Monday, February 4, 2008
MPs, bugs and a stupid own goal
The allegation, which appears to be true, would be in clear breach of the long-standing bar on the police bugging MPs under the Wilson doctrine, and it is important the government inquiry finds out how and why this was allowed to happen. It remains to be seen why this operation was carried out, whether proper authorisation was sought and from whom, and why this took place in the absence of any credible grounds for suspicion.
I should declare a personal connection. I know Sadiq Khan, who has recently become vice-chair of the Fabian Society for 2008 having been an important contributor in our work around Britishness, citizenship and integration, and has been leading a Fabian project with John Denham MP in this area over the last two years, which we will be publishing shortly.
But that is not the main reason I was shocked and angered by the report. A great many people will suspect that this was not entirely unconnected to the fact that the MP for Tooting happens to be a Muslim. It is of the gravest concern is that some in authority do not understand that they risk sending the message that every British Muslim is to be regarded as a potential 'fifth columnist' and object of suspicion. It is difficult to think of a more effective way to undermine the efforts of those working for integration, seeking to forge a confident British Muslim identity so that future generations have no reason to see their faith as a barrier to their being full and equal participants in British society.
Sadiq Khan has been a challenging advocate of integration and equality before entering parliament and since, as a civil rights lawyer and Chair of the human rights group Liberty. In a significant Fabian speech - being a British Muslim on the anniversary of the July 7th bombings, he challenged his own government on issues where it risks undermining an appeal to hearts and minds, and also vocally criticised all of those, from the BNP to Hizb-ut-Tahrir, who exploit community grievances to foster division.
These efforts should be supported, not undermined.
And the good news is that there are a number of positive signs that this thinking has had a significant impact in the British government rethinking its language and policy on terrorism since the departure of Tony Blair. While the Brown government's emerging agenda remains work in progress, the attempt to ditch the 'war on terror' for a more effective 'hearts and minds' approach is an important one, which those who have been critical of the government are watching with interest. (Sunny Hundal wrote a good commentary reflecting on this after the recent Fabian conference).
And yet, even as progress is made, it is undermined. How depressing that, for some in the Establishment, there is nothing that even the most prominent and integrated of British Muslims could ever do to pass some secret loyalty test.
UPDATE: I have a commentary piece about this - A very British subversive on Comment is Free.
As the Washington clocks strike twelve on 20th January 2009, listen carefully and you might just hear a swooshing sigh of relief travel around the world. The Bush Presidency will not leave the legacy its architects intended. But a critique of what should have been done differently since 2001 is not enough. This blog is about the new ideas which can create a 'new multilateralism' to tackle the global challenges we face.