Dominic Lawson: The best demonstration of the Muslim case would be a great march denouncing violence

British Muslims should march on Hyde Park, carrying their own 'Not in Our Name' banners
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The Independent Online

PC Alexander Omar Basha is owed an apology. For much of yesterday, his name was darkest mud. From the moment that The Sun newspaper "revealed" that he had been excused, at his own request, from guarding the Israeli Embassy during the recent conflagration in Lebanon, the airwaves were thick with condemnation of his conscience.

Numerous retired and active police officers declared that, having signed the police officer's oath of allegiance, PC Basha had no business deciding, because his wife happened to be Lebanese and his father Syrian, that he should not carry out his full duties as a member of the Diplomatic Protection Squad.

Only this is not what happened. It appears, instead, that PC Basha told his commanding officer of his family circumstances and it was then decided on "safety grounds", following a "risk assessment", that he should not carry out his duties on the doorstep of the Embassy of Israel. The implication of this is extraordinary. It means that his superiors considered there was a risk that PC Basha might decide to use his machine-gun not to defend the Israeli Embassy, but to attack its inhabitants.

I don't recall ever being inside the Israeli Embassy, but I'm sure I am not guessing wildly in supposing that it is crawling with well-protected security staff. One false step by PC Basha, and the Diplomatic Protection Group would be looking to fill a permanent vacancy. Perhaps it should be doing so now, anyway. If it really is the case that Basha's superiors considered that he was a genuine risk to the people he was meant to be guarding, then it is seems, at the least, very odd that he remains a policeman in possession of an automatic weapon.

In more normal times this episode would not be a front-page story - or indeed a story at all. Inevitably, however, it has become conflated with the biggest controversy of the moment. Are British Muslims on "our side" in what Mr Blair calls the war on terror? And related to that, is the Metropolitan Police now so terrified of causing offence to Muslims that it is unable to do its job properly?

The Metropolitan Commissioner, Sir Ian Blair, is a man whose entire professional future is linked to that second question. Following his lamentable public performance at the time of the killing of Jean-Charles de Menezes, and the astonishing fiasco of the Forest Gate "chemical weapons" bust that wasn't, it's clear that Sir Ian is now so petrified of saying the wrong thing that it's very hard for him to do the right thing.

Last week, for example, Sir Ian was called upon to explain his handling of the demonstration outside Westminster Cathedral during which Catholic worshippers were, in their own words "upset and intimidated" by men carrying banners declaring "Pope go to Hell", while its leader, Anjem Choudary, declared that Pope Benedict faced "capital punishment."

Sir Ian said that Mr Choudary, who had already been fined in connection with his conduct during the demonstrations in this country against some cartoons published in Denmark, had committed "no substantive offence", in his conduct outside Westminster Cathedral.

Do you understand what the Metropolitan Commissioner meant by that? Was Sir Ian confusing "substantive" with "substantial"? That can't be the case: either an offence has taken place or it hasn't, and if it has, then action must be taken. Since Sir Ian Blair has a degree in English literature from Oxford University, we must assume that he was using "substantive" in its proper relevant meaning, which is "real".

In that case, why could not Sir Ian simply have said that Mr Choudary and his gang "had committed no offence"? He couldn't say that, because the poor man was trying at the same time to suggest to outraged Catholics that in some way he felt their pain, too. It's not easy being a paramilitary social worker.

Whatever Sir Ian meant, and regardless of the little local difficulty following Pope Benedict's Regensburg lecture, the big political problem is not with the feelings of British Catholics, but British Muslims. I suspect that the vast majority of them will be rightly upset with the nature of the media attention over the case of PC Basha; and they will also be feeling miserable that a poisonous individual like Anjem Choudary is passing himself off as some sort of representative of theirs.

The same anxieties will also have been prompted by the way in which the BBC gave Abu Izzadeen, formerly known as Trevor Brooks, the honour of a lengthy interview with John Humphrys on the Today Programme. Izzadeen was the man who told Dr John Reid that he had no business talking to British Muslims, and, you might recall, had earlier described the 7/7 mass murderers as "completely praiseworthy".

Izzadeen is obviously not a completely isolated figure. There are others in this country who share his views, and are simply less voluble in expressing them. But while it would be outrageous to describe them as anything more than a toxic fringe movement within the mass of British Muslims, their coreligionists could do more to educate the British people about their true opinions.

It is true that the Muslim Council of Britain issued a statement of absolute condemnation of the 7/7 bombings, as one would expect. Nowadays, unfortunately, words matter less than images, and in not fully realising this, the MCB missed a big opportunity to salvage something precious from the wreckage. At the time, a number of British Muslims wrote to the MCB suggesting that a mass march be organised to condemn the actions and views of the bombers, to demonstrate on the biggest scale possible the views of the law-abiding peaceable vast majority. As far as I am aware, the discussions about such a national mass march never got very far.

The biggest demonstration in modern British history was, of course, the march on Hyde Park in February 2003, in which almost one million people gathered to protest at the imminent invasion of Iraq by US and British forces. The most popular and powerful placard contained the words "Not in our name", often with a picture of an exploding bomb underneath.

The first anniversary of the 7/7 bombings has been and gone, but there will be another such atrocity, perhaps not as bad, perhaps even worse. When that happens, British Muslims, either with or without the support of the MCB, should march on Hyde Park, carrying their own "Not in Our Name" banners, with pictures of the terrorists' carnage underneath.

It won't convince the likes of Abu Izzadeen to denounce the shahid "martyrs"; but it would - I hope - demonstrate to all the people of Britain where the truth lies.

d.lawson@independent.co.uk

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