The seven phases of the Muslim community’s encounter with Mr Blair
Phase 1: The Spinner’s Tale
In May 1999, the Muslim Council of Britain organised a reception for Mr Blair at the Commonwealth Institute. The event took place soon after a bomb blast outside the Brick Lane Mosque. The PM observed:
The country is united in revulsion against these acts – when one section of the community is under attack, we defend them in the name of the whole community. Through these tragic bombings our society has come together sharing the values of tolerance, decency and justice. Those values of racial tolerance are very much part of the Muslim teaching. These are values of a community that believes we achieve more together than we can alone. They are values you will find echoed by this government. You’re a valuable part of the society that this government wants to build. A modern civic society – free from prejudice but bound by rules. You are a well-established part of our multi-cultural nation…you, like us, share a passion for education.
Phase 2: The Yob’s embrace
On 27 September 2001 a group of Muslim community leaders were ushered in to No. 10. Blair and his Rasputin-like Director of Communications Alistair Campbell assumed that the Muslim leaders would obediently come ‘on message’ on the imminent war in Afghanistan. The latter, aware of his reach, sidled up to the Muslim delegation and breathed down heavily on them, “You guys have got a selling job to do” (reported in the Daily Telegraph, 19 October 2001).
After the Downing Street meeting, representatives from The Muslim Council of Britain refused to condone military action as a way forward. Its Press Release of 9 October stated, “British Muslims want justice to be done for the horrifying events of September 11th. These day and night strikes – which are already leading to innocent civilians deaths amongst the long-suffering Afghan population – will not achieve this purpose. These attacks will only lead to further polarisation in the world. This will not be a fitting memorial to those who died in the September 11th atrocities”. Blair and his Rasputin were slighted.
A few weeks later The Times (26 October 2001) carried a report stating that the MCB Secretary General, at the time Yousuf Bhailok, was causing Downing Street embarrassment due to complaints that he has associated with international terrorists. Bhailok had been a speaker at a conference in Tehran on the Palestinian intifada, along with the leaders of Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. He was reported to have called for economic sanctions against Israel. Guess who briefed the media?
Phase 3: The bluffer
August 2002: with the attack on Iraq looming, the next MCB Secretary General, Iqbal Sacranie, was invited to No 10. He tries to dissuade the PM from military action and seeks evidence that Iraq has WMD. Blair brushed this away, stating that he had the ‘Intelligence’. A month later, Downing Street publishes its notorious sexed up dossier!
Phase 4: Hubris
One month after 7/7, the Prime Minister declared at a No 10 press conference,
Over the past two weeks there have been intensive meetings and discussions across government to set a comprehensive framework for action in dealing with the terrorist threat in Britain, and today I want to give our preliminary assessment of the measures we need urgently to examine.
He then went on to outline a twelve point programme, ranging from new rules for deportation to extended detention periods without charge, the proscription of Hizb Tahrir, as well as the proposal to consult on a new power to order closure of a place of worship which is used as a centre for fomenting extremism, and, “we will consult with Muslim leaders in respect of those clerics who are not British citizens to draw up a list of those not suitable to preach and who will be excluded from our country in future”.
He famously added, “What I’m trying to do here is, and this will be followed up with the action in the next few weeks as I think you will see, is to send a clear signal out that the rules of the game have changed.“
Even colleagues in the Prime Ministerís own party were unaware of these initiatives. The Home Secretary was abroad on holiday at the time, while the respected John Denham, chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee, was to describe them as “half-baked”.
Phase 5: The philosopher-king
– The most remarkable thing about reading the Qur’an – in so far as it can be truly translated from the original Arabic – is to understand how progressive it is. The Qur’an strikes me as a reforming book, but by the early 20th Century, after renaissance, reformation and enlightenment had swept over the western world, the Muslim and Arab world was uncertain, insecure and defensive. (speech to the Foreign Policy Centre, 21st March 2006).
– Muslims had a completely false sense of grievance against the West
– What is happening today out in the Middle East, in Afghanistan and beyond is an elemental struggle about the values that will shape our future. It is in part a struggle between what I will call Reactionary Islam and Moderate, Mainstream Islam. But its implications go far wider. We are fighting a war, but not just against terrorism but about how the world should govern itself in the early 21st century, about global values…Of course the fanatics, attached to a completely wrong and reactionary view of Islam, had been engaging in terrorism for years before September 11 (speech to the Los Angeles World Affairs Council, 1st August 2006).
– I think we are in a battle and I think the western world, a large part of it, is in a complete state of denial about it. Now I feel so strongly about it that I can’t back away from that. And I think that we are in real danger in a large part of the western opinion of completely misunderstanding the nature of the battle and the need to fight it, and we are really not fully appreciating the force that has been put against us, and you know this is not a set of isolated incidents, this is a global movement with an ideology that is fighting us in a very modern and clever way, and we have not got the strategy in place, sufficiently agreed across the western world, to defeat at the moment (interview in The Times, 2nd September 2006) .
Phase 6: Et tus, Brutus?
On 12th August 2006, an open letter from Muslims organizations and some parliamentarians was sent to the PM, critical of his unwillingness to stop Israel’s invasion of Southern Lebanon. The Prime Minister, though on holiday, was so incensed that he got his private office to phone the Secretary General of the MCB! The natives were being obstreperous!
Jack Straw, perhaps still smarting from an earlier humiliation when he was branded a ‘tart’ by the boss and his summary removal as Foreign Secretary, leads a Cabinet revolt and sticks in the knife. A damaged Blair indicates his intention to resign in the next 12 months.
Phase 7: L’Envoie
What next? President of the World Bank!