Graeme Brown was the Conservative Candidate for Ashton-under-Lyne in last year’s General Election.
As someone who was born and grew up in Burnley, I always keep a look out for Kitty Ussher, the new Labour MP for the town, and was eager to read her article in the New Statesman last week. Kitty begins her article by describing her visit to a Muslim friend in Burnley who asked her, "Why are you allowing our people to die?" Her friend was referring to the conflict in Lebanon between Israel and Hezbollah. Kitty then discusses how she responded to her friend’s question, and she expresses her views on the conflict between Hezbollah and Israel.
She organised a public meeting in Burnley to allow her constituents to discuss the situation in the Middle East. In the conclusion to her article, Kitty repeats a question which was put to her at the public meeting, "Why is it that Muslim blood is seen as cheaper than Christian or Jewish blood?"
It is of course part of an MP’s job to listen to and represent to the government and the media the views of their constituents. It is also an MP’s job to explain the views of their government, especially when they are a member of the governing party, to their constituents. Her article, and one assumes therefore, her discussions with her constituents, takes an extraordinarily narrow view, both of the Prime Minister’s foreign policy, of who died during the conflict in Lebanon and Israel, and what is at stake in the Middle East.
Kitty’s article suggests that the only people who suffered during the
fighting were Muslims. Did she not explain to her friend and her
constituents that everyone who lives in Lebanon and Israel suffered
during the fighting, and that the longer the fighting went on, the
longer everyone living in the region would continue to suffer? Did Kitty explain the tactics Hezbollah were using? Did she explain their
use of ordinary civilian homes as rocket launch sites, their use of
civilians as human shields? Did she explain that Hezbollah started the
conflict by kidnapping Israeli soldiers from Israeli territory?
Did she attempt to challenge the view that she says some Muslims hold
that the government is "using foreign policy to persecute those of
their religion"? Did she remind them that this is the same Prime
Minister who she claimed, "thought it was OK for Muslims to keep
dying", who took enormous political risks alongside President Clinton
to intervene, and save thousands of Muslim lives in Kosovo in 1999?
Did Kitty explain that Hezbollah’s (and Iran’s) stated aim is the
destruction of Israel and the removal of all Jews from the Middle East?
Did she explain that the Israeli government, because it feels its very
existence as a nation is under threat, is desperate to disarm
Hezbollah, something the UN has failed to do in the 2 years since UN
resolution 1559 was passed calling for the disarming of all militia
forces inside Lebanon.
Did she explain to her friend the wider issues that the Prime Minister
believes are at stake beyond the resolution of the conflict between
Israel and Hezbollah? That this is not just the latest instalment of
the Arab-Israeli conflict. That it is about the long-term future of the
whole of the Middle East. That if Hezbollah and Iran are seen to
triumph, and Israel is weakened, great harm will be done to those
Muslims in the Middle East who seek the same freedoms that Muslims
enjoy in the UK.
In light of the arrests last week of more than 20 British Muslims
allegedly involved in a plot to blow up transatlantic flights, all
elected politicians have a responsibility not just to state clearly
that disagreement with, and anger over the government’s foreign policy
never can be an excuse for terrorism, but also to engage in debate within their community and if necessary refute misconceptions about
the government’s foreign policy that their constituents may have.
An MP’s job is not just to give an airing to the views of some of
their constituents, however much they respect those views. It is also
to lead, to explain to their community why their government is taking
the stand that it is. By not doing this, Kitty has missed an
opportunity to persuade the Muslim community that the government’s
foreign policy does not value Muslim lives any less than Christian or
Jewish lives, but wants to ensure that the moderate Islam practiced by the overwhelming majority of Muslims in the UK and around the world, is
allowed to flourish, rather than the intolerant, illiberal,
fundamentalist Islam favoured by the government of Iran, Al Qaeda and