This counter-terror plan is in ruins

The British government’s brand new counter-terrorism strategy is already in disarray – and ministers have only themselves to blame. The souped-up plan to fight al-Qaida, confound dirty bombers, halt suicide attacks and confront “extremism” in the country’s Muslim community was unveiled by the prime minister with much fanfare on Tuesday. But even before the 175-page “Contest 2” document had been launched, the credibility of its promise to engage with the Muslim mainstream had been thrown into question by the decision of Hazel Blears, the communities secretary, to cut all links with the Muslim Council of Britain.

Blears had been gunning for the MCB, the country’s main Muslim umbrella body, which has shown increasing independence in recent years, particularly in relation to British foreign policy. The pretext was a statement about Israel’s onslaught on Gaza signed by the MCB’s number two, Daud Abdullah, which Blears interpreted as a call for attacks on British ships if they were sent to intercept arms supplies to Hamas. Ten days ago, in a tone more associated with Raj-era colonial governors than democratic politicians addressing independent community bodies, Blears delivered an ultimatum to the MCB: either it sacked its elected deputy general secretary or all contacts would be severed.

Never mind that Gordon Brown’s idea about policing Palestinian waters has been kicked into the long grass of international talks; or that Abdullah, a Caribbean-born veteran of Grenada’s leftwing New Jewel Movement (later overthrown by Ronald Reagan) made clear he was not calling for such attacks – let alone attacks on Jewish communities, as Blears claims in a letter in today’s Guardian. All links have now been suspended. And if there were any doubt that the attempt to isolate Britain’s most significant Muslim body was linked to the new anti-terror policy, the timing of the ultimatum for the eve of the launch made clear that for Blears they were all of a piece.

Seumas Milne in the Guardian, 26 March 2009