The double standards that pass for Western diplomacy

How long will we carry on sending out Eton-educated Cuthberts as our ambassadors?
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The Independent Culture
AS I stepped out of the Radio 4 Today programme studio recently, after arguing with Malcolm Rifkind about how Muslims in this country are excluded from the corridors of power, a slightly edgy researcher told me that someone on the phone was screaming for my blood.

Was he a Christian terrorist, I immediately wondered? Absurd. Depraved people are always threatening to do away with loudmouths like me (most are white, angry, poisonously racist and anti-Muslim), and sometimes I get worried enough to put a bucket of water under the letterbox before going to bed. But just because there are white loonies abroad, not all white people can stand accused.

When such things happen the other way round, however, and a Muslim is involved, then, as predictably as rain on a summer party Sunday, all of us Muslims are put on trial. For a couple of days we do the rounds, being questioned by bad-tempered men in the media about Muslims behaving madly. The steps are well practised. Militant Muslims such as Abu Hamza, the infamous imam of the Finsbury Park mosque who held a press conference yesterday to condemn their host country, cry Jihad and the end of the West. The media laps up the drops of imagined blood. Moderates then rush in to proclaim how wonderfully peaceful Islam is (instead of being honest enough to say that it should be, but is manifestly not in too many parts of the world - and in pockets here in Britain), or theorise about why some of our young men are so angry and drawn to extremist politics. Politicians say anodyne things about their good Muslim constituents, and fierce things about militants and Saddam Hussein. The danse macabre ends and we all get back into our boxes.

Only this time, with Yemen, it is so horribly complicated that we are all stumbling to keep upright. And the inadequacy of analysis by the media, politicians and Muslims is being shown up. It seems extraordinary that not one politician I have heard has shown the courage to make the links between the kidnappings, the recent bombing of Iraq, Israeli intransigence, and now Kosovo. The obvious influence wielded by the terrifying Captain Hook in Finsbury Park mosque is only enhanced by the political failure.

Terrorism of the heart grows when you feel you are being lied to, or when your justified rage is being treated with indifference. There is much talk in New Labour circles of joined-up government, yet, when it comes to crises such as the Yemen, the Government seems unable to think about the relationship between global and domestic policies.

Even the most self-critical Muslims today have no doubts about the double standards that operate in what passes for sophisticated Western diplomacy. We are not so stupid that we can't see how past Western decisions have created the monsters that now threaten so much of what we hold dear. The way we are reacting is also bound up with the way we feel we are being disregarded.

Yemen has also revealed other weaknesses in the way we operate. The five detained men are British. They are people of this island, not spooky Martians stalking it. There can be little doubt that there was a difference - as the families of the men complained - between the official responses to the white victims of kidnapping and the brown men held for so long without charges.

It was only really when Monica Davis, the white wife of one of the men, started speaking out, that the case began to get attention. We got a national frenzy over Louise Woodward, and the nurses in Saudi Arabia, but nothing has been done about Krishna Maharaj, a British Asian businessman who has been on death row in Florida for 10 years for murders of which many believe he is innocent. Our foreign policy is still based on the idea of them and us.

Where are the policy-makers with imagination to see that this image is dangerously out of date? How long are we going to carry on sending out Eton-educated Cuthberts who should instead be redeployed as guides in the Victoria & Albert museum? I shudder to think what an imperial leftover like Sir David Gore-Booth has been doing as our High Commissioner in India.

Why don't we have Muslim or Hindu British ambassadors to go into tetchy countries and do the job that now needs to be done? I could send the Foreign Office a list of urbane, educated, deeply attractive men and women, who could serve this country and change our presence in the world. In the Seventies the US used Andrew Young as a roving ambassador in Africa with beneficial results.

But it is not only the political elite that needs to re-educate itself. We Muslims do, too. I reject the myth that we are all simple, put-upon, misunderstood people, or that even the most appalling Islamic country must be excused to prevent Western hegemony. Our mosques are, on the whole, places of prayer. Some are more than that. One or two are involved in brainwashing the young.

All good Muslims should stand up and denounce these places, and support government action to control and punish the people responsible. Other mosques are creating terrible unhappiness within families by insisting on the coercion of young women and men. All these places have imams who are sponsored by countries such as Saudi Arabia.

British Muslims should fight to have these people ejected and deported. We need imams who are of the West and who can guide our young through the complexities of what it means to be a British Muslim; how you keep your identity and fight against Islamophobia, but also shed those aspects of cultural life that violate human rights, and not resist many modern ideas thatfe are essential in the world to come. If we don't take responsibility and change our communities, what right do we have to complain?

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