Isn’t it time Labour stopped facing both ways on Islamist extremism?

by Rob Marchant

In the Labour party, we have, last week, been shocked at how one of our members of Parliament, Sadiq Khan, can receive death threats from freaks who believe they are licensed to make him vote against gay marriage by force including, apparently, murder. And Khan is apparently not the only one: Labour List reports that “Rushanara Ali, Shabana Mahmood, Anas Sarwar…are all believed to have been similarly targeted”. Bravely, none of them wavered in their commitment to their own values, of equality for all under the law.

Yet, at the same time, we have other MPs, who invite a preacher who laughs about taunting his Jewish high school teacher with a swastika, who thinks being gay is a “great crime” that signals “the start of the collapse of every society, and who is convicted of funding a terrorist organisation, to speak at the mother of all parliaments.

In the Labour party, we are shocked to read in the Observer at how supporters of extremist group Jamaat-e-Islami throw stones at a crowd of people in London’s East End, demonstrating against the theocracy which is killing their homeland, Bangladesh. They stone a crowd containing old people and children. Many of those demonstrating are Muslim women, who rightly reject this misogynistic cabal who would happily bring Sharia to the East End.

Yet, at the same time, we last year campaigned to re-elect a candidate who, as former Mayor, in 2004 welcomed to London a particularly vile preacher. A preacher who, apart from his views on rape and wife-beating, feels entirely comfortable with the abhorrent practice of female genital mutilation.

In the Labour party, we are shocked at a secretly-filmed video of a self-appointed “Sharia judge” telling young Muslims how they must hate Obama, Cameron and democracy; a man bent on filling young minds with hate. “You must hate in your heart”, says Anjem Choudary. A man, who, let us not forget, last year attempted to issue (and later retracted, after his conference was cancelled) a fatwa against a fourteen year-old girl, after she had been shot and almost killed by the Taliban in her native Pakistan, for the terrible crime of wanting to go to school.

Yet, at the same time, one of our own parliamentarians himself travels to Pakistan where he name-checks the leader of the Mumbai bombers to the home crowd. And it is no secret that our own Labour administration, in the closing years of the last decade, actually ended up funding extremist-linked groups with government money, funding which later had to be withdrawn.

These three events which shocked us all happened, incidentally, within the last ten days. But, as you can see from their earlier echoes, it is not as though we can credibly say they are surprising any more.

Interestingly, most of these cases are not so much about conflict between radical Islam and non-Muslim society; that is, with other faiths, or with secularism. It is therefore self-evidently untenable, as many have tried, to argue that such things are some understandable reaction to Western intervention, or to British islamophobia. And that is because they are largely about turning Muslim against Muslim: distancing the extremists from the moderates.

It is high time we acknowledged that our strategy towards radical Islam needs a serious rethink. We are either going to be tolerant of extremism, with all that that entails, or we are going to set an example in fighting it. We cannot have it both ways.

Labour is falling behind other parties, historically weaker on human rights than us, but who take the issue more seriously. The irony is that we, the historical protectors of human rights, seem to protect the human rights of everyone, except moderate Muslims.

We are not in government, and therefore are not really in a position to put in place a wide-ranging policy solution to extremism; not yet, anyway.

But in opposition we can, at least, think about what we would do. And stop being part of the problem.

Rob Marchant is an activist and former Labour party manager who blogs at the Centre Left


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9 Responses to “Isn’t it time Labour stopped facing both ways on Islamist extremism?”

  1. Ex-labour says:

    You’re risking it here Rob. Get ready for the backlash from the far left commentors. We all know according to the left, BBC etc that Islam is perfect.

  2. Ramstein788 says:

    Conservatives are the only pro-gay party…Cameron and Johnson have fought for gay rights but also against religious extremists. Conservative Party is the real gay-rights party.

  3. @Ex-Labour: oh, it’s already started. And it was the soft left this time. I got trolled by the Flat Earth Times.

  4. Derekw says:

    Islamic extremism is a direct consequence of the West’s shameful behaviour in the Middle East over, particularly, the last hundred years. The US, Britain and Europe have effectively supported the Israeli occupation of Palestine and it’s clear programme of ethnic cleansing; Iraq was invaded on a false premiss, Afganistan similarly; Britain arbitrarily decided were to put the borders and who was to rule over swathes of the Middle East; and we turn a blind eye to the millions of refugees scattered about the region.

    Go back a bit further and you find the redundant private armies of Britain’s warlords rampaging over Muslim lands under the guise of ‘Crusaders’. It is hardly surprising that we generate ‘extremism’! Put more effort into righting the wrongs and we have a chance of a peaceful existance.

  5. Amber Star says:

    @ Rob Marchant

    You mention: Sadiq Khan, Anas Sarwar, Rushanara Ali & Shabana Mahmood. It reads like the Labour Party is well placed to craft a nuanced & appropriate guidance document which could steer us towards a more unified approach amongst elected Members & candidates within the Party, which is what it sounds like you are asking for.

    Or are you hoping for a higher level, policy platform rather than Party unity about a broad cultural & values issue? In which case, are you looking for Douglas Alexander & Yvette Cooper to be coming up with proposed objectives & supporting policies?

    Because you’ve identified the incidents which you find disturbing & finished with a general: Somebody, somewhere ought to be thinking about this problem statement. But we’re well into this Parliament now; isn’t it time for more specific, open letter(s) about issues, addressed to the Labour people who you believe can actually do something?
    8-)

  6. @Ramstein: that’s clearly not correct. Labour has been pro gay rights for far, far longer than the Tories and it’s a commitment that runs through practically all shades of thinking in the party. Just not true.

    @Derekw: your comment is so wrong-headed, it’s difficult to know where to start. We do not need to take responsibility for things that happened a thousand years ago, and it’s ridiculous to suggest it. It’s like saying “whatever you do is justified, because once upon a time we did something bad”.

  7. john Reid says:

    rasmtein788, Er Cameron stood on a 97 platform where he said he was Pro section 28, and it was Portillo and Ken clarke backbenchers who supported labours civil partnershps, something the tory front bench voted against, when Cameron was an advisor to then leader IDS,

  8. @AmberStar: you are asking quite a lot in asking me both to identify a problem and set out a policy solution in a 700-word blog piece. I think it’s enough to identify what we should *stop* doing, to make a start.

    We need zero tolerance of this rubbish, and we don’t have it. The Tories do, and the Lib Dems do to some extent (they did finally throw out the dreadful Jenny Tonge). That would be a start. But until we walk the walk within the party, there’s no real chance of a policy platform.

    @JohnReid: nice point on Section 28, had forgotten how recent that was. The Cameroons, let’s face it, arrived very late to the party.

  9. Love this article… I am a Conservative and generally angered by the left – but finally some sense :D

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