Interview with Russian Radio Russia Today: British Muslims are fully integrated
24 March, 2009
British politician Denis MacShane gives his view on what should be done to tackle the current global economic crisis and how to fight xenophobia and many other issues prior to April’s G-20 summit that Britain will host.
RT: Given your former position with the Foreign Office, let's start with foreign affairs. How do you assess British Foreign policy at the moment and do you believe that the change of the leadership has had an impact on the UK's standing in the world?
Denis MacShane: I think the most important Foreign Policy development in terms of personality overseas is Barak Obama – “Waiting for Barack” could be the title of the new play if someone is around to write it to see where we are going to go. We've obviously got huge geopolitical, economic problems which impact on foreign policy.
We’ll have to come out of this together. There are Middle East difficulties, Hamas’s wanting to kill as many Jews as possible and Israel not being prepared to negotiate. We’ve got Afghanistan and Iraq. I think though the broad outlines of British Foreign Policy remain the same – open trade, economics, friendship with everybody but stand up also for what we believe in this place: Parliament – democracy, human rights, free journalism. And that’s something that’s been important for Britain well before Gordon Brown or Tony Blair, and will be important in 15 or a 100 years I hope.
RT: What are your expectations of the G20 that Britain is going to host in April? Do you think that the summit is going to come up with some realistic solutions to the current global economic crisis?
D.M.: What an absolute central question that is – we’ve got a lot of international institutions, a lot of international meetings taking place all the time. But what do they actually deliver? The United Nations, for example, that many of us would like to see as an operational arm of making the world a better, more secure place, cannot deliver. So the G20, the Global Summit under Gordon Brown’s chairmanship at the beginning of April. The first time Barack Obama comes to Europe to meet his Chinese opposite, the European and other leaders.
Can it deliver? We all know what we need to do, but all the time between knowing what we should be doing, there is national interest, there’s domestic politics that stops it. But if we don’t get a good G20 outcome, if China, Russia, the European Union, America and Brazil and the Indians – if they don’t find a common path out, then we’re all very worried the world will become more protectionist, nastier and we all will be scratching at each other instead of cooperating and getting after the second that we’ve missed.
RT: But do you think that Britain is on the forefront of resolving those issues? Let’s take Britain’s role in Europe – what do you think of that? As a former Minister of State for Europe, what do you see as Britain’s role in Europe’s current affairs and do you think this role is constructive?
D.M.: Britain is a full-hearted member of the European Union. I think Prime-Minister Brown has been working very, very hard since this crisis exploded – what, we can say roughly, about September or October of last year – going constantly backwards and forwards to other European leaders to try and find common policies. It is difficult, because every country’s frightened.
When you are frightened, you become defensive; when you are defensive you draw up barriers or dig deep trenches and go to hide yourself away.
And I think what Britain has to do with other leaders is to say – “No, this is a common struggle and we’ve got to find ways of uniting. But you’ve always got somebody who’s got an election tomorrow, an election in 6-months time, or things he hasn’t been given even enough respect to say ”well, you’ve got to listen to my point of view and only my point of view is an important one.
RT: But wasn’t it Britain who was finding it sort of difficult for itself to integrate to the European Union?
D.M.: Not really. Britain has been in the European Union for 35 years now. You can look at every European Union country. I can give you examples of France’s particular vision of Europe. Or the German idea or Italian idea of what Europe should be like.
We are the most open trade economy in Europe.
We’ve got the most Europeans working in Britain. Sometimes people say – oh, you are not a good European partner. In that case, why are there 400,000 French people working here in London, 150,000 Russians, 200,000 Germans? We’ve got 2 million Brits, British citizens, working in the European Union countries. So, we like the idea of Europe. We’ve got criticism on this bit, on the side of the French or the Germans. I don’t know any European country that doesn’t have its fantasy European Union. What we have to do is live in the real European Union, not in the one of our dreams.
RT: What about the rise of anti-Semitism and xenophobia, the issues that you have touched upon in your recent book and also you’ve been writing about it a lot. Why is it happening? What are the roots of it in Europe and in Britain in particular?
D.M.: Anti-Semitism of course can be called the oldest hatred and it is, I mean hatred of the Jews, I am afraid, goes back for more than 2000 years, and it was in horrible forms. What we’re seeing though – it’s coming back to life.
I think for three reasons. Firstly, there’s a growth of an extreme nationalistic right wing across Europe. An intolerant nationalism that says: the outsider is wrong, we dislike what is not like us, and the Jews are always easy to point the finger at. Secondly, of course, you have the rise of ideological Islamism. I am not talking about Islam – the religion, or Muslims – the followers of Islam any more than I talk about Catholics or Orthodox Christians. But there are extreme ideologies now in the Islamist, in the Muslim world – Islamist ideology.
RT: You criticized yourself the British Muslim community in 2004 saying they did not do enough to condemn the acts of Islamic terrorism. Do you still stand by that?
D.M.: Some of them – yes. I think after the terrible bombing in London, what’s called 7/7, with chute bombs in the underground, London, where 54 people were killed, there has been a seachange, but my view is you have to condemn all terrorism, you can’t pick a Jew and say: I condemn terrorism in London, but I think it’s all right to put a bomb round your waist and go kill a Jewish girl or a Jewish granny in Tel-Aviv. So I think you should condemn all terrorism, and still there’s Islamist, I do stress this point, I am talking about ideology of Islamist organizations, not Muslims. I mean I have 10,000 Muslims who vote for me – well, they vote in my constituency, they are good friends, I go to their Mosques. They hate this.
But you’ve got a small group of people around the world who think they can advance the cause of their perverted ideology – Islam is a religion of peace, as is Judaism, as are all the Christian religions, as is Buddhism and Hinduism – they think they can advance their perverted idea of their faith into the ideology of Islamism by killing people. And I think we need a worldwide campaign against anti-Semitism. But we begin in my country by insisting: yep, you have to denounce all forms of terrorism, if you are not doing that – I’m not sure I really want to talk to you.
RT: But then there’s a widespread feeling that the British Muslim community is being alienated in this country.
D.M.: No, on the contrary. I mean there isn’t a single Muslim community, there are poor Muslims, and then there are in some communities. It’s heterogeneous, most British Muslims are born in this country, they grow up loving Manchester United and David Beckham and Facebook, and I think they just want to be normal British citizens. Very often they come from the poor parts of society, so they don’t have the same economic opportunity, very often they are attacked – not because they are Muslims, but because they have skin color that’s brown or black, and frankly British white racists, from the extreme right wing, they attack a guy not because he’s Muslim – he might be an Indian, he might be a Hindu, he might be a Buddhist – they simply attack him on a racial basis.
And I don’t think… there’s enormous effort made by all the main political parties, by local government, by schools – you come to any school, the hospital, any public area or company where I’m a member of parliament – and British Muslims are fully integrated and they work hard. A small number though have this passion to promote Islamism. They don’t speak for the vast majority of British Muslims any more than any extremist in my view speaks for the vast majority of the people he claims to be associated with. Europe now is a continent with 20 million Muslims, and European Islam, European Muslims are going to be part of our future. We have a President – of America – whose middle name is Hussein, I know lots of people called Mr. Hussein in England, and they are just as much British as Barack Obama is American.
RT: And finally – you are quite an articulate supporter of military interventionism. Do you think the example of Iraq is a positive one, and do you think this kind of an approach could bring lasting solutions to the disputes?
D.M.: No, I don’t support military interventionism, I’ve supported upholding rule of law, and Iraq flouted UN rule of law, there were 250,000 soldiers there, and they could not stay there forever to keep the arms inspectors in.
Throughout history I’ve always been happy when a tyrant has been toppled, so I think we shouldn't be frightened of it. Nothing, nothing I would like better to see than every British soldier at home with his family, but if people abroad – in Afghanistan or elsewhere – are planning, spending money, are organizing, hoping to kill me and my children in Britain – then I am afraid our soldiers have to be in action to try and stop that.