Theresa May likes talking tough and it’s an open secret that she harbours ambitions to be the Conservative Party’s next leader. The British home secretary devoted a large part of her speech at the party’s Birmingham conference this week targeting the Muslim community and talking up the threat of “Islamist extremism”. Of course, she honed her speech for her audience and was virtually preaching to the converted as she promised yet more anti-terror laws which would serve to alienate further Britain’s already under fire Muslim citizens.
What she also did was cleverly airbrush her failures out of the picture; and there have been many which for some reason the British media has chosen to ignore. Quite why the male-dominated political lobby has opted to give the Tories’ own Brunehilde an easy ride remains a mystery at the moment, but perhaps they’re afraid to rattle the cage of a home secretary who kicked lumps out of the unsuspecting Police Federation earlier this year.
May has, without mercy, trampled on all manner of men and male-dominated organisations who have foolishly stood in her way. Her favourite stamping ground, though, remains the Muslim community and it could well be her undoing. No one at the Conservative Party conference seemed willing or capable of reminding her of three classic blunders but in the spirit of sisterhood I will.
Palestine’s Shaikh Raed Saleh, Jordan’s Shaikh Abu Qatada and Britain’s own Moazzam Begg have all been arrested and imprisoned on her watch. As handcuffs were clapped on each one she was back-slapped and congratulated by Tory loyalists; even a string of former home secretaries looked on enviously wishing that this had happened while they were in office.
What the voters were not reminded about in the case of the two Muslim scholars was that both men were set free having been wrongly demonised by Theresa May. And as the Tories wrapped up in Birmingham, one of the city’s most famous residents, for that is where Moazzam Begg has his home, was heading north from Belmarsh top security prison for a triumphant return to his family, having had all of the “terrorism” charges against him dropped by the Crown Prosecution Service. Some would say having three such grave miscarriages of justice on her watch should have at least prompted a review of May’s modus operandi. Instead, the home secretary is trying to cover her failures in a spectacular Thatcheresque fashion, by promising yet more anti-terror laws with which to batter the Muslim community.
It seems that no one is prepared to stand up to her and those who try don’t last long. Teflon-coated Michael Gove tried earlier this year and promptly lost his Cabinet job as Education Secretary; the Police Federation and its entire membership are still reeling from her verbal onslaught; and even David Cameron seems intimidated in her presence.
However, someone needs to try in order to stop the out-of-control juggernaut that is Theresa May. She wants to pull the plug on preachers who she considers to be “extremists”; the criteria for such a definition appears to be arbitrary at the moment and usually includes anyone who is critical of Israel; she wants to remove them from university campuses, protests, marches and rallies; and she wants to ban Muslim organisations even though they may have no links to terrorism.
The tool for all of this is the government’s useless and discredited Prevent strategy, which May intends to make a “statutory duty” for official organisations such as schools and charities to implement. This strategy has already been used to intimidate venues and conference organisers by officers suggesting that certain speakers would not be welcome due to their views. Attempts have been made recently to curb Muslim activists from addressing Israel’s “Operation Protective Edge” offensive against the people of the Gaza Strip. When challenged and asked to state which law the speakers have broken, Prevent officers backtrack and point out that no laws have been broken; they have no answer when asked, “So what’s the problem?” In short, it seems that if certain lobby groups are loud enough and have the government’s ear, they are able to impose their will and one-sided narrative on the rest of us.
With her planned actions (promising that they will be included in the next Conservative Manifesto), the home secretary has launched an onslaught on freedom of speech, freedom of thought and freedom of association, three fundamental British values essential to our democracy which are, with no hint of irony, being strengthened in schools around the country under new government regulations. Indeed, she mentioned such values herself whilst announcing her proposals.
Before May silences me I’d like to ask her a few questions, which I couldn’t do in Birmingham because my security pass and media accreditation for the Conservative Party conference was removed at the eleventh hour without explanation. So here goes.
I’d like to know why the home secretary:
- Presided over the politically-inspired prosecution of former Guantanamo detainee Moazzam Begg who is also outreach director for the advocacy group Cage, and allowed an innocent man to sit in a top security prison for seven months. All seven terror charges connected with the civil war in Syria were dropped dramatically at the Old Bailey in a pre-trial hearing.
- Banned Shaikh Raed Salah, a Palestinian religious leader, on the grounds that he had allegedly made a series of grossly anti-Semitic statements in sermons and a poem, and that his presence in Britain was not conducive to the public good. He was arrested and detained in London after he had already spoken in Leicester and at a House of Commons event, and after it emerged that he had entered Britain despite the exclusion order being issued against him. May’s principal source for the decision to ban Shaikh Salah, according to witnesses who testified in court for the Home Office, was a report compiled by the Community Security Trust (CST), a strongly pro-Israel organisation. A year later all four charges against Salah, supporting his deportation, were thrown out by Mr Justice Ockelton who said that the home secretary was misled and “under a misapprehension as to the facts”.
- Deported Shaikh Abu Qatada to Jordan after a near decade-long legal battle to remove him from Britain on the grounds that he was, allegedly, Al-Qaeda’s top man in Europe. He was cleared at a military court in Amman of planning to target Israeli and American tourists, as well as Western diplomats, in 2000 in the so-called “millennium plot”. May, completely unrepentant after the man was judged innocent, declared: “The UK courts here were very clear that Abu Qatada poses a threat to our national security. That’s why we were pleased as a Government to remove him from the UK.”
It seems to me that Theresa May doesn’t care a flying fig about justice or the miscarriages of justice she has presided over, causing wholly innocent men to be incarcerated inside some of the most secure prisons in Britain. Masking her mistakes with more anti-terror legislation was a favourite trick of Margaret Thatcher’s. The question that the people of Britain have to ask ourselves in the forthcoming General Election is simple: Do we want more of May, or less? Freedom of speech, or gagging orders? For Britain’s beleaguered Muslim community and everyone else who cares about Britain’s democratic values, it’s a no-brainer.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.