Norman Tebbit has of course raised the question of race, religion and loyalty before. But to some British Muslims his latest incursion was more incendiary than Enoch Powell's notorious "rivers of blood" speech.
For them Lord Tebbit has attempted to tear away the consensus that binds Britain's multiracial society. He has offered instead a dark vision of a future of division, strife and ethnic cleansing. Within hours of a 15-year-old Asian boy addressing the Conservative conference in Blackpool, the former party chairman was saying "multiculturalism is a divisive force". He added that it could lead to a situation when "this kingdom will become like Yugoslavia".
In Pakistan, the Queen welcomed the transformation of the country into a multicultural society. She said in a speech at Islamabad: "A distinctive new identity - that of British Muslim - has emerged. I find that healthy and welcome ... The Pakistani community has been a driving force. Their contribution to all walks of life has won great respect."
Among many Muslims the reaction to Lord Tebbit's speech was one of anger . The writer and broadcaster Yasmin Alibhai-Brown said: "What Tebbit did was disgraceful. It was worse than the rivers of blood speech. He quite deliberately mentioned Yugoslavia knowing that people here had seen the horrors that took place on their television screens so recently. He is basically talking about civil war, because he implies the people in Yugoslavia could not live alongside a Muslim population. By his words he is creating an atmosphere of intolerance". Ms Alibhai-Brown is preparing a report for the Institute of Public Policy Research on influence of politicians on public perceptions about race. Her findings are expected to be passed on to the Home Office.
Dr Ghayasuddin Siddiqui, the leader of Britain's Muslim parliament, also deplored Lord Tebbit's speech and in particular what he called the "demonising" of Muslims. He said: "This man is living in the past, multiculturalism is a reality. One only has to go to the areas where the immigrants have settled to see the life and the energy there. The Queen is, of course, absolutely right, immigrants have contributed a huge amount to this country ... There are around 40 seats in Parliament which could be decided by the ethnic minority vote, many of them Muslims. Why should these people vote Conservative after this kind of a speech?"
Selim Nasrudin Ali was thinking of joining the Tory party, but is now having doubts after hearing Lord Tebbit's views. The 47-year-old businessman from Walthamstow, north-east London, said: "I have felt the Conservatives are the natural party for business ... so I thought of joining. Now I don't know ... He appears to be saying Muslims must give up their culture. This will alienate a lot of blacks and Asians from the Tories."
But for Meena Chaudhury, a 20-year-old student, the appeal of the Tories for ethnic minorities is "immaterial". She said: "They must be bloody stupid to want to join a clapped out old party anyway. Let's face it, what we have is a bitter old man speaking at a fringe thing of a party that does not matter."Reuse content