David Cameron's Speech on Dangers of Islamism Is Welcome, but 20 Years Too Late

Former MP who got in trouble in 2003 for urging support for British values says U.K. politicians have long failed to call out ideology behind Muslim terrorism, for fear of being accused of Islamophobia.

Dennis MacShane
Denis MacShane
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Sherard Cowper-Coles, British ambassador to Israel, in front of Tel Aviv's Mike's Place bar after a British national blew himself up at the entrance, May 1, 2003.
Sherard Cowper-Coles, British ambassador to Israel, in front of Tel Aviv's Mike's Place bar after a British national blew himself up at the entrance, May 1, 2003.Credit: AP
Dennis MacShane
Denis MacShane

At last. British Prime Minister David Cameron’s speech in Slovakia on the dangers of Islamism lurking in the hearts and minds of too many U.K. citizens is welcome, if long overdue. Cameron has bravely broken the omerta that infects all the British political class.

He has been pushed into his important declaration as once again Britain wrings its hands in agony as our youngsters slip from hearth and home in the Yorkshire towns of Dewsbury and Bradford to do evil things in the name of what they see as a religious calling. They are wrong, but for too long we have been complicit in not calling time on the ideology of Islamism, for fear of being accused of Islamophobia or of being anti-Muslim.

The Islamic State is but one of many offshoots of Islamism that takes the power of faith and transforms it into political organization, belief and action. But out of respect for the faith of Islam, Britain has refused to confront the ideology of Islamism.

Ministers, MPs, policy shapers and law officers cower and refuse to face the truth of the evil ideology that is being nurtured in our midst and used to justify the murder of any opponent that stands in its way. They just have to hear the word “Islamophobe” or “anti-Muslim” spoken to their face and they go weak at the knees for fear of being branded.

For politicians seeking election with the help of Muslim citizens, the chances of standing up and telling the truth are as high as those of an Irish MP supporting abortion and gay rights in provincial Ireland in the 1950s. The British establishment has never been prepared to tackle Islamism as an ideology.

One of the chief proponents of that ideology is a loathsome Qatari loudmouth called Sheikh Youssef al-Qaradawi. He is a top Muslim theologian and has reinterpreted the Koran, which, like other books of the Abrahamic faiths – Judaism and Christianity – bans and makes a mortal sin the act of suicide, destroying God’s creation. Al-Qaradawi said it was perfectly okay to kill yourself as long as you killed Jews at the same time.

The hate of Islamists for Jews runs like a cancer throughout their belief system. Not even the worst of the Nazis spoke language about Jews that remotely matches that of modern Islamists. Yet when Michael Howard was home secretary, with David Cameron as his special advisor, this evangelist for suicide bombing was allowed into the U.K. to preach his messages of hate four times before 1997.

Howard and Cameron are not to blame. They would not have read any Islamist texts because then Islamism was unknown as an ideology outside the circles of its adepts and specialist academics. Even today it is remarkable the number of well-informed politicians, journalists and diplomats who do not know that the charter of Hamas, one of the main Islamist political parties, quotes the Prophet Mohammed as saying: “The Day of Judgement will not come about until Muslims fight the Jews (killing the Jews),” and the first line of the charter after a citation from the Koran states: “Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it.”

None of this was challenged until now because any such challenge was condemned as either racist or an assault on multicultural values. As a Foreign and Commonwealth Office minister in November 2003, I had to deal with an Islamist attack on the British consulate in Istanbul that killed about 30 people, including a young diplomat from Manchester. Earlier the same year, two British Muslims in their 20s, one from London and one from Derby, went to Tel Aviv to bomb the bar Mike’s Place, apparently encouraged by the relentless hate of the Islamists and their fellow travelers. One of them killed three people and injured dozens more; the other was also tasked to kill Jews, but his explosives failed to detonate, and his body was later found washed up on an Israeli beach.

In a speech to my constituency shortly after the Istanbul attack I said: “It is time for the elected and community leaders of British Muslims to make a choice. It is the democratic, rule of law – if you like, the British or Turkish or American way, based on political dialogue and nonviolent protests like the one saw in London yesterday – or it is the way of the terrorists.”

The heavens fell in. The Guardian and the Observer and the BBC’s World at One made it a major story, as British Muslim organizations called my remarks "outrageous" and "disgraceful." Shahid Malik, then a Labour MP who saw himself as the parliamentary spokesperson for British Muslims, attacked me openly, as did Trevor Philips from the Commission for Racial Equality.

In the Foreign Office, where I was No 2 to the foreign secretary, there was near-hysteria that a British minister should urge support for British values. Jack Straw, the foreign secretary, spent an inordinate amount of time cosseting his Muslim constituents in Blackburn. He had brought in an official from the Muslim Council of Britain to advise the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on outreach to Islamist outfits like the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

In 2003, urging support for British values against Islamist terrorism was deeply unfashionable. I was told I was close to being fired as a minister unless I signed some groveling climb-down, which, as a coward, I did. I also liked and respected my Kashmiri constituents and did not want to hurt them.

But perhaps if all politicians, journalists and intellectuals had told the truth about Islamism 10 or, better, 20 years ago, Britain might have been equipped to understand what drives British citizens to go out and support those who commit atrocities in the name of Islamism.

David Cameron’s wake-up call is welcome. But it is two decades too late.

Denis MacShane was a parliamentary private secretary and minister at the Foreign Office between 1997 and 2005, and U.K. delegate to the Council of Europe between 2005 and 2010. He is the author of “Globalising Hatred: the New Antisemitism.”

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