Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Unite in disagreement

Apparently, “Muslim MPs will warn John Prescott today that they will not be treated as ‘patsies’ to defend unpopular foreign policies in Iraq and Lebanon.”

And quite right. If they think a policy is wrong, they’re perfectly entitled to oppose it; and if they take their positions with an eye on public opinion in their constituencies, that’s their prerogative as MPs. But there is a serious question about the grounds on which such policies as these are opposed, particularly by many Muslims and ‘Muslim leaders’.

Iraq: dishonest, illegal, unnecessary, immoral, misjudged, incompetent, destructive of civilian life, counter-productive to national security, over-deferential to Bush? Arguably. But it was not a deliberate attempt to victimise Muslims, and nor was Afghanistan. Too much of the opposition to these wars, to any number of domestic security proposals, and to Blair’s disinclination to shout “Not in my name” at Israel over the last month, takes a narrative of grievance against Islamophobic persecution by the West.

Even when the policies in question are wrong, to couch dissent in these ideological, us-versus-them terms is disastrous. Liberal democracy relies for its survival on a common sense of unity among the polity. This doesn’t mean unanimity on policy matters nor agreeing on identical moral values; it means accepting that we all form a legitimate political unit, that our disagreements are to take place within the rules of the game, and that we are all equally rightful players. We must not, as some on the right have long been prone to do, ostracise others for their ethnicity or religion, and we must not segregate ourselves into groups so defined, essentially separated from the rest of the populace and thriving on a fabricated psychology of conflict, as peddled by the Islamist identity spivs.

So please, oppose government policy when you disagree with it. But in doing so, make sure you fight for the more basic unity, the common ground on which we stand, that allows us to disagree freely and peacefully.

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