| ||Seumas Milne in his column in today’s Guardian writes about the government’s Contest 2 strategy, which was launched earlier this week, and the outrage Hazel Blears has generated with her demand that the MCB force the resignation of its deputy secretary general, Daud Abdullah. |
‘Ten days ago, in a tone more associated with Raj-era colonial governors than democratic politicians addressing independent community bodies, Blears delivered an ultimatum to the MCB: either it sacked its elected deputy general secretary or all contacts would be severed.
‘Not surprisingly, the MCB has rejected the government's diktat. As it acknowledges, to do anything else would destroy its credibility in the community, which can in fact only be boosted by the confrontation. The point seems to have belatedly dawned on Blears, whose department yesterday appeared to be looking for a way out as it pressed for "further clarity" from the MCB about its attitude to violence in the Middle East.
‘But the dispute goes to the heart of the fatal flaw in government policy towards the terror threat. Instead of simply aiming to stop indiscriminate attacks, something that unites almost all Muslims as well as non-Muslims, the idea underlying the new strategy is to confront "nonviolent extremism" as well. The definitions of such a catch-all target specified in earlier drafts, including support for armed resistance anywhere in the world, sharia law and a belief that gay sex is sinful, have mercifully been dropped. It became clear to other ministers - reported to include Jack Straw, John Denham and Harriet Harman - that not only would such zealotry brand most of Britain's 2.4 million Muslims extremist, it could also apply to many Christians, orthodox Jews and atheists as well.
‘But strong echoes of this folly remain: for example, in the categorisation of those who reject Israel's legitimacy as extremist. It is a policy that has been driven by neoconservative-leaning thinktanks - such as Policy Exchange, the Centre for Social Cohesion and the government-funded Quilliam Foundation - who believe Islamism, a political trend as broad as socialism or liberalism, is the enemy, rather than the tiny takfiri groups who think it's a good idea to blow people up on buses and tubes.
‘That's a dangerous blind alley, which makes such attacks more, rather than less, likely. Instead of listening to representative groups which can honestly reflect what drives Muslim anger - notably western support for wars of occupation in the Muslim world - the government ends up talking to its own creations and attempting to use cash to buy political docility.
‘The Contest 2 strategy has one merit, at least. It does for the first time officially acknowledge what the rest of the world has known for most of the past decade: that Muslim "perception" of the west's support for Israel, the Iraq and Afghan wars and the wider war on terror plays a "key role" in fuelling "radicalisation". But instead of then getting to grips with the cause of the problem, the response is still to treat the symptoms. Since Israel's western-backed devastation of Gaza unleashed a new wave of Muslim political activism, for example, the reaction has been heavyhanded policing, attempts to link protest with terrorism and renewed Islamophobic campaigns in the media.
‘The government's counter-terrorism plan talks about Muslims needing to accept Britain's shared values. Fortunately, they do already. Both Muslims and non-Muslims oppose wars of aggression and want British troops brought home from Iraq and Afghanistan; they both accept people's right to defend themselves against invasion and occupation; and both mostly sympathise with the Palestinian cause. Now responding to that consensus would be a real counter-terror strategy.’
But if Blears' high-handed actions towards the MCB are anything to go by, the government is not interested in responding to the consensus that exists. It is more concerned to impose a consensus orchestrated by hostile right-wing think tanks and the stooge Quilliam Foundation type bodies it has set up and funded. Muslim organisations should resist this interference and demand that Blears is sacked.
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