The Munich address, in which British Prime Minister David Cameron set his face against ‘multi-culturalism’ and condemned aggressive separatism among British Muslims, was ringingly endorsed by the right-wing columnist Charles Moore. What people needed to grasp, Moore indicated in the Daily Telegraph, was that radical Islam is not just threatening to take control in Egypt. Portraying London as the world capital of Muslim agitators and propagandists, he impressed upon his readers that hegemonic Islamism is also a grave domestic issue.
Even as Moore and Cameron were thus expressing themselves, 3000 members of the far right English Defence League were demonstrating in Luton, the British town that has become identified with Muslim extremists since the occasion two years ago when a Muslim group publicly abused British soldiers who marched through the town following service in Afghanistan, and which more recently was in the news when it emerged that the Stockholm suicide bomber, Taimour Abdul Wahab, had lived there.
Both Moore and Cameron are Conservative Party products of Eton, the venerable educational bastion of the British elite. Last weekend, it seemed as if Eton was making common cause with the British street in a new crusade. Certainly, Cameron’s speech, given as it was at high profile conference on national security and coinciding with one of the biggest anti-Muslim demonstrations Britain has seen, could only lend weight to the EDL’s claim that Islam bothers the British way of life. EDL members are rejoicing that the British prime minister agrees with them. Cameron took care to stress that he was discussing twisted interpretations of Islam. Yet most British people will scarcely trouble themselves over the nuances of his remarks, any more than they will bother their heads with the complexities of the debate about culture and identity raging in the higher reaches of the British media. They will simply conclude it is now official that Britain recklessly allowed itself to become a breeding ground for Muslim fanatics.
Ever since the 7/11 London bombings of 2005, there has been a growing sense that Muslims are Britain’s ‘enemy within’. Cameron’s speech has hugely enhanced the credibility of popular perceptions that Britain is at the mercy of extremists who are determined to Islamise Britain and who are fundamentally hostile to women, gay people and Jews. It must be said that in sharp contrast to the traditional far right, the EDL claims to embrace representatives of all those groups, and there is no cause to doubt it.
In Munich, Cameron was speaking the same language as German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has herself denounced multi-culturalism and who presides over a country where xenophobia is resurgent. He was also removing any lingering doubt that his government is soft on Islamism.
Only a month ago, the chairperson of the Conservative Party, the Muslim lawyer Sayeeda Warsi, made a speech warning about the violence that could flow from the rising respectability of Islamophobia in Britain. Warsi’s speech is certain have irked ministerial colleagues of Cameron’s such as Michael Gove, the neo-conservative ideologue who obsesses about the threat posed by radical Islam to Western democracy in general and to Israel in particular. Though Warsi has felt obliged to defend Cameron’s speech, it is hard to believe she is not privately dismayed by it. The fact is that it has utterly eclipsed her message, while leaving Muslims feeling more acutely than ever that they are seen by the rest of Britain as a security problem, guilty until proved innocent.
In many ways, David Cameron was simply reiterating the views of Tony Blair, the British leader who led Britain into two wars against Muslim countries and who has for years wasted no opportunity to denounce radical Islam as the greatest challenge that Britain faces. None of this is to say that extremists are not a genuine cause for alarm in Britain - or that criticism of multi-culturalism is entirely gratuitous.
Yet it is equally cause for concern that the British government has exploited radical Islam for its own cynical purposes. The evidence is overwhelming that, in order to win public support for attacking Iraq, the Blair government gave credence to a mendacious story that Algerian Islamists in north London were manufacturing weapons of mass destruction. In the days before Cameron’s speech, the Guardian published letters wondering if the Chilcot Inquiry into the Iraq War was going to raise questions about the 2003 ‘ricin plot’
that never was.
The spectre of Muslims as the ‘enemy within’ has proved a great asset to Britain’s rulers. It has helped to distract attention from the way Israel and its supporters have been indulged by British governments and from unconditional British support of a US foreign policy that is meant to enhance British security yet which has in reality undermined it.
As Cameron assailed multi-culturalism, people all over Britain were protesting against the prospective wholesale closure of public libraries. For Cameron and the free marketeers who dominate his Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition Government, libraries — along with many other public services — appear eminently expendable. Cameron’s talk of creating a ‘Big Society’, with everybody an active citizen, is coming to be regarded as a mask for an austerity programme far more stringent than Britain’s public finances, however straightened, really justify. As his government decimates state provision, Cameron, for all his trumpeted concern with social cohesion, is in the process of turning Britain into an even more fragmented country than it already is.
Britain’s Muslims are being targeted as scapegoats for the social disarray precipitated by an old Etonian with a suave manner and a hidden agenda.
Neil Berry is a London-based commentator
Thanks to NewsHound for the heads-up