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