London mayoral candidate Livingstone calls Prophet Mohammed's words "agenda for all humanity"
Amid austerity and the financial crisis we have taken our eye off the ball on the enduring and growing problem of Islamism in Europe
All across western Europe, the continent’s growing Muslim populations are starting to have an increasing impact on the shape and tone of political and cultural life. There have been some spectacular examples.
Last year’s trial in the Netherlands of Dutch politician Geert Wilders for insulting Islam was one. To all intents and purposes he was tried under Islamic Law, establishing a precedent that his eventual acquittal cannot wipe away.
The Danish Cartoon affair of 2005 and 2006 which provoked unrest in Europe and riots around the world was another. The response from leading European politicians to the publication of heretical (in Muslim eyes) pictures of the Prophet Mohammed was typical of a generation of leaders who are frightened of their Muslim populations:
“I believe the re-publication of these cartoons has been unnecessary, it has been insensitive, it has been disrespectful and it has been wrong,“ said then British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw. French President Jacques Chirac called them “a provocation“.
There are many other such highlights one could quote. But it is when the changing demographics translate into the everyday business of electoral politics that you know you are moving into a new era.
That is the significance of far-Left candidate for the London mayorship Ken Livingstone‘s recent address to a leading London Mosque ahead of the elections in May, for which he is strong contender.
Speaking at the North London Central Mosque, once run by radical Islamist firebrand Abu Hamza, Livingstone spoke of his amazement at the “last sermon of the Prophet, peace be upon him“ which he read last year for the first time in his life. “I was stunned,“ he said,“This was something that could have been written for today and seemed to be an agenda for all humanity.“
He spoke also of the daily “demonisation of Islam“ in papers such as the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph, and he pledged to use his position as mayor not only to give Muslims more money but to educate the wider public against the alleged “demonisation“ in order to “cement our city as a beacon that demonstrates the meaning of the words of the Prophet, peace be upon him, and that amazing sermon he gave at the end of his life.“
For the record, the sermon in question, Livingstone tells us, effectively preaches a doctrine of racial equality, peace and opposition to terror. Whether that’s a fair representation of it is not the salient issue. Neither is the obvious retort that even if it is, there is plenty in the Islamic teachings that can and has been used to justify terror, imperialism, the subjugation of women and the reduction of non-Muslims to second class status in society.
What matters here is that Livingstone, a former mayor with a fighting chance of regaining the leadership of Europe’s biggest and most influential capital city, is so blatant in courting the Muslim vote in his campaign.
One can interpret that in the most neutral and disinterested manner: there are many Muslims in Britain; they are full citizens, as they have a right to be; attempting to lure voters is a normal part of the democratic game.
And so it is. The point is that it is a different kind of Britain from the one many of us grew up in. The nature of the difference will be determined by the impact of the ideas and practices that this new and growing demographic will have on wider society. Do they broadly accept the social and political values of the majority population? If not, will they seek to change them or will they reconcile themselves and adapt?
The signs are not good. The main Muslim umbrella organisation, the Muslim Council of Britain, pursues a fanatical agenda against Israel while maintaining that it is not motivated by anti-Semitism. Nonetheless it has frequently boycotted Holocaust Memorial Day. Its former leader Icqbal Sacranie has spoken of the “unacceptability“ of homosexuality and he adopted a death-is-too-good-for-him approach to the Fatwa death sentence issued by Iran against Satanic Verses author Salman Rushdie.
Politicians are increasingly aware of the risks of upsetting the Muslim population on foreign policy. As one of his ministers said to the Observer newspaper in 2006 over Tony Blair’s support for Israel‘s defensive posture against Hezbollah aggression emanating from Lebanon: “[Tony] completely understands the effect on the Muslim community – both in terms of losing Muslim voters hand over fist and the wider issue of community cohesion“. Ditto, Iraq, ditto Afghanistan, ditto Britain’s foreign policy to the wider Muslim world.
There have been numerous polls and surveys in recent years showing majority support among British Muslims for the adoption of Sharia law, suggesting serious potential problems for issues of free speech, religious freedom and, of course, the rights of women as the Muslim populations rises.
It is worth pointing out that the number of Muslims, though growing, still remains small as a percentage of the overall population, probably in the region of five percent. But of the Muslim population in Britain, around 40 percent are thought to live in London giving them real clout in the nation’s capital – a political and cultural centre with enormous influence on the rest of the country.
With our attention focused on the crisis in the eurozone, the burden of austerity here in Britain and the wider task of restoring the global economy to good health, we have taken our eye off this ball in recent years. But the problem has not gone away.
Unwittingly to be sure, Ken Livingstone has offered a timely wake up call that if we want to preserve our democracies and the hard won rights that go with them we must deal with the problem head on.
Livingstone’s approach is to grovel. And that’s one more reason why he must never run London again.
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