By Omar Radwan
This month has seen the first anniversary of Israel’s assault on Gaza in which more than 1,400 Palestinians – one third of them children – were killed; war crimes were committed and apologists for the state of Israel have a serious PR problem. British Muslims have been at the forefront of efforts to highlight the injustice of Israel’s illegal military occupation and colonisation of Palestine, along with colleagues from other Christian, Jewish and non-faith based organisation. So what do Israel’s supporters do? They try to divert attention away from their pet state’s transgressions by condoning them and attacking individuals instead.
Over the past week or so, three prominent British Muslims have been accused by the media of being radicals and extremists who advocate violence. The Christmas Day attempt to blow up a plane on a trans-Atlantic flight has stirred up not-so-latent anti-Muslim sentiment in Britain. This is not the only reason for this sudden outburst against British Muslims, though; a closer look at the timing and nature of these attacks reveals other, more sinister reasons.
Waqqas Khan, the former president of the Federation of Student Islamic Societies of the UK (FOSIS), has been appointed recently by the government to a new panel of thirteen who will advise ministers and civil servants on how to work with faith communities. Khan’s appointment has been attacked by the Conservative MP Paul Goodman. Articles about Khan have also been published in the Daily Telegraph, the Daily Express and in the Comment is Free online section of The Guardian. The article in the Daily Express reported that Goodman was worried about Khan’s links to Hizb-ut-Tahrir. It pointed out that Khan was president of FOSIS at the time of the 7 July 2005 bombings in London and that “his stint as Muslim student leader overlapped with the rise of Detroit bomber Umar Abdulmutallab at the University College London Islamic Society”. This potentially libellous scaremongering is typical of the Daily Express, Britain’s most shamelessly anti-Muslim, anti-Islam newspaper. Previous Express front-page headlines include “Fury over Halal Christmas Dinner”, “Now Muslims Get their Own Laws in Britain” and “Britain Says: We’re at War with Islam”. The way that the article has been structured makes it clear that the Express wants its readers to believe that Mr. Khan was in some way responsible for the 7 July attacks and for the actions of a person he never met, simply because he happened to be the head of a Muslim student organisation at the time.
The only link between Khan and Hizb-ut-Tahrir (HT) is that when he was president of FOSIS Khan spoke out against the ban preventing HT from attending any National Union of Students functions (the NUS’s “No Platform for Racists” policy). He has never been a member of HT, an organisation which holds views not shared by the mainstream Muslim community and is usually portrayed as extremist, even though it is also non-violent and opposed to terrorism.
The Daily Telegraph’s main issue with Khan is that he “has a history of criticising the Government for its anti-terror policies, defending extremist groups [i.e. Hizb-ut-Tahrir] and meeting radical Islamists”. British newspapers often talk about how Muslims must accept what they term “British values”, such as the right to freedom of thought and speech, yet here is a newspaper campaigning against someone for “criticising the Government”. The hypocrisy is staggering. A look at the Zionist blog, “Harry’s Place” (a rabidly right-wing site) reveals that the “anti-terror” policies Khan has criticised include the government’s participation in what it calls the “liberation” of Afghanistan from the Taliban, which has – so far cost the lives of more than 200 British soldiers and untold thousands of Afghans while making the British public less, not more, safe from terrorism; and its arrest and torture of Babar Ahmad who has been held without charge by the British authorities for five years and is facing extradition to the US, which refuses to give details of his alleged crimes.
When the Telegraph speaks of the “radical Islamists” that Khan has met, the only person it can name is Dr. Azzam Tamimi, a well-known Muslim activist in Britain, who appears frequently in the media. Very few Muslims would describe him as a radical as his views represent broadly mainstream Muslim opinion. However, Dr. Tamimi’s outspoken support of the Palestinian’s struggle for justice has aroused the ire of Britain’s pro-Israel media and politicians. Most recently, there has been uproar over the decision of Birmingham University to invite him to give a lecture. Labour MP Denis McShane wrote to the University saying “I understand that a notorious Jew-hater and supporter of terrorist attacks on Jewish women and children in Israel is scheduled to give a talk… at Birmingham University”. He went on to accuse Dr. Tamimi of “glorifying Jihad and the killing of those opposed to his fanatical Islamist world view”. He should change his name to McShame, because all Dr. Tamimi has done is defend the right of the Palestinian people to resist Israeli occupation and oppression by any means necessary, including armed struggle – a right recognized in international law and to point out that Israel was created by the ethnic cleansing and dispossession of Palestinians, a fact widely accepted by historians, scholars and honest politicians.
To the credit of the University, Dr. Tamimi’s talk went ahead, wherein he refuted accusations that he was a Jew-hater, citing his links with prominent Jews such as the recently deceased author Clement Leibovitz and the spokesman of the Ultra-Orthodox Neturei Karta community, Rabbi David Weiss. These Jewish individuals were and are highly critical of Israel, so they share a common viewpoint. However, Dr. Tamimi also spoke of his meeting with Sir Trevor Chinn, executive member of the Jewish Leadership Council and the President of the Joint Israel Appeal and a leading figure in Britain’s Jewish community. The meeting was intended to diffuse tension between the Muslim and Jewish communities in Britain and find ways that they could work together for their common interest. Dr. Tamimi also revealed that in 2005 he was in contact with the then cabinet minister Stephen Byers (former Cabinet member and chair of the policy council in the Labour Friends of Israel) to discuss ways of achieving a long-term ceasefire between Hamas and Israel. While Dr. Tamimi does not deny that he is sympathetic to Hamas, who enjoy widespread support among Palestinians and won the 2006 Palestinian election, he said in his lecture, “I’m actually a critic of Hamas, when Hamas needs to be criticised because of its charter”. Denis McShane’s anger would be better directed against the real supporters of attacks on women and children in the Middle East – those who supported Israel in its criminal attack on Gaza last year and in its continuing siege of that territory.
The media has also turned on Dr. Daud Abdullah, the Deputy Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain. In the Daily Telegraph Andrew Gilligan “disclosed” that London University’s Birkbeck College has “given a paid teaching post” to Dr. Abdullah “to teach a 22-week course entitled ‘Introduction to Islam'”. Dr. Abdullah’s appointment is very worrying to Gilligan because for him it confirms that London University is becoming a “haven for Islamic radicals”, especially because the suspect in the Detroit plane bombing, Umar Abdulmuttalib, attended that university (when, if you recall, Waqqas Khan was head of FOSIS). Gilligan also mentioned that Dr. Abdullah signed the Istanbul Declaration, a document calling on Muslims to support the people of Gaza following Israel’s assault last year. He says that the declaration calls for “jihad and resistance” against Israel and considers the sending of “foreign warships” assisting Israel in its blockade of Gaza as a “declaration of war” which “must be fought by all means”. After Dr. Abdullah signed this declaration along with many others at a conference in Istanbul, the then Communities Secretary Hazel Blears demanded that he be sacked from his position with the Muslim Council of Britain; the government severed all ties with the MCB when its Central Working Committee did not bow to this attempt to control an independent community organisation.
However, Gilligan’s article does not stand up to close scrutiny. His claim that Daud Abdullah has been newly appointed to teach this course is simply not true; he has been teaching this course for seven years at Birkbeck and his students include police officers and members of the intelligence services. If he was using his position to spread extremism, he would surely have been found out by now.
There has been a great deal of controversy and hype surrounding this document. Gilligan asks his readers to believe that Abdullah is an Islamic extremist calling for violence against Western navies (including the Royal Navy) because he signed the Istanbul Declaration. Hazel Blears said that it called for “attacks on Jewish communities all around the world”, but the text of the document says no such thing. It does say that Muslims should regard the sending of foreign warships to assist in the blockade of Gaza as a declaration of war, but in international law, any blockade of a territory is considered an act of war. It goes on to say, “[the sending of foreign navies] should be rejected and fought by all means and ways”. This is not the first time such language has been used in a political declaration; it is a very common way to express disagreement with a certain policy. The wording cannot be interpreted as a call for violence. As Peter Wilby pointed out in the New Statesman, similar language was used by Labour politicians when they expressed their opposition Margaret Thatcher’s poll tax. Gilligan is thus spreading falsehood as “news” for no other reason, one must assume, than to stir up anti-Muslim sentiment.
One thing that Waqqas Khan, Azzam Tamimi, and Daud Abdullah all have in common, is that they have exercised their right to free expression and remain outspoken supporters of the Palestinian cause. This causes consternation amongst Islamophobes and Israel’s apologists as a matter of routine; they don’t like it when “Western freedoms” are used against the Zionist state, because it implies that their efforts to control the Israel-Palestine narrative are challenged. Thus, when the former Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni cancelled her trip to Britain after a magistrate issued a warrant for her arrest on charges relating to the war crimes during Israel’s war against Gaza, Israel’s hasbara (propaganda) machine had to find targets. The British government’s decision to re-establish links with the Muslim Council of Britain, despite their refusal to sack Daud Abdullah, was the last straw for Israel’s stooges like the Express, Telegraph Paul Goodman and Denis McShane.
The arrest warrant against Livni, in particular caused great embarrassment for the British government and outrage in the hasbara machine. Demands by Israel and the Zionist lobby in Britain to change the law in order to protect Israeli war criminals from prosecution have met with string resistance from Palestinian supporters and human rights organizations and the wider civil society. A recent documentary on Channel 4 revealed the close financial links between Israel and its supporters and the British establishment. Paul Goodman attacked Waqqas Khan for a spurious link with Hizb-ut-Tahrir, while Goodman’s own party has very real links with Poju Zabludowicz, a businessman who built a shopping mall in the illegal colony-settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim, part of a movement which has dispossessed thousands of Palestinians of their homes. Thus, while Israeli war criminals would like to remain free to visit Britain as they please and Zionists who finance the theft of Palestinian land can engage in lobbying through party donations, Muslims who support the Palestinians’ quest for justice are attacked for criticising Israel.
Britain has for many years been rightly proud of its free press and democratic structures, which have used as a model in many other countries. Scratch the surface, though, and the system is tarnished. The same right-wing media that demonised Europe’s Jews in the 1930s – and in the week in which Holocaust Memorial Day is commemorated we all know how that ended – now champions the Zionist state of Israel ostensibly established to protect the world’s Jews from a similar fate. This link between extreme right-wing ideas and Zionism is not new, of course; in 1934 the World Zionist Federation collaborated with Hitler’s Nazis in the Haavara (Transfer) Agreement, and the Zionists more or less sold Hungary’s Jewish community to the Nazis during the Second World War in exchange for the elite to be allowed to escape certain death in the gas chambers. Politicians of all leanings are slaves to this pernicious ideology for reasons best known to themselves. Perhaps, however, the time has come for them to declare to the taxpayers why they and their friends in the right-wing media are so keen on demonising British Muslims in a chilling echo of the thirties, and why they feel it is right to protect a state that ignores and breaks international laws as a matter of routine. To be seen to support illegal activity cannot, by any warped sense of logic, be deemed to be in the best interests of British politicians. Why, then, do they do it? Where do their loyalties really lie? We should be told.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.