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Posted by Helen Wednesday, August 03, 2005

At least David Davis, one of the pretenders to Michael Howard’s increasingly shaky position as leader of the Conservative Party, does not say anything so ridiculous as his junior on Home Affairs, Dominic Grieve.

Mr Grieve, appearing on the same programme as Minister-left-in-charge-of-the-Home-Office-while-Home-Secretary-is-on-holiday, Hazel Blears, told the bemused listeners, who, one suspects, wanted to hear something else from a Conservative politician, that

“I have to say that I find the suicide bombings totally explicable in terms of the level of anger which many members of the Muslim community seem to have about a large number of things.”
Well, of course, many of us have a high level of anger about a great many things, not least highly paid politicians talking absolute tosh, but that does not mean we consider it right and proper to blow up people or, even, ourselves.

Then again, I don’t suppose Mr Grieve ever travels on London transport and probably feels people who do are so inferior that it is not worth his while worrying about them.

Ms Blears, having rejected the idea of profiling for stop and search rules, on the grounds that anybody, absolutely anybody could be a suicide bomber, has been travelling round the country, talking to leaders of various Muslim communities.

She has not been greeted with unalloyed joy, some of the leaders of those communities that were not invited to meetings accusing her of listening only to the big-wigs and not wanting to hear the real problems young Muslims face. That is probably true, since there has been a certain tendency on the part of politicians to ignore actual members of those famous communities, particularly women. And, one imagines that Ms Blears does not really listen to anyone.

But we have been hearing an awful lot about the anger young Muslims feel in this country without any clear indication what it is they are feeling angry about and how much of that is their reluctance to achieve things in life.

Mr Grieve, who seems to have decided that he can speak for the Muslim community, thinks that “justified” anger has to do with the war in Iraq, despair over the Islamic world and the decadence of Western society. One wonders whether any of that justifies mass murder but clearly there are Conservative MPs who think so.

To take those issues one by one:

If Mr Grieve had done what he was supposed to do and read some of the briefs he undoubtedly received over the years of his political career or just occasionally glanced at articles that were not about him he would know that much of the Islamic anti-western militancy predates the war in Iraq. Indeed, rightly or wrongly, the cause of the war was the various attacks on the West and other countries and communities.

Al-Qaeda, in the first place, protested against all sorts of things, but particularly against the presence of the Infidel in Saudi Arabia. If it had not been that, they would have found something else and, indeed, they and their western fellow travellers realized after 9/11 that, in order to get some sympathy, they needed to pretend that the cause of the Palestinians, never before mentioned by bin Laden, should suddenly move to the top of the agenda.

Iraq, a country most Muslims in this country seem to know very little about (and the same goes for Conservative MPs) is a convenient excuse. If these people had really cared about the welfare of the people of Iraq they might have protested against some of Saddam Hussein’s activities in the past or the tendency terrorist in that country have for blowing up queues of children and women shopping in the market.

In any case, the idea that the foreign policy of this country is to be run according to what a small, completely unrepresentative group of people who owe no allegiance to it says is preposterous., whatever one’s views on the actual war might be.

The state of the Islamic world is, indeed, depressing. A once great culture has become enmired in endless wars, revolutions, slaughters, oppressions and nothing else (unlike the Italian Renaissance as quoted by Harry Lime in The Third Man). Is that really a reason for blowing up people in London? Does Mr Grieve really believe the state of affairs in Muslim countries, particularly in the Middle East, is somehow our fault? Because, if he does, he, too, is responsible for the poison of anti-Western terrorism that has spread through some Muslim groups.

As for Western decadence, well the answer has to be that if people do not like what they see, they can either go on living their lives according to their own principles or they can leave. It is not compulsory to live in the decadent West, if you hate it so much. (And one must remember that what these men call decadent is very ordinary for the rest of us.)

We are no closer to working out what exactly is it that creates that “justified” anger.

David Davis, the shadow Home Secretary, not very noticeable so far in the discussions on this subject, has come up with a somewhat different response.

Something must be done and this is what he suggests in today’s Daily Telegraph:
“Firstly, it must secure Britain's porous borders. A new border control police force should be set up to ensure that every major port is manned day and night, to stop people entering the country illegally.

Secondly, the Government should urgently review the process by which citizenship is granted. It is totally unacceptable that one of the alleged bombers was given a British passport despite having received a jail sentence and having a long record of bad conduct. British citizenship is a privilege, not a right.

Thirdly, the Government should allow evidence from phone-taps to be used in the courtroom, making it easier to convict would-be terrorists and stop future attacks.

Fourthly, the Government should appoint a Minister for Homeland Security to deal with the terrorist threat.

Finally, ministers must show they are prepared to look again at whether the Human Rights Act stops them from ensuring that Britain is as safe as possible. This should include advocating its repeal, if necessary.”
Not bad for a starting point, though whether the first two can be solved without some reference to the “E” subject is doubtful. The whole question of integrated border control, we were told by the Commission during the election campaign, is being worked out through the Tampere process, which reached its second stage at the Hague last year. What is Mr Davis proposing to do about that?

The rules of British citizenship can be tightened up and made a privilege again, but nothing much can be done about citizenship of other EU member states. Still, that would be a start.

Items three and four sound tough and courageous but are rather questionable in their effectiveness. What will a separate Minister for Homeland Security, particularly if it happens to be Hazel Blears do?

But, at least, the Conservatives are prepared to approach gingerly the Human Rights Act. We shall see whether they have the stomach to fight the assembled and powerful legal mafia on that subject.

The rest of the article is devoted to a very careful discussion about the evils of "multiculturalism” and the need for Muslim groups to integrate while emphasising that non-Muslims have duties towards Muslims.

All of this is unexceptionable, though one must say that it has taken the Conservative Party some time to come out openly against the whole subject of “multiculturalism”. Trevor Phillips, the Chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality was there some time ago. But better late than never and one must assume that somewhere behind those bland statements Mr Davis has some ideas as to how the situation can be salvaged.

The trouble comes with the notion of integrating and accepting values. Which values are those, precisely? If Mr Davis means an equal application of the law, he should really start saying so. I look forward to the time when honour killings and genital mutilation, not to mention marriage to pre-pubescent girls and, on another level, total disdain for all food hygiene laws will be treated with the seriousness they, each, deserve. But is anybody talking about that?

But apart from that? Unfortunately, all the discussion of British core values has produced little of practical significance. Yes, it is true that there is greater emphasis in the United States on integration and acceptance of core values but they are also much clearer in people’s minds.

The American dream, much derided by Hollywood luvvies, clever-dicks on this side of the pond and anyone who simply wants to swank about being anti-American, seems relatively straightforward: hard work, making of money, looking after your family, often going to church, doing your bit for the community, even if only by giving money to charity.

What is the British equivalent? Should the Conservative Party, as supposedly the party of the country start thinking about it?

Two items in yesterday’s Daily Telegraph caught my attention. One was about the high level of binge-drinking among teenagers, which produced from the self-same David Davis the predictable response that the government must reverse its policy of 24 hour opening hours for pubs. Whether that is the right policy or not, Mr Davis might like to consider why countries with longer opening hours should have less binge drinking.

The other item was about difficulties large gardens have with hiring young people to train to be gardeners. Many of them are saying that they intend to recruit from other countries since our own youngsters are not interested, the wages not being quite high enough and the work being far too hard.

We already know that the services and the TA are having trouble with recruitment, that engineering firms cannot find enough fully qualified and able people in this country, that there are far too many young people with no qualifications who consider it more sensible to claim social security indefinitely and do nothing with their lives than earn low wages at the start of their career.

All this, as the editorial in this Sunday’s Business has been brought about by the government (this one and the one before it).

Added to which, there is the perennial question of who actually governs this country? Who legislates here and how are those laws interpreted? Are the core British values of accountable parliamentary democracy and equality before the law still in existence? Until those problems are addressed, a call on people to integrate into British culture remains little more than electoral posturing.