Perhaps we should show some understanding of poor Denis MacShane. His mouth sometimes fires off before his brain is properly open for business. It is a sad handicap, especially for a British Foreign Office Minister who presumably is supposed to be diplomatic and linguistically smart. This Friday, advance transcripts of his speech to local Labour party supporters in Rotherham, his constituency, had him making outrageous demands on British Muslims just as all of us in Britain were digesting the horrors of the latest violation of Istanbul by Islamic Stalinists. We Muslims have now to make a choice it seems, between "the British way" or the values of terrorism.
I could write 20 pages on why this ultimatum has offended so many, even those of us who accept that there are many Muslims who are drawn to people and ideologies propagating violent hatreds. He may think himself an extraordinarily brave chap, but would MacShane ever dare to say to Zionists in Britain that they have to choose between "British ways" and the state terrorism of Israel? Is he going to order British Chinese citizens to decry the human rights abuses in China, or else? Is he demanding that Americans living in Britain denounce the immoral arming of tribal factions in the Congo by the US government to abide by "British values?"
This is no different from the Tebbit cricket test which was only ever applied to black and Asian Britons but not to Australians (who will not be making merry today), white South Africans, or Poles or Italians who live in this country with absolutely divided loyalties. No one bugs these nationals or asks that they should swear allegiance to only one part of their multiple identities.
Which begs the next question. What does MacShane mean when he talks about the British? His language itself serves to exclude the millions of us who were first forcibly made British under the empire and have since reclaimed the identity and meaning of Britishness, even though week in week out, the sad souls of the old empire write in to tell me people like us have no right to be here or call ourselves British. Tough luck, I say to them. Ramadan, Hanukkah, Diwali, are today as British as Christmas. "The British Way" is an ever-changing kaleidoscope which is what makes this country so attractive and challenging.
Another question: this British way which the Minister holds up, does it include the continuing duplicity of perfidious Albion, the illegal war we have just fought, the class system, the booze and babes on tap culture, racist policemen, the highest divorce rates in the world, the ghastly royals, pathological mistrust of the French, Germans and the EU, an unhealthy tendency to think we are always and obviously the best? Is this what Muslims have to swear to uphold or is it OK to say we admire only what is worthy? Parliamentary democracy, rule of law, the freedom to dissent and speak out, better equality between citizens, enlightened thought, excellent academic institutions and so on.
Now that we live in a world of infinitely more not less terror, and the expectation is rising that London will be the next target, we must ensure that leaders do not speak and behave with such incontinence. We must also point out truths which get buried under the rubble produced by heartless bombers. Today the world believes that Muslims are murderers, terrorists and the only threat to world civilisation. Yet look back 50 years, look back 10 if you like, and you see the blazing unfairness of such assertions. More Muslims have been killed by non-Muslims than the other way around. In Bosnia, Kosovo, India, Chechnya, Iraq, Israel, the numbers are indisputable.
When thousands of Muslims were murdered by avowed Christian Serbs, when Bush and Blair starved then killed Iraqis, the world did not ask Christianity to look into itself and take stock of the harm that was being done in its good name. Yet minutes after Roger Short, the British consul-general was killed with others in Turkey, this is what the local chaplain in Istanbul called Islam to do.
If there is anything that drives Muslims into anti-Western hatred it is the knowledge that Muslims are always judged more harshly because of double standards, and that Muslim lives are treated with unacceptable carelessness. You cannot argue with that. Blair's fawning response to George Bush's visit said it all. The two best friends bypassed the crimes against human rights in Guantanamo Bay or the obscene divvying up of Iraq's precious resources between our countries.
Bush talks about supporting freedoms but oppresses Iraqis critical of the US and has taken away fundamental liberties in his own country. He still supports the vile regime in Uzbekistan (where resisters are boiled alive according to some reports) and lectures the world on how Muslims deserve democracy (but only where elected governments do as the US wants). There is no talk at all of bringing Israel to book. You don't have to be an anti-Western terrorist to feel a surge of fury when you look at such a list.
What makes it all even more intolerable is that Muslim citizens are also the main victims the world over of abysmal governance in their own countries, of state violence and of extremists. The bombs in Turkey and Saudi Arabia killed Muslims mostly. In Iraq, too, it is Iraqis who are dying - murdered by the hidden forces fighting the allies and the allies themselves. This after the genocides of Saddam Hussein. In Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq and Uzbekistan, Muslim upon Muslim violence is unbearable to observe. The Iran/Iraq war killed too many to count. The second intifada has killed unspeakable numbers of innocent Israelis and of course Palestinians as they are targeted in revenge operations.
Human rights violations in Muslim countries are getting worse, which is why many groups around the world are now calling for a reformation, a new dawn for believers who know this cannot go on. Too long entrenched in feudalism, ethnic strife and patriarchy, unless Muslim societies wake up, the future is even bleaker than the recent past. Torture, the "honour" killings of girls and women (even in Palestine - recently a young girl who was raped by her brothers was murdered by her own mother), persecution of critics, autocratic rule, all disable any real progressive politics which would more effectively stand up to US ambitions and hypocrisies.
How can we talk about Guantanamo Bay when the prisons of Egypt and Tunisia and Saudi Arabia are full of torn, broken bodies and souls? I am desperately worried that the quick arrests in Turkey and Saudi Arabia of the planners of suicide attacks may in fact be highly suspect exercises to keep the West happy, and maybe lock up and destroy dissidents. Some perpetrators have already been killed we hear. Do we believe that this is justice?
Finally, it is important to remember that disenfranchisement, injustice and poverty do not lead other people to take up bombs. Sub- Saharan Africans are the worst off human beings on our planet. A few support al-Qa'ida, but most know that they have to get their own houses in order to fight selfish Western interests. That is the challenge. Ironically this is what most conscientious British Muslims are pushing ever more assertively. Which is why we are so irritated with Denis MacShane's latest gaffe.