|Charlie Hebdo's brilliant, poignant cover after the fatal |
attacks on its offices, depicting Mohammed as on the
side of the victims
The most notable thing, as a number commented on Twitter during the programme, was not so much that it was telling a few home truths about radicalism on prime-time television; but that it was being broadcast on the BBC, the heart of the liberal media establishment. (It is also a great tribute, incidentally, to why we still need public-service broadcasting, the Beeb being practically alone, among its not-so-brave British mainstream media competition, in showing the offending Charlie Hebdo cartoons.)
It was also possibly the first mainstream documentary which has homed in, correctly, on the poisonous “grievance narrative” – that Muslims are oppressed in Britain, singled out and victimised for their beliefs – which, as the program points out, is helping drive young Muslims away from their families and towards jihad. Racism exists, yes: but it also exists in non-Muslim ethnic communities, where the results are undeniably less extreme.
Finally, it seems, rational debate on what all this means is starting to reach ordinary people, and there is a glimmer of hope for resolving the deep problems currently faced by Muslim communities in Britain; in turning impressionable youth towards British culture and away from radicalism.
In short, there is a sensible position which neither mollycoddles Islamist extremists nor attacks moderate Muslims, and the lines of it were gently sketched out in the programme: promoting a positive vision from within, of an Islam which embraces Britain, rather than recoils from it.
Cut to the Home Office, where Theresa May and her Tory colleagues are preparing a raft of measures to nibble away at free speech and, very likely, the liberties of ordinary citizens; not to mention introducing populist controls on immigration.
In an election year, we should hardly expect anything else: we, they coo, are the party who will take your security concerns seriously. About the schools in Birmingham, the gangs in Rotherham. Not to mention how UKIP are handling the subject, especially in the North.
What has been Labour’s response to date? With a few noble exceptions, to largely hide its collective head in the sand about Islamist extremism and sideline it as a political topic; that is, when some of its members and MPs are not actively embracing it. Or to pretend that the security threat is overstated; or to insinuate that it wouldn’t happen anyway, were it not for Britain’s foreign policy (or ourformer foreign policy, which is even more futile). Worse, to try and compensate, we then mumble something vague about curbing immigration, when we should rather be stoutly defending it.
Well, it’s too late for all that. Most of the above mentioned problems are getting worse, not better. British Muslim youth is already fighting in Syria, in larger numbers than they are present in our own armed forces. And as Simone Rodan-Benzaquen, director of the American Jewish Committee in Paris commented after last week’s killings, maintaining Jews safe from jihadistic attacks in France was now “a very, very profound problem”. That’s the France of the 2010s, not the 1930s, by the way.
And the debate on European and British Islam is moving, like it or not. We either join in and shape it, or we will be on the outside, letting the political right shape it instead.
The frustrating thing is that Labour is the one party which can truly inform the British debate for the better, without resorting to either Tory populism, UKIP xenophobia or EDL racism. We should be leading it. But instead we seem to be afraid of that debate, because we are nervous of upsetting this voting bloc, that interest group or the other union leader.
And that is because the biggest losers in this whole sorry picture of Labour’s failure to lead the debate, it goes without saying, are Britain’s majority of moderate Muslims. The very people the party of the many, the party of peaceful, multi-ethnic communities, should be supporting.
At one end of the spectrum there is the fact that we will never secure real integration for our communities until the wicked narrative of the extremists is undone. That alone should be enough. It will take time.
But at the other, Muslims themselves suffer specifically from the more extreme aspects of extremism: the death threats to those who leave the faith, as Panoramapointed out; female genital mutilation (FGM); or the very real threat of honour killings of Muslim women who supposedly bringing shame on their families.
That is the debate that we need to join. Because our loss will be British Muslims’ loss. And it will be UKIP’s gain.
This post first published at Labour Uncut