Three weeks after the attack on the Twin Towers, Baroness Thatcher provoked outrage among Muslim leaders and British politicians for the following remarks made in an interview in The Times:
The people who brought down those towers were Muslims and Muslims must stand up and say that is not the way of Islam.
Passengers on those planes were told that they were going to die and there were children on board. They must say that is disgraceful.
I have not heard enough condemnation from Muslim priests [sic].
Lord Heseltine expressed his horror, Iain Duncan Smith and Oliver Letwin swiftly distanced themselves from Lady Thatcher’s views, and the BBC opined that ‘British Muslims [were] hurt and confused’:
Iqbal Sacrani of the Muslim Council of Great Britain condemned Baroness Thatcher's opinions as "outrageous" and pointed out that Muslim leaders had been among the first to condemn the attacks.
Ghayasuddin Siddiqui, leader of the Muslim Parliament, said: "I am very sad and surprised that she has said this sort of thing.
"Coming from a person like Baroness Thatcher it is very hurtful..."
I always felt Lady Thatcher badly mishandled issues of race, immigration and nationality as Prime Minister and indeed Leader of the Opposition. I am sure that she believes in a polyglot society and welcomes Britain’s cultural and ethnic diversity - but she never gave that impression while in office. Politicians who focus on immigration as a problem to be controlled rather than a benefit to be celebrated rarely do. But the issue of British Muslims’ response to terror was nothing to do with race, nationality and immigration. It was about elementary human decency – for there can be no more elementary ethical judgement than that slamming aeroplanes into office blocks in order to kill as many civilians as possible is, metaphorically speaking, the work of the devil. And those who considered Lady Thatcher’s judgements on Muslim reaction unfair would do well to consider a chilling story yesterday from the Press Association:
More than one in 10 British Muslims back al Qaida-style terror strikes on the United States, a poll has revealed.
In the run up to the anniversary of war in Iraq, more condemned the recent Gulf conflict than attacks on America.
And almost half said they might consider becoming a suicide bomber if they lived as a Palestinian.
An overwhelming 80% say Britain and the US should not have launched the invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.
That is significantly higher than the 73% opposed to terrorist strikes on the US, according to the ICM survey for The Guardian.
Attacks on the US by al Qaida or other groups were viewed as justified by 13% of the 500 British Muslims questioned.
Another 15% said they did not know whether the such attacks are wrong or right.
Let’s get this straight. More than a quarter of the respondents in this survey are either incapable of exercising the most basic moral discrimination imaginable or explicit proponents of evil. I do not doubt that they are unrepresentative of British Muslims, in which case I would expect the Muslim institutions to which they nominally adhere to express an unambiguous judgement. None, apparently, has been forthcoming. On the contrary, we get pitiful moral evasion from a previously voluble source:
Iqbal Sacranie, general secretary of the council, said the poll results surprised him, particularly the 13% who feel further attacks on the US would be justified.
And he stressed most of the people polled were questioned before the terror attacks in Spain.
“My gut feeling is that the poll is not right or fair,” added Mr Sacranie. “The 13% reflects emotions are running high.
“But the percentage of Muslims that would support attacks when they are taking place would be much much lower.”
So that’s all right then: ICM is ignorant of polling methods and that 13% is guilty of nothing more than high spirits. Indeed, according to this Muslim leader, those who approve of murderous attacks on civilians may be absolved of criticism altogether: they are mere automata responding to intolerable provocation:
He said: “British Muslims are much more frustrated than the general population with US foreign policy.
“At the end of the day it’s a Muslim population around the world on the receiving end of trouble and bias in terms of US policy.”
There are limits to how far one can sensibly conduct a debate with a dogmatist – the politest synonym I can find for bigot – but here goes. Maligning the United States as biased against Muslims is impertinent, improper and above all ignorant. After 9/11 President Bush went to unwarranted lengths (unwarranted because a civic leader ought to ration his comments on religious faith to issues directly concerned with public policy) to express his admiration for Islam. He rightly made clear that America’s cause was directed against totalitarian terror, not the Islamic faith, and expressed solidarity with Muslims in the face of expected (though in practice sporadic and rare) outbursts of anti-Muslim prejudice. In the last decade the United States three times fought in defence of Muslim populations – in Kuwait, Bosnia and Kosovo. In this decade, US troops have twice liberated Muslim countries from tyranny – in Afghanistan and Iraq. President Bush is moreover the only serving President to adopt as an explicit aim of policy a Palestinian state.
Mr Sacranie and his equivalents are entitled to their political prejudices, but if they’re going to make excuses for the indefensible and abhorrent instead of discharging their civic duty then they should expect to be treated with due consideration. What is due in Mr Sacranie’s case is derision and instant dismissal of anything he has to say.