Paul Goodman: Why the Conservative frontbench broke off relations with Douglas Murray - and what happened afterwards
By Paul Goodman
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Islam and Islamism are different
The struggle against Islamist extremism demands the separation of Islam, a complex religion, from Islamism, a political ideology. It also requires other qualities: judgement, self-control, attention to detail, patience and a sense of proportion - plus the acknowledgment that while the ideology is a threat to Muslim and non-Muslim alike, the religion is not. To use words that suggest otherwise is to present some of our fellow citizens as mortal enemies on the basis of their faith. Were government to take such a view, its political strategy to combat Islamist extremism would start at a disadvantage, since this must attempt to win the support of Muslim minds and hearts.
Readers must judge for themselves whether I have practised what I am preaching above, both in Parliament and out of it - and whether, in turn, my speaking and writing has had any effect in holding Labour's failures to check extremism to account, helping to shape the Government's Prevent Strategy and stopping the Muslim Brotherhood and the Jamaat-e-Islami from infiltrating Parliament. All I would add is that there is evidence to suggest that I am not exactly the pin-up boy of either. Perhaps there is a connection between this fact and my part in ensuring that the Conservatives adopted tough rules for dealing with Islamist extremists. These included not entering into partnership with them, funding them, or speaking from their platforms.
Douglas Murray's Amsterdam speech: "Conditions for Muslims in Europe must be made harder across the board"
In 2006, Douglas Murray made a speech in the Dutch Parliament called "What are we to do about Islam?" His answers were uncompromising. "Conditions for Muslims in Europe must be made harder across the board: Europe must look like a less attractive proposition". How this was to be done was not set out exhaustively, though Murray suggested demolishing mosques in certain circumstances. He also said that "all immigration into Europe from Muslim countries must stop" (presumably including that of non-Muslims from those countries, such as atheists and Christians). Finally, he suggested that European Muslims who "take part in, plot, assist or condone [my italic] violence against the west must be forcibly deported to their place of origin".
An early repudiation would have spared Murray time and trouble
I wrote earlier about the virtue of a sense of proportion. It is important to apply it in this instance. Murray wasn't trying to subvert the norms of liberal democray, as many Islamists do, let alone seek to destroy them through terror. But liberal democracy would eat itself were government to seek to make the life of some of its citizens harder because of their religion. Or to refuse immigrants entry because they came from, say, Bosnia rather than Nigeria. Or to deport British citizens for opposing wars waged by other governments. Such views are contempible and reckless. Contemptible, because of their inhumanity. Reckless, because of their imprudence: rather than winning hearts and minds, the speech was framed in such a way as to lose them.
The solution seemed to me to be obvious. Murray should disown his remarks. He could, for example, say that "I realised some years ago how poorly expressed the speech in question was", and confirm that "my opinions have also altered significantly". The Conservative front bench would then be able to enjoy normal working relations with his Centre for Social Cohesion, which my colleagues now demanded should be curtailed altogether - reasonably enough. I went to see Murray and put this suggestion to him. He would have spared himself a great deal of time and trouble if he had taken it. And such an apology would have been a sign of strength, not weakness. But in this case strength was wanting. Our meeting ended without agreement.
Such a repudiation was not forthcoming - so the Conservative Party broke off relations
The front bench duly severed formal relations with Murray and his centre. This rankled with him - and as proof of this claim, I cite his article in last October's Spectator, titled "Blackballed by Cameron". It gave an account of our meeting which was careless with detail but emphatic on essentials: "I refused to change my opinions", he wrote, in relation to the Amsterdam speech. Readers may have wondered what these were, since he didn't quote from it directly (no doubt wisely). Instead, he offered a partial summary from which his call for "conditions for Muslims in Europe [to] be made harder across the board" was absent, and which avoided mention of the potential eviction from their own countries of those Muslims who oppose wars waged by our allies.
The courage that had been wanting in our meeting thus failed for a second time. Murray didn't name me in the piece, referring instead to "A Cameroon loyalist" (not a description Downing Street would necessarily recognise). I decided to take it easy. After all, Murray hadn't identified me, and it seemed best to let the matter go - and not respond to what may well have been an attempt to provoke that most tiresome of literary endeavours, a feud between writers. Murray, however, turned out to be less relaxed. I am no longer a public figure, and my views are therefore of little significance. But he returned to the attack earlier this month, this time naming me, and misrepresenting remarks about polling that I wrote on this site in relation to gay marriage.
Five years on, a repudiation is finally forced
Rightly or wrongly, I felt that this time round there was little alternative but to reply both on ConservativeHome and in the Spectator, spelling out in the latter case the back story behind his articles. His response on this site this weekend was twofold: to retreat headlong from his previous position, and to hurl new mispresentations while doing so in the hope of disguising his flight. It also marked the third time he has taken refuge in highly selective quotation. Just as I have never ascribed a special importance to what Muslims say in opinion polls - and just as he did write that "conditions for Muslims in Europe must be made harder across the board", before glossing over those words - I have never recommended Islam above Christianity.
But to pause to brush away the mud is to play Murray's game. So is to linger over the debate over gay marriage, to which his latest article adds nothing. I argued on this site that once one has opened the door to gay marriage it may not be so easy to close it to multiple sharia marriages. Murray's response is to take more or less the line I anticipated. "Marriage, in our culture, not to mention law, is between two people," he writes. Not exactly: it is between two people of different genders (or sexes if you prefer). Once the requirement that the genders be different has been dispensed with, it becomes easier to dispose of others - such as the insistence that polygamous marriages, a custom throughout much of the world, are not recognised by the state.
Some of those who practice a religion and some of those who don't may thus unite around a common secular view: that the state would do best to leave marriage as it stands. This is mine, and Murray is thus wrong to insinuate that I "believe that laws should be made by divinely-claimed mandate". But this latest act of disingenousness is only the prelude to one much greater. He now claims that the quotations from the Amsterdam speech are "not opinions that I hold" and that "I realised some years ago how poorly expressed the speech in question was, had it removed from the website and forbade further requests to publish it because it does not reflect my opinions". This is his retreat - five years on.
But if Murray disowned his Amsterdam speech "some years go", why was he still championing it as recently as last October?
However, even in surrender he is economical with accuracy. Murray claims to have realised that the speech was poorly expressed "some years ago". But as I pointed out earlier, he defended it in print only last October: "I refused to change my opinions", he wrote. Furthermore, he cited the support of others for them. "What I advocated had been argued by members of the conservative party of Holland and was, and is, being argued by mainstream politicians across Europe". Readers will scour the piece in vain for the slightest hint that the views of the speech are "not opinions I hold", or for the faintest indication that he considered his words "poorly expressed". In short, Murray praised a speech twelve months ago that he now claims to have disowned for years.
Furthermore, I can find no previous record of him renouncing his Amsterdam speech - the course that I recommended to him when we met before the election. It is thus reasonable to ask whether he would have done so had I not raised the matter recently. Readers must decide for themselves whether first surreptitiously to remove a speech from a website, then laud it in print without direct quotation, and finally disown it under pressure - while claiming to have done so long ago - is decent or not. I believe it is part of a pattern of disingenuousness. Murray was disingenuous in attacking me without admitting a motive. Disingenuous in suggesting that I give Muslim opinion a special weight. And disingenuous in implying a hostility on my part to secular government.
I have supported gays in East London against Islamist violence and hate
Above all, he is disingenuous to present me as conniving in anti-gay Islamist prejudice. I have supported gay people in East London against Islamist violence and hate. By contrast, Murray still has not a kind word to write about Muslims: indeed, his piece suggests that since gays are persecuted by Muslims abroad, the views of their co-religionists on gay marriage must not be sought here. He presents a partial account of them. First, he cites a figure for those believing homosexuality should be illegal - quoting the highest one available from the survey in question. Next, he produces one for those wanting to live under "sharia law" - again, citing the highest figure. Given this creative use of statistics, he is unwise to throw claims of bigotry around.
Which he has, clearly hoping that I will return the term. I must disappoint him - opting instead for telling the tale of his speech and what followed, complete with links to original pieces which he has failed to provide, so that readers can make their own judgement. But it is impossible to conceal my view that he lacks the judgement, self-control, attention to detail, patience and sense of proportion that I listed earlier as essential to any cause, let alone one so important. I wouldn't dare to draw such a conclusion on the basis of one speech, however rash. But there is enough of a history of injudiciuous remarks and inflammatory attacks to make it inevitable. Murray is a weapon that harms rather than helps the causes in which it is deployed.
Murray's words stand, as do mine
He cites the sturdy reports of the Centre for Social Cohesion, of which he is Director, to claim otherwise. The first three pages of its website list 15 publications. His name graces only two of them. I suspect this is an accurate reflection of the glory-to-work ratio. While the Director was pursuing Tariq Ramadan across the television studios of Europe, the staff were knuckling down to the hard grind. At least one of its former members did not enjoy the experience: his time at the centre, he wrote, was "a constant struggle to 'de-radicalise' Murray and to ensure that the centre's output targeted only Islamists – and not Muslims as a whole". This may help to explain why the Centre is now inactive and Murray's own influence with government is zero.
I am sorry to have burdened readers with such a long article, for three reasons. First, because literary disagreements are wearisome (so I won't return to this one at length). Second, because writing against Islamist extremists is more important than writing about him. Third, because I should perhaps have dealt with all this before, recognising that the precocious talents of my old friend simply won't grow up. "My opinions have altered significantly," he writes. None the less, there is no evidence for such a claim in his piece for this site: he seems to view all Muslims as a potential personal threat. He seeks to explain away a grotesque lack of judgement. But his words stand, as do mine.