me quote from the “martyrdom” tape of Shehzad Tanweer:
“For the non-Muslims in Britain, you may wonder what you have done to deserve this. You are those who have voted in your government who in turn have and still continue to this day continue to oppress our mothers and children, brothers and sisters from the east to the west in Palestine, Afghanistan, Iraq and Chechnya… We are 100 per cent committed to the cause of Islam. We love death the way you love life. I tell all you British citizens to stop your support to your lying British government and to the so-called war on terror.”
Nothing could therefore be clearer as to the causes of the bombings. They were “propaganda by the deed”, a favourite device of 19th-century anarchists, whose “infernal machines” (ie bombs) were designed to draw attention to political grievances, real or imagined, and to punish society for not embracing their anarchistic philosophy. Angered at the foreign policy of the Blair government, Mr Tanweer and his associates decided to murder as many people as they could as a way of making manifest this annoyance.
What can be done to prevent further, similarly motivated murders? Following the July 2005 atrocities, the government concluded that it would benefit from the wisdom of “counter-extremism” advisers. I foolishly imagined that the purpose of this initiative was to engage with young British Muslims, and to educate them in the superior ways of British democracy as compared with Islamist fundamentalism. I was wrong.
Earlier this month, 14 of the government’s leading Muslim “counter-extremism” advisers penned a much-publicised letter to Gordon Brown warning him that Israel’s military action in Gaza was damaging his government’s efforts to tackle Muslim religious extremism at home. Although the writers of the letter disavowed any intention of wanting an alteration in British foreign policy, they went out of their way to urge the Prime Minister to pressure the American government to abandon its “partisan” foreign policy, and to lobby the EU to suspend trade negotiations with Israel.
Following the despatch of this letter, Justice Minister Shahid Malik warned that Israeli military activity in Gaza was having a “profoundly acute and unhealthy” effect on British Muslim communities.” “Patience,” he cautioned, was “running out.” Muslims, Malik explained, could perceive no difference between current government policy towards Israel and that of Tony Blair. Another Muslim MP, Khalid Mahmood, echoed this sentiment, commenting that the government needed to use stronger language to show that “we as a nation are not happy with what is going on in Gaza”.
Well, of course no one is happy with what has been going on in Gaza. But this is not the only cause of unhappiness. I am unhappy with Muslim atrocities in India. Did the government’s “counter-extremism” advisers make a public statement about that? Do British Muslims accept the view of Hamas that Israel should be done away with? How many Islamic-sponsored public demonstrations have there been against Hamas repression of its own political opponents?
Anglo-Muslim outrage, in short, seems highly selective to me. But I am equally concerned about the underlying insinuation behind the public utterances to which I have referred.
If British Muslims, young or old, wish to express their opposition to the government’s foreign policy, they are privileged to live in a country that grants them the freedom to do so. To suggest, however tentatively, that the government’s foreign policy validates or legitimates the resort to extremism not only strikes me as highly dangerous, but anyone who makes such an implication runs the risk of excusing the violent subversion of the machinery of democracy in this country.