Tony Blair’s staunch support for President Bush over Iraq has done the Labour Prime Minister great electoral damage in Britain, not least among the country’s 1.8 million Muslims. Despite being traditional Labour voters, many are now threatening at the forthcoming general election to support either the Liberal Democrats, who have taken a strong line against the war, or Respect, an alliance between the far-left MP George Galloway and Islamic fundamentalists.
The British government’s reaction has been a panicky attempt to appease the Muslim community. In particular, there have been suspicions that a proposal to outlaw incitement to religious hatred is a crude attempt to buy Muslim votes. This is because British Muslims, who have been complaining about a rise in “Islamophobia” since 9/11, are aggrieved that they are not covered by the existing law against incitement to racial hatred, which applies to Jews and Sikhs whom it designates for these purposes as racial groups.
Of course, real prejudice against Muslims exists and should not be tolerated. But a law against incitement to religious hatred will very likely criminalize legitimate discussion about religion, which almost invariably gives rise to intemperate passions, hatred and the giving and taking of offence.
Fears that such a law may put people in jail merely for telling the truth have been fuelled by the fact that to many Muslims, any criticism of Islam — including any reference to Islamic terrorism — constitutes “Islamophobia.” If such a law had existed when a fatwa was issued against Salman Rushdie’s life for writing The Satanic Verses, he might have been prosecuted rather than protected by the British state. The idea that such a law should be introduced by the British government at the behest of a minority seeking to suppress any discussion of the role of their faith in global terror is alarming in the extreme.
Yet according to a government minister, this is indeed what has happened. In a grovelling article written in The Muslim Weekly in which he effectively pleaded for votes, Energy Minister Mike O’Brien boasted of the lengths to which the government had gone to accede to British Muslim demands. Two weeks after the Muslim Council of Britain asked for a new law banning religious discrimination, he said, Tony Blair promised he would provide it. “It was,” wrote O’Brien, “a major victory for the Muslim community in Britain.”
So a law that has the power to shut down legitimate comment about Islam; potentially put Christians, Jews, Hindus, Sikhs, secularists and others in the dock for speaking the truth; and make the giving of offence a greater offence than intimidating Britons into silence; is being introduced to buy Muslim votes. The price to be paid for invading Iraq, in other words, is to be Britain's freedom of speech.
Yet this was by no means the most obnoxious aspect of this article. Even worse, O’Brien openly pandered to Muslim anti-Israel and anti-Jewish prejudice. He wrote: “The reality is that the only way a Palestinian state will be created is if Israel is prepared to concede land it currently occupies on the West Bank and Gaza. Whether we in Britain like it or not, the reality of the modern world is that only the Americans can influence Israel. And it seems only Tony Blair has any influence with the Americans.”
With these words, he lent the British government’s authority to the prejudice that the Middle East impasse is Israel’s fault. He made no mention of the need to stop Arab and Muslim terror as a precondition to peace and a Palestinian state. Instead, he tried to turn Blair’s support for Bush on its head by claiming that only Blair was worth the Muslims’ vote because only Blair could put pressure on the Americans to bring Israel to heel.
Even more revealing than such manipulative inversion was this remarkable claim:
When the Americans and Israelis refused to negotiate with Yasser Arafat, Tony Blair promptly sent myself, as the Foreign Office Minister, to visit Yasser Arafat in the Muquata in Ramallah to convey the message that we had not abandoned him. Tony Blair’s message was clear: we will work with the elected leader of the Palestinians, even if the Americans will not.
So the British government had “not abandoned’ Arafat? Excuse me? Just what had it “not abandoned’? Arafat’s “strategy of stages” to achieve the extermination of Israel? The murder of Israeli civilians by Arafat’s Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade? The Palestinian Authority’s incitement of children to become “shaheed” and its promotion of hysterical hatred of the Jews?
As if all this wasn’t bad enough, O’Brien then capped the lot by implying heavily that Muslims should not vote for the Conservative opposition leader, Michael Howard, because he was a Jew. He wrote:
Ask yourself, what will Michael Howard do for British Muslims? Will his foreign policy aim to help Palestine? Will he promote legislation to protect you from religious hatred and discrimination? Will he give you the choice of sending your children to a faith school? Will he stand up for the right of Muslim women to wear the hijab? Will he really fight for Turkey, a Muslim country, to join the EU? These are not academic questions. Remember, the last thing we want is to vote in anger and repent at leisure as Michael Howard, with a big smile on his face, walks through the door of No 10.
O’Brien has denied anti-Jewish prejudice, claiming that he was not attacking Howard personally but as leader of the Conservative Party. But in fact the Conservatives, who called this attack “despicable,” say they actually support most of the policies he listed. So the only reason for suggesting that Michael Howard would not support them was that he was a Jew.
It has really come to something when a minister of the British Crown, who surely should be trying to counter the hatred of Israel and the Jews in Muslim circles, instead grubs around for votes by stoking it up. Is that incitement to religious hatred, or what? In any circumstances, such pandering to visceral prejudice would be loathsome, but given the torrent of anti-Jewish hatred pouring out of the Muslim world and poisoning the minds of Muslims in Britain, it is also potentially lethal.
Distressingly, though, it is now commonplace in the circles in which O’Brien moves. There was a time when such a prejudice was associated with the far-Right. But now, the Left has got into bed with radical Islamists in an unholy alliance against the Jews, America, and the West.
This was dramatically illustrated when the Labour Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, publicly embraced Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the prominent Islamic jurist who, along with his prejudices against women, homosexuals, and Jews, has endorsed the use of human bombs against Israelis, saying: “We cannot say that the casualties were innocent civilians. They are not civilians or innocent…The Israelis might have nuclear bombs, but we have the children bomb.”
Thanks to the government’s proposed new law, it may soon become illegal to criticise him for such attitudes. Now Livingstone, who has claimed that the campaign against Qaradawi is a Mossad plot and an example of “Islamophobia,” has defended himself by claiming that the translation service MEMRI’s reports of Qaradawi’s utterances are the equivalent of “various antisemitic conspiracy theories,” and that “it would be impossible to refuse to speak to a person like Qaradawi who has no personal involvement in violence of any kind, but at the same time speak to an Israeli government, which kills Palestinian civilians with modern weapons every week.”
Livingstone is merely at the extreme end of a general trend. For the Labour party – a number of whose MPs are threatened with de-selection by activist Muslim constituents if they don’t toe the line – Muslims are the only game in town. Senior Labour party activists say in terms that tensions with Muslims mean the government will adopt their “narrative” on Israel/Palestine in order to appease them. Britain's 280,000 Jews – who, having done nothing to threaten anyone, are being attacked in the streets, see their synagogues and cemeteries desecrated, and have to be guarded in all their communal events against the threat of attack by Muslim extremists and neo-Nazi thugs – are effectively being told by the government that compared with 1.8 million potential Muslim voters, they can go and jump in the lake.
Small wonder that Mohammad Sawalah, the deputy head of the Muslim League in Britain, has gloated: “Such Muslim campaigns have actually paid off and scared away the Zionist lobby and the extremist right-wing.”
So where is the Prime Minister himself in all this? What price Tony Blair’s much-vaunted support for Israel and the Jews? What price his War on Terror and on the irrational hatred that feeds it, when one of his own ministers inflames such prejudice at home and the man who runs London in Labour’s name embraces a man like Qaradawi? But then, what are details such as consistency, principle, or even an elementary sense of responsibility when there are votes at stake?