What's the point if you do this to Muslims?

How will 13 million European Muslims cope with the ruthless policies of Western governments?
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The Independent Culture
LAST SUNDAY, at noon, a Home Office official phoned asking if I could attend a meeting with ministers to talk about the bombings on Iraq and British race relations. A handful of Muslims had been invited. Having watched House of Cards, I assumed that this was one of those invitations that required total discretion, and that I must have become a somebody. At 4pm, a journalist called to ask whether I would be going. Another called minutes later (he wanted to know whether Jack Straw thought I was a member of some terrorist organisation). And then someone from The Independent called, by which time I felt that there was no sense in playing secrets any more. I explained that I would not attend the meeting because I was too upset to talk, and that my strong feelings of despair and rage would not help race relations in the meeting-room, let alone the country.

It was not a gesture, not a boycott. I believe Straw is committed to racial equality and I know Mike O'Brien does criticise the popular press and "star" columnists such as Richard Littlejohn who regularly and with pleasure demonise all Muslims, especially when the West is bombing their brethren abroad. But I was not in the mood to comfort the hosts of the recent fireworks party, about which I was not asked, when, (regrettably, I am sure) some of our houses had to be burnt down. These are probably the sentiments of all Muslims living in the West today. Even a Muslim like me - Westernised, defective, full of sin, a vocal critic of much that is wrong in our communities and Islamic countries - cannot and will not support the recent actions against the poor, wretched people of Iraq.

As Robert Fisk wrote in this paper, the attacks represented "the final bankruptcy of Western policy" towards that once thriving country. One of the birthplaces of human civilisation, Iraq is now a place where researchers find that the children have lost their expectations of growing up.

I am affronted by the rhetoric of the Government, and told Derek Fatchett this on the PM programme on Radio 4. He fed me more self-serving platitudes in response. There was no meeting of words.

But this is not only about Iraq. It is about how we, the 13 million European Muslims, are going to cope with the xenophobic, ruthless and thoughtless policies and actions of Western governments when they are dealing with Muslim countries. They do this without any consultation with us and without any understanding of how their own people (for that, whether they like it or not, is what we are) are likely to react.

Let us imagine the unimaginable for a moment. Suppose that the Israeli government got so outlandish, even by the generous standards which apply to it, that military action by the Western allies became necessary. Would this step be taken without long conversations into the night with prominent Jews? We know that the Irish presence in the United States has exerted enormous influence, for worse once and better now, on American politicians and the US government itself.

There is much talk in our country about the benefits of diversity. But as the late Barry Troyna, the leading academic of multi-culturalism, wrote, diversity is not only about "saris, samosas and steel bands". Nor is it just about getting fat import orders from India or parading a black mayor through the streets of London. If politicians don't realise that we have a role to play in the foreign policies of this, our nation, they have not understood the changes in this country since 1948. How well can they then be expected to run a mature, complex, multi-ethnic democracy?

New Labour is beginning to stir on this. The Foreign Office has set up a panel of advisers which include people such as Zeinab Badawi and Wahid Ali. But there is still too much ignorance and arrogance in the corridors of power. What a waste of all our Muslim academics who see themselves as Muslims of the West, not of the East.

We British Muslims feel guilty about Iraq, but we also feel powerless. Since Bosnia and Kosovo, when our people (which is increasingly how we regard persecuted Muslims around the world, in spite of our differences) had to die because it was just too difficult to stop these things, our innermost fears are gathered around the spectre of a growing confrontation between Islam and the West.

Imagine then, our task as parents and educators, of persuading the brightest among our young that we must remain part of the democratic process; that there is no sense in being so angry that we make it easier for those who hate us to harm us; that separatist politics will do us no good. Young Muslim chemistry graduates are not building bombs in garages in Neasden or sending out application forms to Bin Laden, but they are increasingly questioning the wisdom of integration.

Another meeting which I did not attend this week was one organised by some Muslim students who want to create a structure which "has nothing to do with the lies about democracy and this anti-Muslim state". This should worry the Prime Minister, and if he wishes to converse I am available, now that I have stopped crying, any time, any place.

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