Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Nick Cohen on "the unholy alliance that damns Rushdie"

This is a great piece by Nick Cohen on Britain asking whether or not to appease Islamist terror:

On 23 June 2005, Sir Derek Plumbly, the British ambassador to Egypt, wrote to the Foreign Office's political director, John Sawers, about his colleagues' determination to 'engage' with the radical Islamists in the Muslim Brotherhood. Its motto is: 'Allah is our objective. The Prophet is our leader. The Koran is our constitution. Jihad is our way. Dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope.' Hassan al-Banna, its founder, was an admirer of European fascism and its most terrible ideologist, Syed Qutb, inspired the wave of Sunni terror that is sweeping the world.

Given that the brotherhood's leaders came from the far right and upheld an explicit far-right programme, Sir Derek wondered if these were the kind of chaps the FO should be doing business with. In a letter leaked to the New Statesman, he said that he detected a 'tendency for us to be drawn towards engagement for its own sake; to confuse "engaging with the Islamic world" with "engaging with Islamism"; and to play down the very real downsides for us in terms of the Islamists' likely foreign and social policies, should they actually achieve power in countries such as Egypt'.

What was Britain hoping to achieve? How did a country under a left-of-centre government expect to influence religious rightists? Did it hope that a conversation with Foreign Office ministers would persuade them to repent and become converts to the noble cause of the emancipation of women? Would an invitation to tea with a high commissioner be enough to shake them out of their hatred of homosexuals, Jews, free thinkers, liberals and secularists?

Get real, said Sir Derek: 'I suspect that there will be relatively few contexts in which we are able significantly to influence the Islamists' agenda.' Plumbly lost the power struggle against the pro-brotherhood faction in the Foreign Office, but the questions he raised then remain pertinent now, as the disgraceful reaction to Salman Rushdie's knighthood shows. Across the political spectrum, the ignorant and the terrified are arguing that if only Britain didn't provoke the zealots in Pakistan and Iran - and, indeed, in Sparkbrook and Tower Hamlets - by defending liberal values and honouring a great writer, their fury would pass and we would be safe.

In theory, they may have a case. We all appease in our daily lives and make concessions in order to get concessions in return. In practice, the Labour government has tested appeasement to destruction and, thankfully, turned back to principled politics

If you haven't read The Islamist, Ed Husain's memoir of his life on the religious right, it is worth doing so because he uses his inside knowledge to describe how Labour placated reactionaries who hated every progressive principle the centre-left holds. To take one of many examples, Husain tells how his journey into the wilds began when he joined the east London mosque, which was controlled by Jamat-e-Islami, the Muslim Brotherhood's south Asian sister organisation. After his disillusionment with far-right politics, he returned to the mosque bookshop and found Qutb's work on sale: '... with chapter headings such as "The virtues of killing a non-believer" and ideas such as "attacking the non-believers in their territories is a collective and individual duty". Just as I had done as a 16-year-old, hundreds of young Muslims are buying these books from Islamist mosques in Britain and imbibing the idea that killing non-believers is not only acceptable but the duty of a good Muslim.'

For all that, the mosque had received public subsidies and an apparent endorsement from Prince Charles. Labour ministers had flattered Jamat and Muslim Brotherhood sympathisers from the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), invited them into Downing Street and put them on policy commissions, even though in Bangladesh, Jamat thugs terrorise Bengali leftists who have every right to expect the support of their European comrades.

Labour's indulging of Jamat and the Muslim Brotherhood is over. Engagement for engagement's sake led nowhere and ministers got nothing in return for going along with the Islamists. The MCB was too willing to blame the 7/7 attacks on Iraq, while its refusal to participate in Holocaust Memorial Day showed that it had no commitment to either multiculturalism or anti-fascism. In the end, Tony Blair, Ruth Kelly and Tony McNulty at the Home Office shrugged their shoulders and walked away. Government policy is now to support British Muslims who uphold liberal values and oppose those who do not. Rushdie's knighthood was a sign of the changing mood. Labour politicians might have tried to impose a veto a few years ago; instead, they said: 'Are we going to allow British policy to be decided by dictatorial bigots, who want to inflame religious passion to divert attention from their own corruption?'

There is only one possible answer to that question and it remains astonishing how many people who profess liberal sympathies refuse to grasp it. Watch the discussion about Rushdie on last week's Question Time on the BBC website. You will see Shirley Williams, the representative of the Lib Dems and member of the great and the good, fail to offer a word of protest against men who would murder authors. All she does is condemn the government for honouring a novelist, until Peter Hitchens, a Mail on Sunday columnist who is usually dismissed as a spittle-flecked loon, reminds her that she needs to clear her throat with a few words of criticism for his would-be assassins, if only for form's sake.

Labour should stop worrying about the baroness and her kind and relax. If a liberal intelligentsia that is neither liberal nor noticeably intelligent and a Liberal Democrat party that can't stand up for liberalism and democracy want to attack the government, let them. They will pay a price for their moral cowardice one day.

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