A government's revenge

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It's beginning to look as if the government is out for revenge on the Muslim community for its resurgent mobilisation over Gaza.

That is surely the explanation for the pressure now being put on the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) to force one of its leading officers, Dr Daud Abdullah, to resign. Dr Abdullah is the deputy general secretary of the MCB and has played a staunch and active role in opposing the "war on terror" and the attacks on the Palestinians. He is a regular speaker on demonstrations and at meetings.

He was attacked in the Observer newspaper last month for having signed a statement issued from a conference in Istanbul, which, according to the article, advocated "attacks on the Royal Navy if it tries to stop arms for Hamas being smuggled into Gaza".

The MCB has now received correspondence from a government minister demanding his resignation and threatening a breach with the organisation if this does not happen. Hazel Blears is the latest in a long line of New Labour figures to have purported to tell the Muslim community what to do.

Her letter, written on 13 March, says, "I welcome your unequivocal statement on the rejection and condemnation of terrorist violence...however I am disappointed that the MCB has not yet taken decisive action regarding the position of Dr Daud Abdullah." She goes on: "I would expect the MCB to ask the individual concerned to consider his position and resign his post."

In a tone which would not be out of place coming from a colonial administrator, she demands, "I would ask that you inform me of your decision by Monday 23 March at the latest." She adds that while the matter is unresolved "it is only appropriate for us to suspend our engagement with the MCB pending its outcome".

Many might see it as a piece of good fortune that the MCB is being denied the dubious pleasure of having to meet and be lectured to by Blears. They might also take the view that the MCB would be better off distancing itself from a government whose foreign policy is deeply unpopular throughout the population, but especially among Muslims.

However, this should be seen as the serious attack that it is. The MCB is by any definition a mainstream Muslim organisation, and has always been seen as a means of liaison between the Labour government and Muslims. Now Blears is saying that she has the right to interfere in the composition of this body and that the government will freeze relations with it unless her interference produces the required results.

The problem for the government is that most Muslims simply do not agree with it on many issues, and Gaza was for many the last straw, as the Brown government sat back and watched the bombing and is now enthusiastically volunteering to help enforce Israel's blockade. A better question from Blears might be, what is the Royal Navy doing patrolling the coastline of Gaza?

While the British government uses its navy to help Israel, it is at the same time playing the condemnation game with the MCB and other Muslims: you have to condemn terrorism or you are as bad as the terrorists. Many people quite rightly refuse to condemn a "terrorism" which they see as legitimate resistance, created by the policies of Israel and the West in the first place.

The problem with agreeing to the condemnation game is that the bar gets higher and higher: Muslim organisations find themselves constantly on the defensive, victims of double standards. After all, Labour MPs are not asked to condemn the government's involvement in extraordinary rendition and torture. Americans in Britain were not asked to condemn George W Bush.

It is a part of scapegoating and criminalising a large political group who have refused to stand by when the wars and occupations of recent years have taken place. For their pains they have been attacked by government ministers, pilloried in the press and harassed by the police. Three of the vehicles on the Viva Palestina convoy which took aid to Gaza in February were stopped in the north of England and those in them arrested under terror laws the day before the convoy left. All were released without charge, but the terror smears became the big story about the convoy.

There is a way to deal with these attacks: tell Blears to back off from deciding who Muslims should have to represent them and recognise that her actions stem from a fear of the mass movement of solidarity around Gaza. The shameful role of the British government in helping Israel maintain its siege should be the real news - but that's another story.