Here we go again – suddenly engulfed as clouds of panic push across from Europe, where agitation has built up since Jean-Marie Le Pen did unexpectedly well in the French presidential elections and the assassination of the anti-immigration Dutch politician, Pim Fortuyn. Bad news, of course, but made much worse by some commentators who can be depended on to add to the fear and confusion with alarmist fantasies and delirious declarations which always lead to one place: Horror of Muslims.
It is time to bash Muslims again, all Muslims: GPs, neurosurgeons, research scientists, insurance salesmen, economists, City traders, writers, dancers, singers, civil servants, teachers, cooks, community workers – we, apparently, are primitive and incapable of enlightenment. So says Melanie Phillips in The Spectator, her phobic fulminations written days after some Jewish Britons gathered in London, some to affirm that Ariel Sharon is a civilised man of peace. Sorrowfully, the lady concludes, Islam is on the march to destroy Europe with its fine Judeo-Christian tradition. Yes, so fine it enslaved, colonised, destroyed, gassed millions, smashed other civilisations, stole, and still refuses to face these crimes.
The Spectator cover illustration – a pretty English village with a star and crescent menacingly over it, is as offensive as a recent New Statesman cover, where the star of David was provocatively juxtaposed with the Union flag. But don't wait for the uproar which made The Statesman editor apologise. For The Spectator and others, we Muslims are the sand-niggers of this country, deserving no respect.
Thankfully, British politicians are not quite this wildly irresponsible, not this time. Peter Hain, a Foreign Office minister, spoke some good sense this weekend about the issues that do need to be discussed about Muslims in Europe. But I still think that the way the debate has been whipped up is both wicked and mendacious.
A man was killed. He was a European politician, a libertarian with panache, money, a much-loved spaniel, beautiful suits, a gay lifestyle, charm, and a good brain. He was admired because he openly expressed his distaste for Islam and immigrants who didn't fit in with his values. Now the world must worship him because he died a martyr for his beliefs. Unpick this. People are murdered for their ideas – politicians, journalists, and thousands of victims of torture – and it is a terrible crime. But what we witnessed in Holland was the enthronement of xenophobia.
Forgive me, but although I am sorry for the lovers, family and supporters of Fortuyn, I will not stop denouncing the malign influence he exerted. Men with questionable views don't turn into paragons because they are dead. Fortuyn flaunted his Islamophobia at the very time Holland was confronting its complicity with the failure of its soldiers to protect the men and boys of Srebrenica – all Muslims, all killed by Christians. The country was trying to understand this and to think about how Muslims are being treated in Europe and the former Soviet Union. "Brave" Fortuyn stopped that difficult self examination by his nation. And if Dutch voters support Fortuyn's party, their country will again be linked to the ideology of white supremacy – never forget where the Boers came from.
David Starkey (another libertarian, flash, rich, clever, gay man, with well expressed objections to cultural diversity) says ferociously that Fortuyn was not a racist. Well no, because these days nobody is. Racism is such an ugly word, even the British National Party likes not to be associated with it. Here is what the BNP delivered to every home in London in 2000: "Opposition to immigration is not a matter of 'racism' or 'hate' against other peoples. What we oppose is the destruction of the traditional identity of the British people in our homeland. We ask for our culture, freedoms and our traditions to be respected and for the majority to have the right to run the country as they wish".
I can't see any difference between this and what Fortuyn stood for. Do you? Rebranding such racial and cultural arrogance as national pride or Judeo-Christian traditions fools nobody.
Then there is the point about the killer. Why are we discussing Muslims when it was a white bloke (allegedly an animal-rights activist) who is under suspicion? How do we know that he killed the politician because of his opposition to Islam? He probably hated Muslims for their halal killings too. What if he was a homophobe? Or are homophobics in Europe all closet Muslims? Why no hysteria about animal liberationists who have collectively carried out more attacks in western Europe than Muslims?
You don't have to be exceptionally courageous to attack Muslims. Since 11 September, humiliating Muslims has become an open and much enjoyed sport. The brave are those who have tried to understand what has made the world so divided – writers such as Arundhati Roy, Robert Fisk, Edward Said, for example, who are neither apologists for all things Islamic nor abject worshippers at the altar of western self aggrandisement.
Worryingly, we are already getting calls for greater intolerance of asylum seekers, many of whom come from Muslim countries the West has destabilised and impoverished. This means denying entry to Iraqis, Kurds and Palestinians, those whose lives we have helped destroy and who are among the most enlightened Muslims in the world. Iraqis have the highest percentage in the world of PhD graduates per capita. Two thousand refugee doctors are about to be given training at a London hospital so that we can benefit from their expertise. The same talent is present in the Netherlands and France, but is never mentioned by Le Pen and Fortuyn.
Don't take this to be just a litany of justification on behalf of some monolithic Muslim community. What we don't need is a clash of excuses, with warriors of the West claiming virtue and hurt only to be opposed by Muslim spokespeople coming out with the same cant. Unlike Shahid Malik, a Muslim member of Labour's National Executive Committee, I do not think that all those concerned about some isolationist Muslims are "like Hitler". Nor do I believe in the laissez-faire multiculturalism which was for too long supported by politicians in exchange for votes. As I wrote in After Multiculturalism, we need to have a serious debate about making a better, more-cohesive society.
Mr Hain is right to say that it takes two to integrate, and that there are too many self-appointed leaders in mosques and in communities who hold their people within cages, prisoners under their influence. We do need to develop core, non-negotiable values based not only on Judeo-Christianity, or Islam, or godless liberalism, or Hinduism, Buddhism, or Americanism, but on a collective vision where gender and children's rights are secured, where personal autonomy, equal value, democracy and human rights are part of a statement of common citizenship. Ironically, the Netherlands was the one country in Europe which has developed this model and today all this lies in shreds because of what Fortuyn did when he was alive and more effectively as result of his awful death.Reuse content