Sucking up to Islam will never appease the zealots, Wheen warns

Francis WheenSucking up to Islam will never appease the zealots

By Francis Wheen

Evening Standard, 21 February 2006

I toddled down to Trafalgar Square last Saturday to observe the latest mass rally against Danish cartoonists.

The protesters were on their best behaviour, unlike the demagogues who addressed them. Certain placards – “Don’t they teach you manners in Denmark?”, “Learn to apologise properly” – suggested this whole crisis could have been avoided had the Danes studied Lady Troubridge’s Book of Etiquette more attentively.

The most common placard, however, was a simple equation: “War on terror = War on Islam”. What could be more moderate and well-mannered than that? It’s an article of faith for many secular British liberals, too.

The reasoning behind it is that Britain set out to topple Saddam Hussein, a Sunni Muslim. Yet the victims of Saddam’s regime – Kurds and Shias – were themselves Muslims. Did anyone at the rally claim that Saddam also made war on Islam? Of course not.

Nor would they make the accusation against Iran – even though Iranian police arrested 1,200 Sufi Muslims in Qom last week and destroyed their prayer hall. This was an act of straightforward religious persecution, but only Amnesty International has made the slightest fuss.

If Tony Blair really is waging war on Islam, it must be the first struggle in history in which the belligerent continually prostrates himself before the foe he is supposedly attacking. Only last month the Government tried to push through a law criminalising people who criticise religion, a measure introduced purely to placate leading Muslims.

Now we learn from the New Statesman that the Foreign Office wants to establish “working-level contacts” with supporters of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, an extreme Islamist group. In a leaked memo to ministers, an FO official explains that “interacting with ‘political Islam’ is an important element of our Engaging With the Islamic World strategy”.

Our ambassador in Cairo seems unconvinced. In another memo leaked to the New Statesman, he complains of “a tendency for us to be drawn towards engagement for its own sake” and a reluctance to notice “the very real downsides for us in terms of the Islamists’ likely foreign and social policies”.

Just so. Since 9/11 earnest progressives have argued that we must work with militant Islam rather than challenge it. Hence the grotesque pantomime horse known as the Respect Coalition.

Meanwhile Tony Blair has been engaging away like billy-o with the famous “Muslim moderates”, awarding them knighthoods and seats on quangos. He insists religion is the solution rather than the problem, since “Jews, Muslims and Christians are all children of Abraham” – overlooking the fact that Abraham’s example was cited by one of the 9/11 hijackers as his chief inspiration.

So far, however, this ardent wooing seems to be unreciprocated. An ICM poll has found that 40 per cent of British Muslims want sharia law in parts of the country, and one in five sympathises with the “feelings and motives” of bombers who killed 52 people in London last July. Alarming news: but will it prompt a demo in Trafalgar Square? No chance.