Paul Goodman MP: Boris Johnson defeated Islamic extremists as well as Ken Livingstone
Paul Goodman, MP for Wycombe and a Shadow DCLG Minister, welcomes Boris Johnson's victory as good news for community cohesion.
This result isn’t just a wonderful victory for Boris and the termination of Livingstone. It’s also a defeat for the campaign – an exceptionally dirty one, at that - waged against Boris by a small band of separatists claiming to act in the name of all London’s Muslims. The effects of Boris’ win will be felt not only in the capital, but nationwide – and they’re worth probing in detail.
This campaign’s aim was to attack Boris as an Islamophobe; swing Muslim voters unanimously behind Livingstone; deliver the election for him; emerge, thereby, as a leading force in British Islam, and thus send an uncompromising message to the main political parties – follow our line, or there’ll be electoral consequences.
Its first shots were fired in January, when it was claimed that over fifty Islamic organisations in London had written to the Guardian endorsing Livingstone. (It later emerged that some of the letter’s signatories had written only in a “personal capacity”.) Its final salvo was the desperate advert, placed recently in the London Bengali paper “Janomot”, implying that Boris, as Mayor, would ban the Koran.
So who was behind this advert, and the campaign as a whole? It was produced by a group called the British Muslim Initiative (BMI). BMI’s website contains a section headed “About Us”. Readers who click on it will learn that the organisation was “formed by justice, peace and human rights campaigners”.
These campaigners presumably include Azzam Tamimi and Anas Tikriti, whose Guardian columns are prominently advertised on the site. Also advertised on the site is “Muslims 4 Ken”, whose leading lights, according to the Evening Standard, are…Anas Tikriti and Azzam Tamini.
Tikriti is a former President of the Muslim Association of Britain (MAB) – which is, in effect, the British branch of the Muslim Brotherhood and which, therefore, has links to Hamas. It’s been claimed that Tamini issued communiques on behalf of Hamas during the 1990s. He’s certainly on record as supporting suicide bombings against civilians in Israel.
The Government’s stance towards the Brotherhood, or Ikhwan, is ambiguous. The MAB is one of the four founding members of the Government-supported Mosques and Imams Advisory Board (MINAB). A pamphlet for Policy Exchange by Martin Bright, the New Statesman journalist, caused a sensation when it revealed, in leaked Foreign Office memos, deep divisions within Whitehall about to what degree to engage with the Brotherhood abroad, if at all.
Some in the Foreign Office, and elsewhere, argue that the Brotherhood contains reforming and liberalising elements. This is very hard to square with the blueprint which it recently published for government in Egypt, which called for women and Christians to be banned from the top offices of state, and for a council of clerics with the power to reject legislation deemed to be incompatible with the sharia – the arrangement that pertains in Iran.
But if the Government’s attitude towards the Brotherhood is ambiguous, David Cameron’s view is clear. Tikriti is also President of the Cordoba Foundation, which earlier this year held a public debate with Hizb-ut-Tahrir supported by Tower Hamlets Council. David criticised the decision publicly, and few weeks later asked Gordon Brown in the Commons: “Why has his Government allowed public money to end up in the hands of extremist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood?” Michael Gove has written insightfully about the origins of the Brotherhood in his book “Celsius 7/7”.
Brown, of course, only barred one of the Brotherhood’s leading supporters, Shaykh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, from Britain after pressure from David. Dame Pauline Neville-Jones has summed up Qaradawi’s views succinctly: “He is opposed to secularism, believes that all Muslims (and non-Muslims) shoud live under sharia law, that relations between men and women should be restricted, and wives subject to husbands, that the penalty for homosexuality is death, and that no once Muslim territory should be relinquished.” Qaradawi is also on record as supporting attacks against “the occupation” in Iraq (including, one must assume, British troops).
And Qaradawi, of course, was publicly embraced when he last visited London by…Livingstone. The Egyptian cleric was a key ally in the ex-Mayor’s re-election bid. As, of course, were the MAB, the BMI, and “Muslims 4 Ken”.
There can be no objection whatsoever to these organisations campaigning for and against whoever they wish. If MAB wants to give prominent support on its website to the Respect councillor Salma Yaqoob, who once described 7/7 as a “reprisal attack”, it is of course at liberty to do so. This is a free country, unlike Iran, some of whose governing arrangements the Brotherhood want to replicate.
Similarly, if the BMI and “Muslims 4 Ken” want to back Livingstone and attack Boris, that’s their right. It would be helpful to voters were Tamini and Tikriti to be more upfront about their role, and the assault on Boris as a hater of Islam was a lie, but this is politics, separatist-style, and it’s perhaps unwise to get too excited.
But this Mayoral election has three important lessons for politicians in general and the Conservative Party in particular.
First, there’s no such thing as the Muslim block vote, to be delivered up to suitably grateful candidates by key special interest groups. Very many Muslims will have voted for Boris on Thursday. While I was in Reading last Saturday canvassing with Muslim Conservatives from Wycombe, other local Wycombe Muslims were campaigning in London with David and Boris. They were part of a bigger force led during recent weeks by my colleague Baroness Warsi, Syed Kamall, and London Muslim councillors. It’s significant that Muslim Conservatives are now able to hit the streets in growing numbers – a sign of how the Party is changing and of how our support is widening.
Members of this force were the target, like Boris, of vicious personal assault by separatists. Much of it was conducted (and vigorously contested) by e-mail. This whole campaign seems to have backfired in some quarters. Reports have emerged of exasperated Muslims protesting against the politicisation of their mosques by pro-Livingstone campaigners. British Muslims come from a wide variety of religious, national, ethnic and linguistic backgrounds. It’s patronising and insulting to assume that they are a single compliant entity, passively awaiting voting instructions from the Muslim Brotherhood or anyone else.
Second, Muslims’ concerns as voters are much the same as other people’s – safer streets, better transport, transparency, value for money. Muslims want to practice their religion. They don’t believe that this means voting for extremism. We must remain a warm home for mainstream Islam and a cold place for separatism, whether based on religion or race.
Third, a candidate can endure attacks by the MAB, the BMI, Muslims 4 Ken – and other separatists – rise above them, build a broad coalition, and win. He or she doesn’t have to – as Livingstone did – collaborate in the building-up of extremism. Boris will govern in London for people from all religious backgrounds and none. His is a famous Conservative win, and it will help community cohesion as a whole.