THE BRITISH State has come under severe criticism following the Forest Gate raid for its intelligence failures in the fight against terrorism. But the biggest failure of all in the battle against Islamist extremism has gone practically unnoticed.
Tony Blair has acknowledged that the fight against Islamist terrorism cannot be restricted to a police action against isolated individuals or small groups. Last summer he spelt out that a much broader effort is required to tackle, at root, the ideology of Islamism that has bewitched so many minds. But in the struggle against extremism the British State has failed to tackle the underlying ideological currents that favour Islamism.
Organisations such as the Muslim Association of Britain (MAB) and the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), whose members have shown sympathy for extremist positions, are rarely challenged, and certainly not publicly by the Government or its agencies.
For moderate Muslims the picture is dispiriting. They see the most religiously conservative and politically provocative groupings enjoy the lion’s share of attention and they wonder how serious the British State is about countering extremism. How can they convince young men within their community that the path of moderation brings respect and a voice in the nation’s deliberations when the most influential voices are seen to belong to those with radical agendas?
In Islamist circles a complementary message is absorbed. The British State does not have the courage to face down the advocates of political Islam. Islamists in Britain scent weakness. Just as Islamists abroad believe the West does not have the stamina to resist for long, so Islamists within the UK believe the momentum is with them. Islam’s Leninists have drawn the bayonet, probed, and found mush. Proof of the British State’s institutional weakness came directly in the aftermath of the 7/7 bombings. At the Prime Minister’s behest the Home Office established a series of working groups to tackle the threat of Islamic extremism. A variety of individuals were appointed whose past statements or current affiliations made them very curious conscripts in the struggle against extremism.
Among those appointed was Ahmad Thomson, a convert to Islam who has argued in the past that Hitler was supported by Zionist financiers and Muslims are obliged to want to live in an Islamic state. Another figure appointed was Ibrahim Hewitt, who sits on the ruling council of Respect, the political party founded by George Galloway, which fuses together the Trotskyist SWP and the Islamist MAB. Also invited to advise the Government was Professor Tariq Ramadan, grandson of Hassan al-Banna, founder of the Muslim Brotherhood. Professor Ramadan is not, of course, obliged to follow in the footsteps of his forebears. But he gives it a good try.
Professor Ramadan has been characterised as a moderate because he has said that he “agrees with integration” of Muslims in the West. But he has also insisted that “we [Muslims] are the ones who are going to decide the content”. Bernard Kouchner, the French Socialist and former health minister, has described Ramadan as “absolutely a kook with no historical memory” and “a dangerous man”.
Given the presence of these and others with a similar perspective on the Home Office’s working groups, the conclusions were not that surprising. In so far as extremism was acknowledged as a danger it was attributed to the foreign policy of Blair and Bush. And in so far as remedial action was required, it seemed, again and again, to consist of more public money going to exclusively Islamic bodies that would be empowered to provide more Islamic solutions, in accordance with appropriate Islamic principles.
In my conversations with moderate Muslims, the folly of such a strategy is repeatedly underlined. Mainstream Muslims wish to participate fully in the life of our nation as equal citizens. Their faith is an important, integral, part of their identity but they do not wish it to be the exclusive route through which they relate to the rest of Britain.
But the the approach of organisations such as the MAB and MCB, an approach reinforced by the working groups’ report, is to Islamicise every issue with which Muslims come into contact.
The success of the MCB, MAB and their allies in dominating the public debate, shaping public policy and driving the media conversation has been profoundly damaging. A narrow version of Islam has been privileged, theological conservatism reinforced and political radicalism given room to advance.
A rising generation has been encouraged by those Muslims most prominent in public life to put their Islamic identity ahead of their British citizenship. That generation will have heard the Muslims most fêted by government pay tribute to terrorist leaders and fundamentalist ideologues as figures worthy of respect. That generation will also have had its sense of grievance nurtured even as its sense of separateness has been reinforced. For Islamists and their allies, it has been a golden prospect.© Michael Gove 2006.
Extracted from Celsius 7/7, published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson on June 29 at £9.99. Order copies for £8.99 (free delivery) from The Times BooksFirst on 0870 160 8080Visit http://www.timesonline.co.uk/books on Monday for more extracts from Celsius 7/7 by Michael Gove