It's undeniable: British foreign policy is endangering all of us
THE USUAL SUSPECTS have already made their usual noises. After the arrests of 24 British Muslims for allegedly plotting to bring down aircraft, the cry went up from certain quarters that the Muslim community must put its house in order.
For instance, yesterday's Daily Telegraph published a leader column headlined "Only Muslim families can stop this infamy". But what does this kind of chatter actually mean in practice? Does the paper not think that Muslims are already doing their bit?
It is a criminal offence to learn about a terrorist plot and then fail to report it to the authorities. The Muslim Council of Britain has on several occasions written to each mosque and Islamic institution in the country to remind all British Muslims that we have a duty to co-operate fully with the police and that we must never hesitate to contact them should any Muslim hear of a terrorist plot.
The Daily Telegraph seemed to imply that there were Muslims out there who know of murderous acts being planned but who were for whatever motive - perhaps divided loyalties? - refusing to come forward. This may be true, but if so, then the paper should back up this sweeping assertion with hard evidence.
Attempts to blame British Muslims collectively as being somehow vicariously responsible for the actions of a few are not only unjust, they are criminally short-sighted and inflame opinion. It is too early to say who started the fire at a mosque in Chester on Thursday, but such actions play right into the hands of the extremists.
The simple fact is that we all need to face some difficult truths; truths that not only some British Muslims but also our own Government prefer to turn away from.
A year ago I was appointed by the Home Office to be the convenor of a working group on tackling extremism and radicalisation. In its final report, the group accepted that extremism was a reality in some sections of the Muslim community and that it must be confronted and defeated.
But how to do this when there were still too many Muslims who preferred to entertain outlandish conspiracy theories than grapple with the harsh reality of extremism among our number?
That same group also made it clear that foreign policy, especially in the Middle East, could not be left unconsidered as a factor in the motivations of extremists. We believed it was a key contributory factor. Now it was the Government's turn to go into denial about whether some of its actions might have contributed to undermining our national security and making the terrorist threat worse.
John Reid, the Home Secretary, denied the importance of the Iraq factor when he answered criticism that the Government was refusing to hold a public inquiry into the 7/7 attacks because it feared that it would fuel a debate about whether the war against Iraq had hindered us in the fight against terror. He said that Mohammed Sidique Khan, believed to be the ringleader of the 7/7 bombings, would have stated it explicitly in his final testament video that was broadcast on al-Jazeera if it were so. The truth is, it wasn't mentioned, said Mr Reid.
Less than two months later, on the eve of the first anniversary of the July bombings, a "martyr" video of Shehzad Tanweer was released. He explicitly invoked the war against Iraq.
This should not be misinterpreted as an apologia for terrorism. It cannot be said enough that there can never be any justification for the deliberate killing of civilians. However, the Government needs to acknowledge that extremist groups have taken advantage of Britain's role in the wars against Afghanistan and Iraq and Washington's longstanding blind support for Israel as an opportunity to recruit more Muslims into their ranks.
Poll after poll has shown that large majorities in the Muslim world believe that British and American foreign policy is hostile towards them and that the West regards the spilling of Muslim blood as being of little importance.
Are such views really a caricature of the truth? By refusing to support calls for an immediate ceasefire in the Israel-Lebanon conflict, Tony Blair appeared to be giving a nod and a wink to the Israelis that they had more time to accomplish their military goals.
There may be ministers who genuinely believe that the price to be paid for our policies overseas is worth it - but they should not insult the public's intelligence by saying that they have had no impact on the terror threat that Britain is facing. The presumption now must be that al-Qaeda-inspired groups will keep on targeting Britain.
Mr Reid yesterday adopted a far more conciliatory tone when he called for all communities to pull together as part of a common purpose and common effort. This was in marked contrast to President Bush - no stranger to the odd injudicious phrase - who did not endear himself to Muslims around the world when he described terrorists as Islamic fascists. It is this kind of overexcitable "us and them" rhetoric, the kind of language that insinuates the Muslims are " other" and the enemy, that will bring more strife and terror.
Inayat Bunglawala is the assistant secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain