Part of the problem, not the solution: Baroness Warsi, centre, with David Cameron and William Hague. They have never addressed radical Islam
"The good news is that government is finally dealing with the issue and it is now a priority," said the government minister in a BBC film last month. And of which of the panoply of issues currently facing our country was this speaker thinking? The stalled economy? Youth unemployment? No. The words were spoken by Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, the "minister for faith", and the issue she was happy to report as a UK government "priority" was the tackling of "Islamophobia".
Coming just days after the bombing of the Boston Marathon by two young radical Muslims, Baroness Warsi's comments were not just poorly timed — they were poorly thought through. The killing of three people and injury of more than 260 others would have been the perfect time for Britain's only Muslim cabinet minister to address and assault the ideology which causes such attacks: radical Islam. B Days later, a soldier was beheaded by Islamists on the streets of Woolwich. But — aside from attacking the most irrelevant, fringe extremists like Al-Muhajiroun — Warsi has never taken up this role. This is not just her own failing. It is an exemplar of a wider cultural failure.
In the first years after 9/11 there was some success in turning the global spotlight onto what Islamic fundamentalists believed, taught and aimed to achieve. But then — at some point in the last five or more years — that spotlight was turned around. It was not on the extremists but on the rest of us — Muslim and non-Muslim — that it settled. It became all of us who were the problem — not the crimes of the fundamentalists but our response to them. The primary problem was no longer Islamic fundamentalism but "Islamophobia". This narrative has not only become pervasive in our societies — it has become dominant. It is stopping us from dealing with the most severe challenge to our security. It is time to unfold the lie.
I have long argued — in this magazine and elsewhere — that the very word "Islamophobia" is a nonsense term. A "phobia" is something of which one is irrationally afraid. Yet it is supremely rational to be scared of elements of Islam and of its fundamentalist strains in particular. Nevertheless the term has been very successfully deployed, not least because it has the aura of a smear. "Islamophobes" are not only subject to an irrational and unnecessary fear; they are assumed to be motivated (because most Muslims in the West are from an ethnic minority) by "racism". Who would not recoil from such charges?
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