Joan Smith: Lord Tebbit didn't go far enough

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Anyway, there Tebbit was, on Friday morning's Today programme, suggesting that last month's terrorist attacks on London might have been avoided if we had only listened to him in 1990. He has learned to moderate his tone in the intervening period and his question for British Asians, as he framed it last week, could sound innocuous: are they looking forward or rooted in the country from which they've come? Of course, by this stage in migration patterns, the country from which many British Asians come is not Pakistan or India but the UK, a point which demonstrates how out of date Tebbit's thinking is. And as his argument developed, it quickly became clear not just how confused he is but how much he has in common with the Muslim extremists who have failed, in his vocabulary, to integrate.

Lord Tebbit denounced modern culture with as much spleen as the most committed Islamist, even going so far as to sympathise with Muslims whose moral code is offended by the "depravity of our inner cities". This isn't surprising, for Tebbit is a puritan whose attacks on homosexuality in the House of Lords are savoured by connoisseurs; last year, on the Today programme, he even accused the Government of doing "everything it can to promote buggery".

His position on multi-culturalism seems to be that on the one hand it's a bad thing, but on the other it's not very surprising if Muslims don't want to assimilate into a society where homosexuality and single motherhood have been made compulsory by a succession of wildly libertarian home secretaries. Now I am going to take a charitable view and assume that he doesn't have the faintest idea what he is talking about, for as tonight's edition of Panorama demonstrates, the alienation of some young Muslims in this country has its roots in a vicious, separatist theology that goes far beyond characterising Tony Blair's ministers as unpleasant pinkos.

Last year the East London Mosque, whose chairman Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari is also deputy general secretary of the Muslim Council of Britain, invited a prominent Saudi cleric to be guest of honour at the opening of a £10m Islamic centre. Sheikh Abdur-Rahman al-Sudais came to London and talked about tolerance but on other occasions he has denounced the "enemies of Islam" - a predictable list of Jews, Christians and secularists - as monkeys, pigs and rats.

Some faiths and ideologies are inherently opposed to respecting difference; the position of extreme Muslims is not just that some aspects of British culture are objectionable, which is the bit that appeals to Tebbit, but that Islam is superior to any other belief system. It's no more possible to build a multi-cultural system with the Wahhabis or followers of Jamaat-e-Islami than it would be with the Taliban, which is why the influence of such movements in this country is so frightening.

Lord Tebbit's cricket test addresses trivialities, the kind of difference I am happy to live with, when the urgent question thrown up by the London bombings is this: do we all share a set of values which includes the obligation to report a suspected terrorist to the police, regardless of his or her religion? That is where tolerance quite properly draws a line, and tonight's Panorama suggests that we have yet to acknowledge the extent to which extremists have successfully promoted hatred of British culture among young British Muslims.

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