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A great leap backwards

This is a guest post by Jacob

In recent days, the comings and goings of the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) have been a depressing sight, even by the panoramic standard of Gordon Brown’s collapsing Prime Ministerial tenure.
The resignation of Hazel Blears from the DCLG last week was naturally a blow to all who had come to admire her efforts to distance the Government from extremist voices. It was Blears, of course, who led a Government boycott of the Islamist-infused ‘IslamExpo’ event last summer, and most recently called on Daud Abdullah to resign from the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) for lending his signature to the so-called ‘Istanbul Declaration’, which glorified Hamas terrorism and seemed to make thinly-veiled threats against the Royal Navy.

In doing so, Blears imposed a modicum of much-needed clarity on the Government’s counter-terrorism strategy, and set the parameters of acceptable discourse for our partners therein. She also displayed the kind of courage, principle and intelligence that is too often lacking from today’s politicians.

Yet even more disheartening than the loss of Blears is the news, emerging this week, of who has been chosen to fill her shoes. Given the genius of the current Government for making the most imaginatively self-destructive decisions in the face of a quandary, it was only sensible to be braced for the worst.

Enter left John Denham and Shahid Malik. Both are firmly in the camp that holds we should enlist non-violent extremists (after all, they ooze street-cred) as a bulwark against al Qaeda, rather than take a stand, as Blears did, against extremism in all its forms. It will be interesting to see how the ‘new look’ DCLG handles this year’s IslamExpo, and the next Global Peace and Unity conference.

But a troubling marker seems already to have been laid down, in the report of one newspaper last Sunday that that the “Government is also believed to be keen to ensure British imams are trained in the Salafi creed of Islam, a more passive doctrine than Wahhabism, which has growing influence in UK mosques.”4 When Salafism is being officially vouchsafed as a “passive” and desirable sect for British imams, you get the sense that DCLG policy is some way off the pace.

Past form, too, is hardly encouraging.

In a 2005 Spectator interview (which also featured a swipe at then Home Office minister Blears), Denham actually went further, suggesting that we should adapt our foreign policy to the mores and values of angry young men who let off bombs. Invoking “the suffering of Muslims in countries like Uzbekistan and Chechnya”, Denham heroically explained that “some foreign policy has now a very direct impact on domestic policy. And we may well need to give [these things] higher priority and more energy, and indeed be prepared to change the emphasis of our foreign policy to safeguard our own security.”

Meanwhile Shahid Malik, who joins Denham at the DCLG as a junior minister, was a firm critic of Blears’ decision to boycott Azzam Tamimi and Anas Altikriti’s Islamist rodeo last year, and was only with difficulty restrained from attending in a personal capacity.

Given that the Government has replaced Blears with two of her most notable detractors, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that her position was compromised not by the expenses row (in which Malik was equally implicated), but by her decision to speak out against the MCB last March.
This remarkable, yet wholly unannounced policy reversal means one of two things.

Either the Government is so invertebrate that it simply cannot bear the blizzard of ‘Islamophobia’ accusations that accompanies any stand against Islamism. Or it actually agrees with the line of thought, exemplified by the ludicrous Guardian editorial of 25 March, that Mr Abdullah is a national treasure who was simply fighting oppression in a manner most Muslims, and indeed Britons, would find laudable.

Either way, in these fast times at the DCLG, one wonders what values we have left to lose.