Douglas Murray is the Director of the Centre for Social Cohesion.
When, a few weeks back, in an article on gay marriage, I made a glancing reference to the regrettable views of Paul Goodman I never thought I’d end up having to write one – let alone two – lengthy pieces responding to his increasingly vitriolic and obsessive attacks on me. Let alone that readers of Conservative Home would be expected to put up with this exchange. But Monday’s piece by Paul was the blog-equivalent of a drive-by shooting. This is tediously obsessive even for me – and I was the subject – so I can’t imagine how dull it must be for everybody else. But Paul’s had a last say – so I’ll do one more correction of him.
Even when Paul and I were on friendly terms we were never in full agreement. The latest pieces from him remind me why. With the largest Muslim constituency of any Conservative MP, Paul took it upon himself to read a lot of material very fast on Islamic and Islamist theology. As often happens when people immerse themselves in something new, he went under and seems never to have come back up.
As a counter-terrorism friend pointed out to me after reading Paul’s latest: the most noteworthy thing about it is that it is exactly the piece that an Islamist would write about me. Where it is not merely selective and misrepresenting of my views, it is just plain wrong.
I am not a member of the Conservative party, or any other party. It was my conviction some years ago that the Conservative party was going in the wrong direction on this issue. I believed that it had become caught having the debate on Islamist terms. I wanted – and want – the debate to be had on British terms. To clarify – I don’t want Britain to become more Islamist, I want Islamists to become more British. There was a period, some years ago, when it seemed clear that the Conservative party was going in a very bad direction indeed. At that stage I was also on the record as being a Labour voter.
But politics, like everything else, changes. Events happen and – just as importantly – don’t happen. For instance, ten years ago you could say things about gays that would now never be said in polite society. That is not only because situations change, it is because politicians and people change
Almost six years ago – at a conference in the Dutch Parliament in The Hague (not Amsterdam, incidentally) I was asked by the party which had recently formed the Dutch government, to be one of a group of people to consider where we should go from here. We were in the middle of the Danish cartoons riots as well as unrest around the world in response to the Pope’s address at Regensburg. The first suicide bombings had recently been perpetrated in London, and in Holland there had been another assassination of a critic of Islam (the colleague of a friend who was herself forced into hiding). Things did not look good, and it appeared likely that Europe was going to face a far wider problem than anyone had previously thought. In that situation I was asked to imagine some tough scenarios for what we might have to do about it.
The answers I came up with were certainly uncompromising. Most were in tune with policies that were then being supported by the Dutch government, as well as Sarkozy and other mainstream European leaders. I also highlighted a risk I feared very much then, as I do now. With far-right forces in France and elsewhere attempting to benefit politically from these events, I believed that tough action may be needed to cut off the growing threat from far-right leaders like Jean-Marie Le Pen (who had recently been the runner-up in the run-off for the French Presidency).
That remains important. But I now think much of the speech was wrong, and certainly does not apply today. Nearly six years on, thanks to work done by a broad coalition of people – including many Muslim colleagues and friends – the situation has changed significantly. There are, for instance, now a number of anti-radical Muslim organisations, which was certainly not the case back then. Largely because of the ground being opened up by outside voices, politicians like Merkel, Sarkozy, and Cameron have become able to say things which ended political careers less than a decade ago. Additionally, counter-terrorism measures and heightened political pressure prevented the repeat terrorist attacks that we certainly expected in 2005-6.
At the time of that speech, a number of British MPs who read the speech, including colleagues and superiors of Paul’s in the Shadow Cabinet, praised me for it. So when Paul arrived in my office and claimed that I had to retract the speech on the orders of unnamed cabinet colleagues I found it political hypocrisy of the rankest kind. For people to praise you in private but claim they must dissociate themselves from you in public seemed to me not merely to demonstrate, but to epitomise, the kind of moral backbone I feared his party then had.
As it happened, Paul’s dire warnings were not heeded. I continued to have friendly and constructive relationships with his Conservative Party. Paul’s claims to the contrary are not just loaded with bitterness and malice – they are simply wrong and may be down to the fact that he is no longer in the House. Unfortunately for him, and despite his strange new obsession with my working habits, the evidence is all for me and all against him. What is more, and despite his bitter claims to the contrary, I am very proud of what we achieved while I was running the Centre for Social Cohesion. The impact that we had on government policy can – apart from anything else – be seen by the fact that our work was cited throughout the major counter-terrorism documents produced by the current government. Apart from anything else they are in:
- The Prevent Strategy;
- The Contest Strategy;
- The latest Annual Review of terrorism legislation by the Independent Terrorism reviewer.
In addition, much of Cameron’s Munich Speech was based on arguments I – and a few others – have been making for years. As I say, Paul’s claim that the CSC had no effect on government is disproved by reference to the government’s own work.
As it happens (and that is why his latest behaviour is especially regrettable) Paul and I are in agreement on much to do with Islamist extremism – an interpretation of Islam causing significant problems worldwide. But where we differ is that I believe that there are also aspects of the religion itself which Muslims and others must challenge. They are problems that the other monotheisms have also faced, and largely (though not completely) got around. I am optimistic that Islam can also get over, or around, these problems, but believe it will never do so until it confronts them. Paul would rather duck this argument, as would most other people I know. But I think it is a duty of outside commentators to try to tackle it.
In addition, Paul not only fails to cite anything positive that I have ever written about Muslims, he denies that I have ever done so. So, plucking just two examples at random, Paul for instance fails completely to note my praise and support for progressive Muslim scholars such as Tahrir ul-Qadri (here) and writing in the Evening Standard that, ‘We will have to hope, as ever, that the peaceful Muslim scholars in this millennia-long battle within Islam, can indeed win through.’
Nor does he acknowledge my often-stated belief that though there are problems in Islamic scripture most Muslims thank goodness do not follow the problematic verses, but just like the rest of us get on with trying to lead decent and good lives. Had Paul been honest he might have cited me arguing just this for instance in a prominent speech last year in New York (see 5 mins 4 seconds here).
Finally the smears. It is astonishing that someone who criticises me for evasiveness can be quite so evasive and distorting himself. Paul tries to perform a character assassination by quoting the opinions of an ex-colleague with whom I fell out and who took revenge by publicly attacking me. So what? If Paul were interested in giving a full or even decent picture he could speak to many other people, young Muslim and non-Muslim friends and colleagues who have worked with, and for, me at the CSC and elsewhere over the years. But of course he wouldn’t want to do that. Anymore than he would want to correctly characterise my critical attitude towards the English Defence League (EDL).
I have repeatedly criticised the EDL for their ‘disgusting, racist and thuggish behaviour’ (see here, for instance). But instead of noting that, Paul refers Conservative Home readers to a video erroneously claiming that I once professed support for the EDL (a claim, incidentally, that seems to have previously been made solely by members of the EDL and Islamists). Watching the video anyone can see that I did no such thing. I warned that just as people should be careful not to lump Muslims into one group, so they should be careful not to jump too eagerly into lumping white working-class people into one group. Perhaps this is too subtle a point. It certainly proved to be so for the EDL and for a number of Islamists. But for it to be a point too fine for the mind of a former Conservative MP is quite another thing.
Anyhow – enough. We’re unlikely to kiss and make up at this point, but I hope Paul and I can at least avoid detaining the readers of ConservativeHome any longer.