British Muslims were strongly opposed to the Iraq War, as I remember from being in the Commons at the time. Do they take a different view of British missile strikes on Syria - and on military intervention more broadly? I spoke earlier today to Mohammed Amin, the Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Muslim Forum and a frequent contributor to this website (see here, for example), who doubts whether this is the case, though he stressed that he has neither been canvassing opinion nor seeking views. "British Muslims' view of the Iraq war tended to be that it consisted of western non-Muslims bombing Iraqi Muslims, and there's no reason to think that their view of intervention in Syria would be different," he told me.
None the less, there is an important difference between Syria now and Iraq pre-invasion. Saddam maintained his grip on the latter until the country was invaded. Assad has lost his hold on parts of Syria, which is engulfed in civil war - one, furthermore, of an increasingly sectarian nature. On the one side are Shi'ite Muslims, some better-off Sunnis, most Christians and the ruling Alawite clans; on the other are Al Qaeda, the Muslim Brotherhood, many poorer Sunnis and democratic liberals. Saudi Arabia and Turkey are among the Sunni countries backing the opposition; Shi'ite Iran is the main Muslim supporter of Assad. There are some signs that this polarisation between the two Islamic traditions is being felt in Britain.
"Bluntly, the Conservative Party’s problem with ethnic minority voters is costing it seats," Lord Ashcroft wrote last year after the publication of his report, Degrees of Separation. Correcting the problem is a long-standing cause for this site. Tim Montgomerie has pointed out that the number one driver of not voting Conservative is not being white. I have argued that the Party had made strategic errors through tokenism and ignorance; that it doesn't matter if we think we're not racist but ethnic minority voters do, and that it's time to end the Conservative war on multiculturalism (which, by the way, is supported by 71 per cent of Tory voters).
The new study by Operation Black Vote which found that Britain's ethnic minority voters may determine the 2015 election thus makes a point which all of us should have grasped already, though the detail is compelling. In its account of the study today, the Guardian reports that the number of seats where black and Asian voters could decide the outcome had rocketed by 70 per cent compared with the 2010 election, and says that the ethnic minority vote is bigger than the majority of the sitting MP in no fewer than 168 constituencies. ("The seats extend beyond inner-city areas to include places such as Southhampton Oxford, Sherwood, Ipswich and Northampton," according to the paper.)
One can quibble about the detail, but the trend is unmistakeable. In 2001, one in ten voters were ethnic minority members; by 2050, that figure will be one in five. It would be easy to conclude that nothing can be done to halt a Conservative slide to demographic marginalisation, as we dwindle into becoming a rump party of the shires, like the protectionists of the 1850s. However, there is cause for cautious optimism, for three reasons. First, because although the Party won a mere 16 per cent of the ethnic minority vote in 2010, the figure is higher among some groups: among voters of Indian origin, for example, it came in at 24 per cent. Second, because Downing Street and CCHQ have grasped the scale of the problem.
Theresa May has criticised universities for complacency in tackling radicalisation towards extremism on campus. Mustafa Field of the Mosques and Imams Advisory Board has said: "We are...having hate preachers walking into university campuses and there's not enough work being done around that." Boris Johnson wrote in his Daily Telegraph column this morning that "universities need to be much, much tougher in their monitoring of Islamic societies. It is utterly wrong to have segregated meetings in a state-funded centre of learning. If visiting speakers start some Islamist schtick – and seek either to call for or justify violence – then the authorities need to summon the police."
I am not so cynical as to write that much is said about extremism but nothing is done. Theresa May has keep a lot of hate preachers out of the country, starting as she meant to go on with Zakir Naik. The Times suggested behind its paywall on Saturday that counter-terror co-ordinators are already gathering information on radicalisation towards extremism on campus. There is progress. But I am concerned about David Cameron's measured reaction last week degenerating into a "crackdown" (with the attendant risk of the return of the "Snoopers' Charter"). Let me be clear: I'm all for extremist preachers being kept off campus, websites being shut down, extremism being tackled in prisons, Anjem Choudary's benefits being stopped (why is he still getting any?) and so - a real crackdown.
But when one reads of the Prime Minister's new Ministerial task force - TERFOR - producing initiatives on "disrupting extremist activity" and "challenging poisonous activities", it's worth remembering that John Reid set up the Research, Information and Communications Unit (RICU) in to do precisely that under Labour - as long ago as 2007. In short and despite advances, there is a pattern. An outrage happens. Ministers promise action. Memories start fading. Newspapers lose interest. Officials resist action, as in the case of Cameron's Munich speech. So do politicians (in some instances). It's two steps forward and one step back, and that's if we're lucky. If we're unlucky, we have what Andrew Gilligan has called the Government being tough where it should be liberal, and liberal where it should be tough. In other words, questionable groups get favours from Ministers while innocent citizens have their freedoms compromised.
I have a simple test. On the one hand, the Federation of Student Islamic Societies (FOSIS) has been condemmed by Theresa May and Nick Clegg, two of the most senior Ministers in government, for failing to “fully challenge terrorist and extremist ideology”. (May ordered civil servants to withdraw from a FOSIS graduate recruitment fair.) On the other, Sayeeda Warsi attended a FOSIS event in the House of Lords and, according to Gilligan, "supported claims by FOSIS that extremism was “no more prevalent” in universities than in any other parts of society". Can Ministers please get their ducks in a row? "You say I am repeating/ Something I have said before. I shall say it again./ Shall I say it again?..."
Reflect for a moment on the absurdity of the idea unpacked in that last sentence. The minds of both men were not in healthy condition before the murder. They were made sick long before it by the virus of Islamist ideology. In other words, extremism is the soil from which violent extremism grows, and ideas have consquences. To say that extremism leads to violent extremism ought to be no more controversial than to say that violent storms lead to flooding. But for all its good intentions and despite some solid work, the Government isn't facing up fully to this obvious truth.
Eric Pickles as good as admits it in his article in today's Sunday Telegraph. "As we reflect on the events of this week, there is no doubt that more can and will be done by the Government to challenge radicalisation and extremism," he writes. The Communities Secretary knows well that a counter-extremism strategy has been due from CLG for well over a year. What reference there is in it to his Department's Integration Strategy was inserted at a late stage. I wrote last year that "more details will be published in due course". Over 18 months later, we're still waiting.
When the first Islamist terror attack in Britain took place - the horror of 7/7 - suicide bombs were the means and training abroad the method, or part of it: mobiles were cruder and Twitter didn't exist. Much has changed since the day when I sat in David Davis's office (he was Shadow Home Secretary at the time, and I was a Conservative MP) scribbling lines for his response to Charles Clarke's Commons statement. Osama Bin Laden is dead, his Al Qaeda network is smashed, and rookie terrorists aren't necessarily put through their paces in Afghanistan or Pakistan: one of the last domestic British victim of an attack was an MP, Stephen Timms.
His attacker, Roshonara Choudhry, was self-radicalised towards extremism and violence: that's to say, she'd been swayed by videos of Anwar al-Awlaki, an American Al Qaeda terror cleric. Choudhry embodied the danger which the security services had warned about - the "lone wolf" who would strike without a supporting network: the Islamist equivalent of Anders Breivik, the Norwegian fascist terrorist. It is too early to tell if the two terrorists who so foully murdered a soldier yesterday in Woolwich were also isolated and home-grown, or part of a wider network - and recent arrivals in Britain.
It's also unclear whether they were converts to the Salafist-Wahabi strand of Islam - of which Al Qaeda is the one of the most violent manifestations - from a traditional Islamic background or from outside the religion altogether. But what is certain is that beheading British soldiers has been an aim among Al Qaeda-inspired fanatics for some time. For example, Parvix Khan from Birmingham received a life sentence in 2007 for plotting to behead a soldier "like a pig". Today's terrorists were taking a well-trodden path - albeit one with a peculiarly and sickeningly modern or even post-modern end: one was videoed by passers-by mouthing propaganda.
By Paul Goodman
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Andrew Gilligan notes this morning that the Federation of Student Islamic Societies has been condemned by Theresa May and Nick Clegg for its failure to “fully challenge terrorist and extremist ideology”. Indeed, the Home Secretary ordered that civil servants withdraw from a graduate recruitment fair held by FOSIS. These words and deeds didn't arise from a vacuum. They were shapped by the Government's Prevent policy - one of the four pillars of its counter-terror strategy - which other Ministers are, by extension, also committed to.
It follows that Sayeeda Warsi should have been barred from attending an event organised by FOSIS recently. I'm told that the matter was raised with CLG by Home Office officials, but that the former claimed that since its own approach to extremism is incomplete, Warsi should be allowed to attend. This raises interesting questions about that approach (to which I will return), but it is beside the main point - namely, that the Government has a Prevent policy in place, and it must be adhered to.
By Paul Goodman
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I've said it before and say it again: Hindu voters are natural conservatives.
By Paul Goodman
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The detail is buried away in Lord Ashcroft's latest poll of ethnic minority voters. It is almost exactly the same as the figure for all voters, which is 70%. The Liberal Democrat figure is 89% and the Labour figure is 76%. UKIP is the only party whose among whom a majority said they were opposed to multiculturalism. And that view doesn't command over two-thirds support from UKIP supporters, whereas the opposite one does command over two-thirds support from voters of the other parties.
Multiculturalism means different things to different people. To some, it means shying away from the fact that some Pakistani-origin men see white girls as second or even third class citizens. Or tolerating forced marriages and female genital mutilation. Or translating public documents into languages other than English at the taxpayers' expense.
By Paul Goodman
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Almost eight years ago, 52 innocents were murdered and hundreds injured by Islamist terrorists on 7/7. Two years ago, David Cameron made a speech about the causes of that terror in Berlin - his so-called "Munich Speech". In the years between the two events, debate raged both about policy responses to Al Qaeda terror - dividing politicians, civil servants, the security services, the police and academics into two main camps.
The last Government's CONTEST counter-terror strategy was divided into four strands (and remains so under this one) - Prepare, Protect, Pursue and Prevent. It was this last that proved the most contentious.
One school of thought held that government could use the bad against the worst - in other words, non-violent extremists against the violent extremists of Al Qaeda. Individuals and groups aligned with such Islamist movements as the Muslim Brotherhood and the Jamaat e-Islami had, it was argued, "credibility" with young British Muslims, and could help turn them against AQ - thus helping to prevent terror attacks.
Others disagreed, arguing that it would be disastrous for the state to fund or patronise movements that were ambiguous, to say the least, about liberal democracy, and held ideas about, for example, the place of women in society that were antithetical to it. In Munich, David Cameron threw his weight decisively on the side of the second school, and against not only those who committed violent acts, but against those who supported the ideology that helped to underpin them.
By Paul Goodman
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There has been no mass terror attack in Britain for over five years - since the bombing of Glasgow airport in 2007. Osama Bin Laden is dead, and the reach of his Afghanistan-and-Pakistan-based Al Qaeda network reduced. British troops have returned from Iraq and will, before too long, come back from Afghanistan. It might therefore be assumed that the threat of bombs on the tube - or elsewhere - carried by Islamist fanatics has faded away altogether.
However, yesterday's conviction of three would-be suicide bombers from Birmingham is a reminder that Al Qaeda, as Gerry Adams once said of the IRA, "hasn't gone away, you know". It never had: for example, innocents in Exeter's Giraffe Cafe were lucky not to die or be maimed in 2008, when Nicky Reilly's exploding bomb injured only himself. Reilly was a convert to an extremist variant of Islam - a distortion of the classical, traditional form.