Issue 251, Friday 26 March 2010 - 10 Rabi' al-Akhar 1431
Interview with David Cameron
Conservatives to have first Muslim MP, says Cameron
In an exclusive wide ranging interview with the Editor of The Muslim News, Ahmed J Versi, Leader of the Opposition, David Cameron, MP, on March 18, at his offices in the House of Commons, says his vision of a multi-ethnic Britain in the next 25 years of being better at ďfostering a sense of togethernessĒ and building a strong British identity.
Ahmed J Versi: Legislation outlawing incitement to religious hatred had to be watered down by the Government because of opposition. Right wing extremists are using the loopholes in the law to incite against Muslims, and they are using that quite effectively. If the extremists incited in similar manner using racist or anti-Semitic chants they would be arrested under the incitement to racial hatred. Would you consider tightening the legislation?
David Cameron: We always look at proposals like that but that is a very good legislation on incitement to violence and on public order offences, which the police should feel free to use. I want the police to feel empowered. We do have anyone who is inciting violence or criminal acts can be prosecuted and the police need to feel empowered to act on that. I donít want us to get into a situation where there are so many laws passed and the police will only act if we pass new law. They should use the laws that are already there and feel empowered ready to arrest people who are inciting violence.
AJV: Recently you said you will ban Muslims who are extremists such as preachers and others. How do you define extremists?
DC: I did not particularly single out Muslims. Anyone who preaches hatred and violence we have the opportunity to say Ďwell actually you are not welcome in this country.í I think we should use that. The test is whether the people are going to be either inciting violence or believe in violence and for instance, I made the point about Qaradawi.
AJV: So for example, would you ban anti-Muslim extremists like the Dutch MP Geert Wilders because he is anti-Islamic.
DC: We need to make judgements based on an individual case but if someone is inciting violence and they are not conducive to the public good, then you should take that step. I havenít made a decision; Iím not the home secretary.
AJV: But you mentioned Yousuf al-Qaradawi and Ibrahim Moussawi [Media Relation Officer, Hizbullah].
DC: The point about Qardawi is that he has supported acts of violence and murder and that was the reason for mentioning him specifically. I donít know enough about Geert Wilders to make a decision.
AJV: You have broken off relations with the Muslim Council of Britain, so had the government but then it was patched up. Why did you do that?
DC: We wonít do formal things with the Muslim Council of Britain until either they distance themselves from the individual concerned, or he distances himself from the support for violence that he has set out in the past. Until one or other of those two things happen, we wouldnít want to have formal meetings with the MCB.
AJV: The person you have mentioned has clearly said to the Communities Secretary that he has never supported or condoned violence against the British troops.
DC: As I say, more clarity is needed on one of the two things I said earlier.
AJV: What kind of relationship should a government have with Muslim organisations especially ones like the MCB which is that largest umbrella Muslim organisation.
DC: We should have a very positive relationship with the Muslim community and representatives of the Muslim community. There are other representative bodies. We would be fully engaged with them. We just have this particular issue at the moment with the MCB because of this individual. This is not to say that we have put a blanket ban on Conservative candidates or MPs talking to the MCB. Iíve bumped into them at public events myself. But in terms of holding official meetings and speaking at official functions I think the issue needs to be resolved.
AJV: So when you are in government, would you then invite them to talk about issues that are of concern [regarding Muslims]?
DC: If the issue is resolved, the one I referred to, then yes but if isnít, then no.
AJV: There has been an increase in anti-Muslim prejudice and Islamophobic attacks in this country, especially in the last one year. In our newspaper, we have published these examples of mosques being attacked, Muslim women with hijab being attacked, etc. Do you think there is a need for legislation to prevent this?
DC: Where legislation is necessary then obviously it should be passed. Itís just not about passing laws. This is about active policing, defending communities, being prepared to arrest people who are inciting violence and hatred. Thatís the first thing. Second thing, is that thereís a responsibility on everyone to take care, not to either demonise people or to tar communities in a particular way. Thereís a necessity for politicians to be careful about the language they use. I think it is important. I know the offense that people take when people refer to ĎMuslim terrorists.í You have to explain when talking about going against extremism; itís extremism and extremist terrorism that we are opposed to. Thereís always a concern in the Muslim community that language is used loosely and people feel they are being unfairly targeted.
AJV: Some politicians are using such language all the time.
DC: Yes, well Iíve tried quite carefully to talk about extremist Islamist terrorism rather than talk about Islamic or Islamism. Itís the extremist element that is important. I am not saying that always get it right but I have tried to address this issue and have given speeches about it.
AJV: Thereís a distinction between Islamism and Islamic extremism, but for the general public, they donít understand these nuances. For them both have the word ĎIslamí.
DC: Thatís why I attach the word Ďextremistí. I think thatís very important.
AJV: There is concern about the way Prevent Extremism programme has been implemented, even by those who are implementing the programme, including Muslim police officers.
DC: We said we would review the Prevent stream of the Contest strategy, on the basis of evidence, what works and what is effective. Thatís important.
AJV: So, you are not just talking about funding. Do you mean the whole programme?
DC: To review, to make sure it is working properly. We do have a problem with extremism in Britain. We have a problem of risk with terrorism in Britain. Any government needs to have a proper strategy for dealing with that and we need the help of the British Muslim community to root out extremists and terrorists in our midst. You know we have a problem. We need to accept the problem and find a way to deal with it. Iím not saying that we will change Prevent in the way everyone would like, but we will review it on the basis of evidence.
AJV: It is accepted that there is a small number of extremists. The way Prevent works through local authorities is that it assumes that every young male Muslim is a potential extremist and terrorist. The policies are structured in such a way that it is general. It is not saying that one needs to root out a minority but it targets the young people generally. The majority of the young people feel that they are being targeted incorrectly, and this is why there is very little grassroots support for this scheme.
DC: Thatís a reason for reviewing it but I would say that there are two issues we have to address here. One is that there is a small number of extremists and potential terrorists we need to find and deal with, thatís a real problem. We also have to stop the radicalisation of young people and thatís quite a targeted effort. But there is a broader issue that we have to address which is that there are too many people that believe myths like 9/11 was a Mossad plot. You hear it in too wider a circle, we need to address that. We have to knock down some of the myths that are quite widely believed, even by people who have nothing to do with terrorism. That provides a context. Itís a context that provides the sea in which a lot of these people swim. I was very struck when I visited to the Birmingham Central Mosque, where many people said things to me like ĎWell of course, 9/11 was really a plot by Mossadí and Ďare you really sure that 7/7 happenedí? All good, decent Muslims know that we have to address the issue and deal with it because it is very dangerous for our country.
AJV: But this is not unique to Muslims. Iíve been to told this by non-Muslims.
DC: I accept that. Yes, it is a problem in other communities as well but it is also a problem in Muslim communities.
AJV: Regarding general elections; if you look at the Parliament, there are only four Muslims and they are all Labour. We havenít got anyone from the Conservative Party.
DC: We made some big breakthroughs. First of all, I appointed the first British Muslim woman to any cabinet, or shadow cabinet, Sayyeda Warsi. I also put her up to take on Nick Griffin on the famous Question Time. That shows Conservative commitment to our multi-racial country, to backing British Muslims, to showing how compatible it is to be British, a Muslim and a Conservative. I think she is a very good role model. The good thing is that at the next election, even if we donít win it, there will be British Muslims sitting on Conservative benches. We have not selected them in safe inner-city areas that are marginal [but in Conservative constituencies]. For example, in Bromsgrove thatís a strong Conservative seat, we have a British Muslim candidate [Sajid Javid] and a very talented one. In Gillingham and Rayham, we have another British Muslim [Rehman Chisti]. So, there will be British Muslims on the Conservative benches and thatís a great thing.
AJV: Muslims are three percent of the population whilst their representation in the parliament is very tiny.
DC: That is true, but on our side, if we win the election, we will go from having two candidates of Black and ethnic backgrounds to 15, and that is a big change. Will we get three percent? No, we have candidates in Bromsgrove, Gillingham and Rainham, Bristol East, Bradford West; so it wonít be three percent, but that is progress. We are reaching a tipping point in the Conservative Party, where we have many British Indian, British Muslim, Black British candidates coming forward. Thereís a big change taking place and thatís very positive.
AJV: Israel has been occupying Palestine for decades, and they are now creating new illegal settlements. Even the Americans now are furious with it, and they are also continuing with the assassinations outside of their country. We saw what happened in Dubai, and not only that, we saw the use of British forged passports. Do you not think it is about time that we use some more punitive action against Israel. We are so lenient with them.
DC: We should take a very clear line about what is right and what is wrong. What happened about British passports is completely unacceptable. I have always been very clear about the building of illegal settlements. I am not just sitting on a comfortable sofa in Westminster. When I went on my first trip to Israel, I made that clear in meetings with Israeli ministers, including Tzipi Livni. When I was standing in East Jerusalem, I referred to it as Occupied East Jerusalem. Not many politicians do so. Weíve been very clear. We are a friend of Israel. We believe in the right for Israel to exist, we support it as a democracy but we believe there is a two state solution. We want to see the state of Palestine established, and if you look at what William Hague has said, what I have said, weíve been very consistent in that way.
AJV: What Iím is that should we not take any action like the sanctions as we do with other countries like against Iran for example.
DC: I think there is a difference. Iran has tried to get a nuclear weapon and has said it wants to wipe Israel off the map. Israel is not trying to wipe any country off the map. I think thatís the difference. There is a big difference between a country that says it wants to wipe another country of the map.
AJV: Itís a political issue. Iran said Ďpolitical mapí very clearly. Iran does not have nuclear weapons whilst Israel has.
DC: But it has tried to get nuclear weapons. One shouldnít try and shave definitions here. That is wrong.
AJV: Itís also wrong for Israel to do what is doing, and we are not taking any actions against it.
DC: We should be very clear about what is what is right and what is wrong, and we have been in respect to Israel.
AJV: Your party supported the invasion against Iraq. Knowing now what you know, do you think that the action that we took against Iraq was right?
DC: I supported it at the time, and I donít choose to go back and change what I did or what I said. I think Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator. He was in breach of UN resolutions and I think that at least without him Iraq has a chance of stability and democracy. Those things are still some way away but at least thereís a chance. With Saddam I donít think they had a chance at all.
AJV: With Afghanistan, do you think that what we are doing now will make our country safer or will it make it worse?
DC: I think it should make our country safer. The badlands between Afghanistan and Pakistan was where the most dangerous terrorists came from. If you look at the CV of the bombers of 9/11, most had been through Afghan training camps. We are there at the invitation of an Islamic Government of President Hamid Karzai, who Iíve met many times. Itís important for British Muslims and everyone else to understand we are only in Afghanistan because we have UN backing for being in Afghanistan, we have an invitation from a Muslim democratic government, and we are there not for our own selfish strategic interests. We are there to make Afghanistan a safer country, so there is less terrorism in the world.
AJV: How do you envisage Britain in the next 25 years, as a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural country?
DC: We are a multi-ethnic society and we will continue to be one. I hope we can do better at fostering a sense of togetherness and being part of one nation. We should celebrate our differences and our different cultures and our different religions. At the same we should try to build a strong new British identity and most people I know in the British Muslim community share that view very strongly. They want to recognize their own religions and cultures but at the same time they want to be seen to be building a stronger Britain.