There is a debate going on about the future of British Islam. Labour needs to join it

by Rob Marchant

Following last week’s fatal shootings in the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris, Monday night’s superbly-timed Panorama: The Battle for British Islam gave an insight into Islamic radicalism and the narratives which feed it.

The most notable thing, as a number commented on Twitter during the programme, was not so much that it was telling a few home truths about radicalism on prime-time television; but that it was being broadcast on the BBC, the heart of the liberal media establishment. (It is also a great tribute, incidentally, to why we still need public-service broadcasting, the Beeb being practically alone, among its not-so-brave British mainstream media competition, in showing the offending Charlie Hebdo cartoons.)

It was also possibly the first mainstream documentary which has homed in, correctly, on the poisonous “grievance narrative” – that Muslims are oppressed in Britain, singled out and victimised for their beliefs – which, as the program points out, is helping drive young Muslims away from their families and towards jihad. Racism exists, yes: but it also exists in non-Muslim ethnic communities, where the results are undeniably less extreme.

Finally, it seems, rational debate on what all this means is starting to reach ordinary people, and there is a glimmer of hope for resolving the deep problems currently faced by Muslim communities in Britain; in turning impressionable youth towards British culture and away from radicalism.

In short, there is a sensible position which neither mollycoddles Islamist extremists nor attacks moderate Muslims, and the lines of it were gently sketched out in the programme: promoting a positive vision from within, of an Islam which embraces Britain, rather than recoils from it.

Cut to the Home Office, where Theresa May and her Tory colleagues are preparing a raft of measures to nibble away at free speech and, very likely, the liberties of ordinary citizens; not to mention introducing populist controls on immigration.

In an election year, we should hardly expect anything else: we, they coo, are the party who will take your security concerns seriously. About the schools in Birmingham, the gangs in Rotherham. Not to mention how UKIP are handling the subject, especially in the North.

What has been Labour’s response to date? With a few noble exceptions, to largely hide its collective head in the sand about Islamist extremism and sideline it as a political topic; that is, when some of its members and MPs are not actively embracing it. Or to pretend that the security threat is overstated; or to insinuate that it wouldn’t happen anyway, were it not for Britain’s foreign policy (or our former foreign policy, which is even more futile). Worse, to try and compensate, we then mumble something vague about curbing immigration, when we should rather be stoutly defending it.

Well, it’s too late for all that. Most of the above mentioned problems are getting worse, not better. British Muslim youth is already fighting in Syria, in larger numbers than they are present in our own armed forces. And as Simone Rodan-Benzaquen, director of the American Jewish Committee in Paris commented after last week’s killings, maintaining Jews safe from jihadistic attacks in France was now “a very, very profound problem”. That’s the France of the 2010s, not the 1930s, by the way.

And the debate on European and British Islam is moving, like it or not. We either join in and shape it, or we will be on the outside, letting the political right shape it instead.

The frustrating thing is that Labour is the one party which can truly inform the British debate for the better, without resorting to either Tory populism, UKIP xenophobia or EDL racism. We should be leading it. But instead we seem to be afraid of that debate, because we are nervous of upsetting this voting bloc, that interest group or the other union leader.

And that is because the biggest losers in this whole sorry picture of Labour’s failure to lead the debate, it goes without saying, are Britain’s majority of moderate Muslims. The very people the party of the many, the party of peaceful, multi-ethnic communities, should be supporting.

At one end of the spectrum there is the fact that we will never secure real integration for our communities until the wicked narrative of the extremists is undone. That alone should be enough. It will take time.

But at the other, Muslims themselves suffer specifically from the more extreme aspects of extremism: the death threats to those who leave the faith, as Panorama pointed out; female genital mutilation (FGM); or the very real threat of honour killings of Muslim women who supposedly bringing shame on their families.

That is the debate that we need to join. Because our loss will be British Muslims’ loss. And it will be UKIP’s gain.

Rob Marchant is an activist and former Labour Party manager who blogs at The Centre Left

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32 Responses to “There is a debate going on about the future of British Islam. Labour needs to join it”

  1. John P Reid says:

    Racism hatred or inciting violence with that in mind are illegal the EDL are t a party but they have banners if you gave proof they are racist ,reveal it, as Islam is t a race, even if they put Allah is A peado, on their banners it can’t be considered racist, Ukips xenophobia, while wrong,is different to their anti EU view on immigration regarding wages of jobs, if they are xenophobic, that isn’t due to Islam ,or attrocities in Islams name,

  2. Dave Roberts. says:

    A well balanced article Rob. Let’s see how long it is before you are rubbished. It’s worth looking at the fact that it was the liberal left, as well as the actual loony one, which for the last twenty years has stifled any debate about this matter as racist and/or Islamophobic. Happily, and hopefully not too late, we can now discuss these matters.

  3. Ex Labour says:

    @ Rob Marchant

    Lets leave aside the open door immigration policy of Labour; lets leave aside the ‘blind eyes’ in Birmingham or Labour Rotherham – very convenient. The liberal progressive left have dominated the social landscape for decades with their inclusivity, diversity and multiculturalism patter, shutting down any form of debate by shouting “racist” at any who dare speak up. The “rational debate” reached the people many years ago, but sadly not Labour and they continue to sit on the sidelines. You still dont get it, that many Muslims dont want to integrate into our so called “communities”.

    We have so called “hate laws” yet Islamic extremists were allowed to preach their vengeful narrative with impunity whilst Labour were in control. At least the Tories tried to boot them out.

    Credit to the leftist BBC for belatedly speaking out after years of shutting down debate, aligning with the leftist media in general. But the epiphany is too little too late me thinks.

    The Muslim Morrocan Mayor of Rotterdam is the only politician who comes out of the recent events with any credit. Straight talking is what is now required. As he said if Muslims do not embrace western freedoms and want to live in a Sharia society there are plenty of places to move to and they can “fuck off”.

    Refreshingly honest, but I can hear the reaction now from the Guardianistas, Hampstead chatterati and leftist progressives defending their position in the same old way, as you have done.

  4. Dave Roberts. says:

    Ex Labour. I agree with your take on the whole thing which seems to more or less mine but I think you are wrong about Rob’s view. He is, at least in part, agreeing with us.

    We are all saying, I exclude Mr Reid because I haven’t got a clue what he is on about, that Labour are on the back foot on Islam because for years they have refused to criticise it because of a fear of being called Islamophobic. It is late in the day to start to formulate some kind of clear policy but better late than never.

  5. Tafia says:

    Labour are on the back foot on Islam because for years they have refused to criticise it because of a fear of being called Islamophobic.

    Actually, from my experiences of helping Labour out when I was living in Greater Manchester, it’s probably because they were literally factory farming the postal vote and the braderie system. When you see elderly men handing in 30 or 40 postal voting forms…………..

  6. Dave Roberts. says:


    Yes, that is a part of what I am saying. In all of those northern former mill towns, Manchester, Birmingham and Tower Hamlets the same thing went on. Labour are vulnerable to attack on the ballot rigging as they are on grooming as it all happened in Labour controlled areas.

    On the 2nd of Feb an enquiry into electoral malpractise starts at the High Court in London into Tower Hamlets. In the dock are Tower Hamlets First the Jamaat e Islam backed Bangladeshi party but all of its councillors were formerly Labour so its an indictment of them as well.

  7. Atticus says:


    Interested to read your post as my wife & both left the Labour Party last year after many years precisely because of this issue, the Rotherham child abuse scandal in particular. I have no interest in UKIP and simply will not be voting in May as I think Labour still turns a blind-eye to the problems of Islam. Shouting racist is simply not going to cut it, a thorough critique of the misogynist, homophobic, intolerant aspects of islam will have to be confronted, it cannot be swept under the carpet indefinitely in case it causes offence.

  8. Henrik says:

    It’d be nice if Labour were to start being a bit brave, but it’s not going to happen. The courage, zeal and moral commitment which used to fuel the movement back in the day, well, some of the movement, has gone altogether and I can’t, offhand, think of a single member of the Labour front bench who has anything like the cojones required to first win the battle inside the party against, as Tafia remarks, the entrenched Labour-backing minority machine and then, secondly, to win the battle to be heard, listened to and believed in the public debate.

    I fear this is one of those toxic issues, like defence, foreign policy or the economy, on which Labour has still to rebuild any credibility.

  9. steve says:

    “the poisonous “grievance narrative” ”

    Ah yes, linked to the poisonous “Keep the revolvers well polished” narrative. Eh, Rob?

  10. BenM says:


    “When you see elderly men handing in 30 or 40 postal voting forms…………..”

    Did you go to the police with your concerns? If not, I’m likely to dismiss your anecdote as, well, the fantasy it is.

    I note that representatives of all Parties have been hauled into the dock for alleged voting fraud, UKIP being rather over-represented there recently.

    What the Right hates – and we see it in the US – is high turnout elections. Hence the rabid paranoia over postal voting. High turnout elections means more voters less amendable to rightwing nonsense. So you can understand the fear.

  11. BenM says:

    The article is utter nonsense too of course.

    It’s all the Lefts fault! whines Rob. Again. Integration didn’t stop the shootings in France. More complex ideas are needed.

    I note in the Telegraph today that rightwing Parties are more likely to be anti-semitic according to a poll. That busts Rob’s prejudice.

    Articles like this are lazy, out of touch and do nothing to further debate or find solutions to the issue.

  12. BenM says:

    Edit: Voters of rightwing parties.

  13. Michael says:

    An survey in The Economist reports that 47% of British people think Islam is incompatible with living in Britain (in other EU countries it is much higher). As if to prove this a very mild mannered Muslim restaurateur goes insanely angry when talking about images of their prophet saying Mohamed is ‘more important that his children’ on the Today program.

    I think Islam is compatible with living in Britain but not at the huge rate of Muslim immigration that ordinary people we have seen during the periods of Labour governments. It doesn’t give time for assimilation, immigration by marriage is especially bad for integration. There is also no mechanism for dealing the indigestible (internal exile from the conservatives is ridiculous), what would Labour do if elected?

    Labour only talks about having more border guards but nothing about restricting non-EU migration and all the voters know it. It is easy fix, just say we will have the same laws as Denmark on non-EU and the same laws as Germany on welfare for EU migrants.

  14. Ex Labour says:

    @ Dave Roberts

    Dave, I agree in one way Rob shares our view about labour’s failure to enter into a debate, despite the fact that most Labour voters have been debating it for years, but in others not.

    He still adopts the progressive left’s position and spouts the usual leftist canards about Islam and immigration and then has the cheek to criticise other parties who have actually voiced an opinion.

    He raises FGM and Honor Killings. This has nothing to do with the west’s culture and its the Muslims themselves that are creating this “suffering” as he calls it. Why should we sympathise when we know FGM and HK’s are done because of what some practicising Muslims think? Its self inflicted for goodness sake !!

    The spectacular failure of Labour is to dismiss the problems of mass immigration, multiculturalism and integration (ie their own policies) which has lead to Birmingham, Rotherham, Derby, Rochdale etc. They allowed extremism to flourish and took no action against the preachers of hate. They have protected and “mollycoddled” these people under the guise of political correctness and for fear of a backlash from the Guarianista elite.

    The people recognised the issues long ago, the main party and leadership – epic fail !!

    Is it any wonder UKIP are growing strongly in Labour heartlands ?

  15. swatantra says:

    A bit late in the day Rob, but join the Club. Its a problem all Muslims worldwide have to face up to. Its there’s to deal with, not for the likes of you or me. So far they’ve done diddley squat and sat on their hands. Reform. Now.

  16. Joyn Reid says:

    Ben.m quoting the telegraph isn’t the most reliable source, there’s the view that jews are zionists so criticising .israel is criticising jews, and anti semeticism isnt racism

    Atticus my heart goes out to you, who ever takes over labour leader when we lose, hopefully jon Crudas will have to work with Ann and John Cryer, Danazcs and Mann to sort this out,

  17. Blairite says:

    Glad that Rob has raised this. When Jack Straw raised the issue of veils and Ann Cryer raised some of these issues, they were accused of racism and Islamophobia. Labour should make the case for muscular liberalism rather than failing to raise the issues that Rob addresses because of a misguided sense of political correctness.

  18. Madasafish says:

    Any religion that is so unsure of itself that its members cannot stand satire or mockery is basically unfit for a Western culture.

  19. Dave Roberts. says:

    A good debate so far and one which isn’t happening, possibly not allowed to happen on other Labour blogs. Has all this dawned on the leadership of the Labour Party, it seems not. In today’s edition are two articles.

    One by the usually sensible Simon Jenkins which manages to restructure the Labour party and write what is, in many parts, a feasible manifesto which manages to avoid mentioning Islamist extremism, failed multi culturism and immigration and one by the usually, and he hasn’t disappointed this time, idiotic Seamus Milne who says this.

    ” But without the war waged by western powers, including France, to bring to heel and re-occupy the the Arab and Muslim world, last week’s attacks clearly wouldn’t have taken place”. Do read the latter and weep. Like the Bourbons, Milne has learned nothing and forgotten nothing.

  20. paul barker says:

    The proble with Labour “promoting a Positive vision” is that its not what Labour does, is it ? If your knowledge of Britain was based entirely on reading Labour websites you would have a vision of a country of festering slums, mass unenployment, rampant inflation & soup kitchens. When does Labour ever say anything positive about Britain now, rather than Britain in 2010, 1979 or 1945 ?
    The whole Labour platform is based on getting people to see themselves as victims; your problems with Jihadists, UKIP or the SNP are that they can take your moaning & turn the volume up to 11.

  21. Ex Labour says:

    @ Atticus

    Agree entirely, but I jumped ship after 30 years voting Labour at local and general elections, when Broon took the controls.

    The leftist agenda had become all too clear to me and when Broon called the woman “bigotted” is said everything about the party’s ethos and beliefs, particularly the Hampstead Guardianista’s running the show.

  22. Tafia says:

    Ben M – we were told to ignore it by party workers as ‘they’ (meaning the Lib Dems) were doing it as well. Your both pig-ignorant and same time arrogant attitude is the attitude that caused it to start with and it’s interesting to note that postal voting is till wide open to fraud. In areas with large asian muslim populations, I often wonder if the percentage of postal votes in comparison to votes cast ie. higher, lower, is higher, lower or the same.

    Personally, largely because of what I saw, I firmly believe that attendance at a polling station should be mandatory, complete with a verifiable form of ID, unless you are infirm or can prove you were out of the country (such as HM Forces). Postal voting should only be allowed for those to infirm or disabled to attend in person or to people who work in the service of the state and are out of the country – forces, embassy staff etc.

    I’ve even voted in my polling station with no card, and no ID. I just said who I was and they located me on the register and that was accepted. That is frankly farcical – along with people I have seen voting in fancy dress wearing ickcey mouse and donald duck heads so that you couldn’t even tell what sex they were..

  23. Danny says:

    Serious question for you Rob. How often do you have to replace the comma key on your computer?

  24. Rob Marchant says:

    Dave Roberts is quite right: I am doing the opposite of apology for Labour’s failings. I am saying exactly that, we are vulnerable in areas where we ran/run the councils, because we created the political culture and voters are not stupid: they are aware of that and punish us for it at the polls.

    @Atticus: I’m sorry to hear that, but it doesn’t surprise me.

    @BenM: Your complacency over voter fraud is shocking. There is huge anecdotal as well as actual legal evidence in this area, but you assume this is just someone’s prejudice. Let’s talk again after the Tower Hamlets investigation is over.

    @ExLabour: I agree with a lot of your criticisms on Labour. However, it is both trite and wrong to say that problems such as FGM are “self-inflicted”: Muslims are not some homogeneous mass who can have group guilt or innocence. They are a group of individuals who happen share a religion. Ridiculous to blame an enormous group for the actions of a few extremists, especially in the UK, where extremism is the exception and not the rule.

  25. JohnP reid says:

    Unfortunately I have to agree with Tafia,as even the police were turning a blind eye during the lke 90’s, it wasnt Until the balance of power was changed in Hackney by the Libdems in 2000 that the police got involved,

  26. Kevin Barry says:

    I concur with most, if not all, of what ‘Henrik’ has posted.

  27. Ex Labour says:

    @ Rob Marchant

    I’m afraid you misunderstand my point. You clearly want to demonstrate some empathy for Muslims in saying that they “suffer” because of FGM and HK’s. My point is that these are not part of western culture, it is not a western value, creation or practice, so why include this? It is clearly a self inflicted (in the sense of religious practice) suffering and its ridiculous to say otherwise.

    I also point out that I said “SOME practicing Muslims think” which was clearly aimed at the more extreme end of the scale. So your point about blaming an entire group is pretty silly dont you think ?

    If you want to make ad-hom comments then at least read what is written. I note also you have nothing to say about the only (Muslim) politician who has spoken out with a clear solution. Sadly the multi-cultural experiment is not working as the public survey’s across European countries has shown. The general concensus being that Islam is not conducive to western cultural values.

  28. John P Reid says:

    It’s Alright Ed miliband has wrote to the Electoral commission now how about the Rotherham vote scandal ,

  29. stewart says:

    labour and tony blair created this evil of islamic terrorism in this country by there open borders and mass immigration policy by letting millions of people from the thirld world who seem to have nothing but hatred and contempt for the west and are democratic values,labour created this problem of radical islam and now they are looking for a solution to combat it,to late if you have not noticed.

  30. John P Reid says:

    Stewart, I appreciate that some of the terrorists were brainwashed by others from 3rd world countries, but nearly all the terrorist attacks have been by British born people, or those who came here due to Asylum, and had a decent education, before they came here, the Eastern European peole ho have terrorist views or sympathies came via EU laws on borders. Although Rdical Islam , is away of braunwashing it’s an exploration of a region, not a race ,idint think tn y evn have a knowledge of what the West and its value is

  31. Tafia says:

    FGM is not a muslim thing – it is a mainly african tribal thing and is carried out by Christians and Pagans as well.

  32. John P Reid says:

    Quite right Tafia, a Christian Nigerian pastor in my neck of the woods is doing a lot with police to reveal it happening in theUK

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