Sunday, August 28, 2005

It Could Have Been Otherwise...Oh No, It Really Couldn't

Sometimes even the B-team catch a break. The My Lil' Journos at the Observer have come panting up with the scoop that someone in Labour's Foreign Office at some distant historic point was actually possessed of a brain, with functioning eyes connected thereto.

In May 2004, the Foreign Office permanent under-secretary Michael Jay sent this letter to the cabinet secretary, stating baldly that
British foreign policy and the perception of its negative effect on Muslims globally plays a significant role in creating a feeling of anger and impotence among especially the younger generation of British Muslims.
This seems to be a key driver behind recruitment by extremist organisations (e.g. recruitment drives by groups such as Hizb-ut-Tahrir and al Muhajiroon).
Rather an obvious conclusion, one would have thought, but of course we currently inhabit the universe where the official Labour position maintains 'there was no "causal link" between Iraq and the London attacks'.

The interesting thing about this letter, beyond of course the curiosity of its existence in the first place (as opposed to the not-at-all-curiosity of its having subsequently been completely disregarded), is that it goes on to lay out a variety of (lord preserve us) 'work streams' undertaken by the FCO in its 'building bridges with mainstream Islam' program.

Now, some of these are laughably vague and government boondoggly, e.g.: 'One of the key priorities of this new unit is strengthening the relationship with, and consultation of, the Muslim community. We have employed a specialist to assist us in this.' Oooh! A specialist! In relationship-strengthening! Dare one presume to guess who this specialist might have been?

Others, like the 'Islamic Media Unit' and the 'Muslim News Awards for Excellence', are the usual, predictable propaganda measures.

(The 'British Hajj Delegation' of 8 doctors and consular staff to provide aid to hajjis is, I must say, pretty random and kind of batfuck, but I suppose broadly commendable.)

But a few of these measures actually seem, given the parameters of the problem for the actually-existing government, like not bad ideas:
- British Muslim delegations to the Islamic strengthen the links between the British Muslim community and many other countries in the Islamic world

- Regular ministerial briefings for key Muslim representatives

- Ministerial outreach to...grassroots organizations in different UK cities, to engage with people who don't normally have access to government Ministers, in community centres, women's organizations, youth groups, etc.

- Outreach to Muslim youth
OK, so not for a moment to get all starry-eyed about the noble intentions of the Foreign Office as opposed to anyone else in Labour, I would nonetheless characterize these measures as, in general, A Reasonably Good Start at building good, respectful community relations. They presume not only the acceptability but the desirability of connection between British Muslims and worldwide Islam, they seek to incorporate Muslim perspectives, both leadership and grassroots, in governance, and they recognize the specific need to engage with young Muslims. The latter are highlighted for attention in the letter, which notes (in a formulation that comes perilously close to a nuanced analysis of the attractions of extremism) 'many of whom are taking on the burden both of the perceived injustices and of the responsibility of putting them right, but without the legitimate tools to do so.'

And these measures already being instituted by the FCO, it would have been easy enough to strengthen and frontline them in the wake of the July bombings, to make them highly visible, official Labour policy. But apparently even easier was to McCarthyize mainstream British Islam, to require loyalty oaths and disavowals from the MCB, to produce slanderous trash like the Panorama special whose express, open purpose is to tar all of Islam with the brush of extremism.

We know why: because maintaining a suitably terrified, docile population under a security state requires the erection of a straw baddie who is not merely terrifying but insidious, an enemy who could be anyone, who is all around us, lurking behind the seemingly moderate, inoffensive faces of our Pakistani or Iraqi or Jordanian neighbors. It's not enough to locate Al Qaeda cells in every hedgerow: that could just as well serve to bind communities together in fear of an external enemy. To frighten the people sufficiently that they will gladly surrender their individual rights and those of their neighbors for the promise of security, you have to atomize them.

You have to convince them that no one can be trusted, and if anyone certainly not those brown-skinned people up the road who may seem nice, and who may have lived there in harmonious coexistence for generations, but who subscribe to a religion that we all really know, given its head, would have every one of us spitted on jihad's sword for our secular, freedom-loving ways before you can say 'allahu akbar'.

Update: (via particleist) Ah, and here's the Observer doing its bit for today, in the 'person' of Martin Bright.

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