Muslims and extremism

Surgery all morning and then home to find office moving out – finally! After eight years of having a Lib Dem office in my home, including the general Lib Dem phone and email address, things are now moving to my new office. For the time being, it is above the Three Compasses Pub in Hornsey – which was our HQ during the election. We will be hopefully moving across the road to a proper office within a few months after that. Hurray!

I am nervous about the changeover. It’s necessary to have staff dealing with much more to cope with the workload, but I have had such a very personal relationship with everyone and want to maintain that as far as possible.

And I get my front room back!

At 3pm I start my journey to Melcham where I am appearing on ‘Any Questions’. Three tube lines to get to Paddington – noticeably empty and we are all staring at each other to check that none of us is a terrorist. At Paddington I get on the train and study the papers – as you have no idea what will come up on the programme. It is my first appearance on this one – although even more terrifying was the appearance on Question Time the first Thursday after the election – and I lived.

Arriving at the station, I am whipped off in a car to a country hotel/restaurant/pub where the panellists and Jonathan Dimbleby have dinner. My tummy is not really up to a big meal before the event – and I can’t decide whether it would be good to have a couple of glasses of wine or bad to have a couple of glasses of wine. I decide in favour of the wine. Pleasant, if somewhat fake, repartee during meal. My co-panellists are Peter Hitchins (Mail on Sunday columnist), Lord Strathclyde (Tory Peer), Shahid Malik (new Labour MP from Dewsbury in the heart of the area where three of the 7/7 bombers come from) and me.

I think Shahid has being a real star during this period. He has said difficult things in a tinderbox situation – and deserves to be supported in what he is doing. In fact during the show Shahid said – in response to a comment about the police starting to do stop and search on the tube – that those who ‘look’ Muslim will be disproportionately stopped and that the Muslim community shouldn’t hate the police for it but should turn that hatred on those who had perpetrated the crime and brought this upon the Muslim community. Absolutely spot on – and tough stuff. Hats off!

I had been briefly watching Sky News at lunchtime and the police had just shot a suspect point black in front of tube passengers at Stockwell. Shocking stiff – and desperately hoping that the person was a terrorist rather than an innocent. Sadly as we now know – he wasn’t. That’s for another discussion. But Sky was running a poll which showed that around 48% of Muslims questioned believed that Imams or Mullahs who preached extremism and violence were not out of line with mainstream Muslim views.

I was shocked – because my own Muslim friends bear no relationship to the extremists and I spend huge amounts of time saying things like ‘the vast majority of Muslims condemn the bombings and condemn extremist views’. So this poll really chilled me and I chose on the program to push at what I consider an area that needs a bit of spotlight.

I am a white, middle-aged, middle-class woman. I don’t know the Muslim community intimately. I am exposed to views of Muslims by the media. I don’t like the idea of people hating me because they regard me as an infidel. I can live with hate – this is a democracy. But when that hatred turns into indiscriminate killing – and that killing is supported by extremist leaders – that’s something else. But it then becomes very easy to fear the whole community.

That is one of the dangers of segregation of communities. And the Muslim community is more segregated than most others. Segregation breeds ignorance of each other. Ignorance of others breeds fear of the unknown. And this is the feeding ground for extremists and a fertile territory for suspicion to grow.

Nothing, in my view, excuses terrorism or suicide bombers. The democratic process is paramount. I don’t care how many people of any culture have different views – they are welcome to argue the case and get elected. But never should a minority – even if they are the majority within one group – believe for one second that they have any right to kill to make their point or their case.

Sorry, getting very heavy – lightening up we moved onto the Tory leadership – always good for a laugh. We now have a long and protracted process ending in a beauty parade at the Tory Conference in the autumn.

I think the important point is the what – not the who. And judging from Cheadle by-election where we Lib Dems comfortably held the seat (a massively safe Tory seat the last time they won a general election) despite the Tories throwing everything at it that they could – not a whisper of a recovery. Blair appears to have left them nowhere to go – and if they go to the right – to their core vote – there aren’t enough votes there. They just don’t wash as liberal in any sense – and so hard to see them as anything but on a continuing downward slope.

The show passes very quickly – and then it is home by car to London.