The appointment by the Conservative party of Sayeeda Warsi as shadow minister for Community Cohesion sends the wrong signal at a time when Britain is fighting a global war against Islamic terrorism and extremism, both domestically and internationally. Mrs. Warsi has been a fierce critic of British antiterror policy, stating that antiterrorism legislation had turned Britain into a “police state.”
According to the London Times, in a 2006 article for the Asian newspaper Awaaz, written while serving as vice chairman of the Conservative party, Warsi described the government’s antiterror proposals as “enough to tip any normal young man into the realms of a radicalized fanatic.” She also wrote that “if terrorism is the use of violence against civilians, then where does that leave us in Iraq?”
In a BBC-reported press conference outside Downing Street in 2005 just days after the 7/7 bombings, Warsi urged the British government to engage with Islamic extremist groups:
We must engage with, not agreeing with, the radical groups who we have said in the past are complete nutters. We need to bring these groups into the fold of the democratic process. As long as we exclude them and don’t hear them out, we will allow them to continue their hate. It may not achieve results immediately, but it may stop the immediate violence.
Warsi also dismissed the idea that pressure should be placed upon British Muslims to root out extremists within their midst, commenting that “when you say this is something that the Muslim community needs to weed out, or deal with, that is a very dangerous step to take.” She also urged a public debate over the possible linkage between issues such as the American Guantanamo Bay detention facility and the Iraq war, and the 7/7 bombings: “Although the government may not accept that these were the causes for 7 July, to go into denial mode is not the way forward.”
Sayeeda Warsi has been highly critical of the war in Iraq, and called upon former Prime Minister Tony Blair to apologize for the war, an extraordinary statement at a time when thousands of British soldiers are putting their lives on the line every day. She has also made a series of other controversial foreign-policy statements in recent years, on issues ranging from Hamas to Kashmir. In a January 2006 BBC Any Questions? debate, Warsi welcomed the election of Iranian-backed terrorist organization Hamas, a brutal movement officially proscribed as a terrorist group by the British government. Hamas murdered 377 Israelis in 425 terrorist attacks between September 2000 and March 2004, including 52 suicide attacks. Despite Hamas’s track record, as part of the BBC panel Warsi told her audience:
I think what’s happened in the Middle East with the election of Hamas is actually an opportunity and I think that’s the way we’ve got to see it. When groups that practice violence are suddenly propelled into power through a democratic process they get responsibility and responsibility can be a tremendously taming factor. And I think that Hamas, when it realizes that it wants a safe and stable and prosperous Palestine for its people, will realize that the way to deal with that is through dialogue and democracy and not through violence… I actually think that Hamas has been given a mandate and I think it will now hopefully adopt a responsible position because that is the only way.
Warsi has also entered the fray over the highly sensitive issue of Kashmir and, according to the Press Association, suggested in a July 2005 BBC One Politics Show interview that new antiterror laws should not prevent support among Britons for “freedom fighters” in Kashmir. Comparing Islamic rebels in the disputed province with Nelson Mandela and the ANC, Warsi observed that:
We have a community in Britain, a Pakistani and Kashmiri community, who holds a very, very strong view about Kashmir and the scope of freedom-fighting in Kashmir. It would concern me if… the definition of terrorism was to cover maybe (the) legitimate freedom-fight in Kashmir.
It should be noted that Britain currently outlaws no less than six Kashmiri terrorist organizations: Harakat Ul-Jihad-Ul Islami, Harakat-Ul-Mujahideen/Alami and Jundallah, Harakat Mujahideen, Jaish e Mohammed, Khuddam Ul-Islam and splinter group Jamaat Ul-Furquan, and Lashkar e Tayyaba. It is hard to see how such extreme views will actually enhance “community cohesion” in Britain’s inner cities, and it is difficult to think of a more explosive issue than Kashmir in fomenting tensions between British citizens of Pakistani and Indian origin.
As Britain faces a mounting terrorist threat in the coming months from al-Qaeda-linked Islamic terrorist groups, it is imperative that leaders across the political spectrum unequivocally condemn all forms of terrorism, whether it be in London, Kashmir or the Palestinian territories. At the same time they should refuse to engage with or appease radical groups that have sympathies for terrorist groups and the use of violence. If Britain is to win the war against Islamic terrorism, there must be a united front in defeating the greatest threat to national security since the Second World War. Unfortunately, Sayeeda Warsi’s appointment does little to advance that cause.
— Nile Gardiner is the director of the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom and Sally McNamara is senior policy analyst in European affairs, at the Heritage Foundation.