The day Campbell tried to bring Muslims ‘on message’
06 August 2003
The Muslim representatives were ushered into No. 10 on 27 September 2001 to discuss the Iraq WMD crisis were received by Mr. Blair’s media guru Alastair Campbell. According to one witness, he sidled up and told them “You guys have got a selling job to do” (reported in the Daily Telegraph, 19 October 2001). Campbell assumed that the Muslim leaders would obediently come ‘on message’ on the imminent war in Afghanistan.
The delegation may have taken his remark lightly, but Campbell is a man accustomed to seeing his pronouncements accepted in toto (the Fleet Street insight is that when Campbell asks a Minister to jump, the response is not ‘why’, but rather, ‘how high’).
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”. Campbell was not at all pleased. 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. Mr Bhailok was 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, and to have said that his organisation had [not participated] in Britain’s Holocaust Memorial Day because of the continuing ‘genocide’ against Palestinians.”