Yasmin Alibhai-Brown: Our liberty depends on defending Muslims

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The Independent Online

Shami Chakrabarti, firecracker director of Liberty, hosted a "Bonfire of the Liberties" at the Hackney Empire on 5 November, an evening of political comedy with Rory Bremner, Marcus Brigstocke, the hugely talented Iranian new mum, Shappi Khorsandi, and several other sharp young things whose gags made you cackle and hoot, yet with foreboding. We laugh to survive these bleakest of times.

Several prominent Tories showed up, including David Davis, not a man you would ever see holding up a placard. LibDem punters were present in the audience, but their MPs were obviously all busy washing quilts at the launderette that night. Worst of all, not a single Labour MP put in an appearance. Several of them were hyperactive members of Liberty once upon a time. Some even worked for the campaigning organisation.

It was the day before the Queen's Speech which many fervently hoped would reveal the hidden Gordon Brown, the progressive PM overshadowed for too long by the neocon Blair. Most were left dispirited.

Some of Brown's vision stuff was laudable but on civil liberties he sounded like a dictator manqué. He wants to force-feed migrants his spun version of Britishness, a policy that makes an avowed Britisher like me want to vomit. ID cards are not off the agenda. He wants suspects to be interrogated for 56 days without charge.

In 1997, the maximum time a person could be held was two days. Ah, but they – the ministers of the state and their best glitterati friends – say that was then. This is the world post 9/11; the age of "horrorism", swirling with dangers we know are out there but can't find. Our enemies are now millions of Muslims, some enemies within, who seek martyrdom through destruction. We have not been so vulnerable before. Really?

Here is a shortlist of the most outrageous IRA bombings on the mainland between 1974 and 1996:

1974: A coach blown up – 12 killed, 14 injured; Birmingham pub bombings – 28 dead, 200 injured. 1982: Bomb in London parks – 11 dead, 50 injured. 1983: Harrods bomb – 6 killed, many injured. 1984: Brighton bomb – 5 killed, many injured. 1989: Bomb in a Royal Marines Music School – 11 dead, 22 injured. 1992: Baltic Exchange – 3 dead, 91 injured. 1993: Warrington bomb – 2 children dead; Bishopsgate – 1 dead, 44 injured. 1996: London Docklands – 2 dead.

Many, many more died in Northern Ireland. Yes, we had to have special measures over these years and unlike the nihilists today, the IRA had a mission and purpose. But people in power kept their heads and seemed to understand that ancient rights and freedoms have to be protected, even during emergencies.

Many Irish Catholics across the UK supported, funded, harboured and cheered on the IRA men of violence. Some were passive supporters, thought bedfellows. I do not recall any collective punishment being meted out in the way we see with Muslims today. Nor was anyone tried and convicted for thinking the terrorists were right.

British civil rights and freedoms are now more restricted than they ever were under Margaret Thatcher, the PM we love to hate for her centrist, authoritarian, monetarist policies. In part, this is because we then had a robust opposition, Labour Party men and women with principles who have since pawned these for power. Today, the state slices away, shaves off layer after layer from our tree of liberty in the name of liberty – an insult added to grievous injury. The tree will soon shrivel and leave us to the winds.

Using the war on terror, our state is now ready to bend all citizens to its will. But remember unacceptable tactics approved for use on us Muslims today will be used on others tomorrow. And the terrorists will have achieved their biggest ambition – the death of British democracy.

Jemima's loyalty is to be prized

Many Pakistanis reviled Jemima Khan, stained her reputation when she was married to Imran. To them the young woman was an evil "Jewess", a brazen hussy who let her glorious hair shine in the sun, went to glitzy London parties in clothes that revealed her arms and legs and sometimes more. Can there be anything more wicked than that? When 20, my father left his birthplace Karachi forever, forsook the country he believed was doomed. In contrast Jemima stays loyal to the blighted land and her ex-husband too. The unveiled infidel becomes a symbol of true virtue, deftly galvanising opposition to Musharraf in the media and on our streets. Do her foes feel the slightest blush of shame?

* Toffs and snobs are getting restive. Watch out. They are so cross they could take to the streets in their Range Rovers – priced 19.8 per cent more this year. They may even honk their horns. It costs too damn much, the lifestyle to which they feel entitled. How they suffer. Eton fees are sky high; for a grouse hunt they are charged more than £3,500; a case of Lafite Rothschild champagne is up by 117 per cent. ( Let them drink Cava?)

Now a report tells them they are being ripped off nearly 50 per cent more than they were in 2000 by the most famously overpriced restaurants in London. How stupid are these people? And how come they are this rich if they are so stupid? I confess I have at times been invited to such eateries and did once enquire why six slices of boiled potatoes should cost more than five pounds. My host, an Asian businessman was most embarrassed. Posh means never having to look at prices: "Only low-class people do that." Must ring him to ask how things are.

y.alibhai-brown@independent.co.uk

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