October 24, 2007

October 24, 2007 | Commentary on Europe

Conservatives for Terror?

As Britain fights a global war alongside the United States and other key allies against Islamic terrorism and its state sponsors, it is hard to believe that elements within the British Conservative Party are actually working to undermine it. The world's oldest political party, once led by Winston Churchill, recently established an official body called the Conservative Muslim Forum (CMF), appointed with the aim of providing "the Conservative Party and the UK with a voice which represents the overwhelmingly moderate majority of British Muslims." Its statements and policy positions are however fundamentally at odds with Britain's approach to combating the threat posed by Islamic terrorist organizations as well as dangerous rogue regimes, and are distinctly lacking in moderation.

The CMF is headed by Lord Mohamed Sheikh, who was made a life peer in 2006 and is the Chairman of the "Conservative Ethnic Diversity Panel." Lord Sheikh has been an outspoken critic of Israel, and claims that Israeli actions in Lebanon as well as British involvement in the war in Iraq are responsible for the radicalization of young Muslims in the U.K.

The Conservative Muslim Forum recently unveiled a strikingly frank policy document, first reported by the London Daily Telegraph, that projects a worldview that is thoroughly divorced from traditional British conservatism, and openly appeases Islamic radicalism as well as the Iranian regime. The paper is a response to the Conservative party's National and International Security Policy Group report released in July.

It condemns Britain's s traditional support for Israel, opposes the banning of fundamentalist Muslim preachers from entering the U.K., sympathizes with Iran's nuclear ambitions, rejects any association between militant Islam and terrorism, and calls for a significant rewrite of the British history syllabus in schools. The Forum also defends the standing in the Muslim community of the highly controversial Islamic scholar Yusuf al-Qaradawi, an Egyptian cleric based in Qatar, who has been dubbed the "Theologian of Terror."

The CMF document is a massive embarrassment for the Conservative party at a time when it has regained momentum in the polls, and is mounting a credible challenge to the Labour-led government of Gordon Brown. It is an Achilles heel that, if not challenged and strenuously rejected by the party's leadership, will seriously undermine the Conservatives' credibility as a government in waiting.

Here are some of the document's controversial statements:

Islamic Extremists

We disagree with the suggestion that "foreign preachers and scholars advocating the rejection of the institutions and values of democracy" should be denied entry into Britain. As advocates of democracy, we oppose those who argue that Islam is incompatible with democracy. However, it is the mark of a mature and liberal democracy that it accepts people's freedom to disagree. If a political party wishes to campaign, constitutionally, for the abolition of democracy in the UK and its replacement by a totalitarian system, why should it not be free to do so? Furthermore, why should foreigners who advocate a peaceful change in that direction be banned from entry to the UK?


Islam and Terrorism

Terrorists are criminals, and linking them with any religion is simply playing to their terms. We accept that some terrorists do abuse Islam for their purposes. However, an incoming Conservative administration must deny their attempt to link criminal acts to any religion. The term "terrorism" must be separated from any religious references. We reiterate that the Conservative Party should not explicitly or implicitly link terrorism with Islam as, similar to other major religions, Islam forbids terrorism. Choice of language is very important in this matter as it affects public perception of the party.

Israel

Regardless of whether one finds Israel a congenial country or not, on any objective assessment the type of unqualified support given to Israel by the current Government is not conducive to British national interests as this could damage Britain's relationships with 1.5 billion Muslims worldwide, including those in Britain. Britain's interests would be better served by forceful diplomatic pressure on Israel in order to press her to withdraw from the occupied territories and negotiate seriously for a two state solution.

An incoming Conservative Administration must appreciate that a pro-zionist attitude will not bode well with many. Pro-zionist statements only damage relationships with Muslims nationally and internationally. Thus, statements like the one made by David Cameron on 12th June 2007 can be too easily interpreted as unbalanced and weighted towards only the zionist and Israeli positions...
We must (therefore) be frank and stern whenever Israel over-reacts. For example, were Israel to use cluster bombs again as they did in Lebanon in 2006, a Conservative Administration must respond appropriately... In all our dealings with Israel, we must always remember the plight of displaced Palestinians."

Iran

Irrespective of one's views of theocracy, the current Iranian regime was established by a popular revolution, sustained itself despite the attack by Iraq during the 1980s and has a significant measure of domestic support. Regardless of the foreign policies of the United States, hostility to Iran is not in Britain's national interest. A constructive engagement with Iran offers many possibilities for progress.

Furthermore, Iran has many legitimate security concerns, being surrounded by, what are to them, potentially hostile powers. Instead of joining the United States in demonising Iran, Britain should assist Iran in addressing these legitimate security concerns in a manner that improves our security rather than weakening it. There is no legal basis for denying Iran civilian nuclear research once the safeguard issues under dispute with the IAEA are resolved. Furthermore, Iran has an absolute legal right to leave the NPT by giving notice, as mentioned in the report. Given Iran's position in the Middle East, facing a nuclear armed Israel, Iran appears to have legitimate reasons for seeking nuclear weapons for defensive purposes.

While acknowledging that a future Conservative administration "should continue to oppose Iran's nuclear weapon ambitions," the document makes clear that

Our approach to Iran should be one of negotiation and mutual dialogue, not threats. The development of peaceful civilian nuclear power technology should be supported. Any collusion by Britain in an Israeli or American military strike against Iran would be extremely damaging to Britain's long-term security interests.

Yusuf al-Qaradawi

While we may disagree with many of the views of Yusuf al-Qaradawi, it is inaccurate for the Policy Group to question his status as a leading Islamic scholar. For example, the book "A Textbook of Hadith Studies" by Mohammad Hashim Kamali, Dean of the International Institute of Islamic Thought and Civilisation at the International Islamic University in Malaysia cites him many times in the index. The book is entirely about the interpretation of hadith (the recorded sayings of the Prophet pbuh) and has nothing to do with contemporary politics. While we may disagree with some of his views, Yusuf al-Qaradawi is considered a leading scholar by many Muslims, including other Muslim scholars.

Rewriting British History

Any revised compulsory history syllabus needs to give full recognition to the massive contribution that Islam has made to the development of Western civilisation. Historically the recognition of this contribution has been suppressed because in the past control of the educational system rested with the Christian churches which saw Islam as a competitor.

It is extremely difficult to see how such extreme remarks fit with a political party that stands for the rule of law, the defence of the West against rogue regimes, the centrality of the Anglo-American Special Relationship, and support for key allies such as Israel.

The support which the Conservative Muslim Forum gives to the Iranian dictatorship, at a time when British soldiers are still dying at the hands of Iranian backed militias in southern Iraq, should draw public outrage in the U.K. There is no mention of Iran's state sponsorship of terrorism, its systematic violation of human rights, or its threats to wipe Israel "off the map." In addition, the CMF's defense of the rights of preachers of hate to come to Britain to spread their seditious and anti-democratic message to young impressionable Muslims, plays directly into the hands of terrorist groups such as al Qaeda, who use such imams to recruit young Britons to their cause.

The establishment of the Conservative Muslim Forum is a dangerous flirtation with Islamic extremism that should be brought to an end, as well as a dangerous step towards ethnic and religious balkanization within the party. It closely parallels some of the same mistakes made by the Labour government, which has all too often lent credibility to Muslim groups claiming to be moderate, such as the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB). Indeed there is a huge vacuum in terms of truly moderate leadership within Britain's two-million strong Muslim community, as witnessed by last year's extraordinary act of disloyalty by 38 British Muslim leaders calling on then Prime Minister Tony Blair to change U.K. foreign policy or face more terror attacks.

The unveiling of the CMF's policy prescriptions follows in the footsteps of the hugely controversial appointment in July of Sayeeda Warsi as the Conservative party's Shadow Minister for Community Cohesion. Warsi has been a fierce critic of British antiterror policy, stating that anti-terrorism legislation had turned Britain into a "police state." She also urged the British government to engage with Islamic extremist groups just days after the 7/7 London bombings in 2005, welcomed the election of Hamas, and defended Kashmiri separatist groups as "freedom fighters".

The Muslim Forum document and the appointment of Sayeeda Warsi both raise serious questions regarding the Conservative party's commitment to fighting Islamic radicalism. There can be no room for appeasement at a time when Britain and her allies are engaged in a long war in the defence of the free world. Cameron should act immediately to condemn the CMF's statements and disband the group altogether. The Conservative party should not be giving a platform to a body that defends the rights of those who seek the destruction of British democracy, and which openly sympathizes with a barbaric terrorist regime like Iran that calls for the extermination of an entire nation.

Nile Gardiner is the director of the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom.

About the Author

Nile Gardiner, Ph.D. Director, Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom
The Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom

Related Issues: Europe

First appeared in National Review Online