Weasel words on terror
Published in: Daily Mail
Shortly before yesterday's attacks, a poster campaign was launched to display London's spirit of defiance in the face of terrorism. In Churchillian tones, the poster declared that the city was 'united in the face of these attacks' and that Londoners 'will not let anyone divide them'.
The message was signed by the Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone. Immediately after the bombings two weeks previously, he struck a similarly resolute note when he condemned the wanton loss of life and declared emotionally 'Whatever you do, however many you kill, you will fail'. And at the press conference after yesterday's bombings, he appeared shoulder to shoulder with the Metropolitan Police Commissioner to praise the emergency services and call for information to bring the perpetrators to justice.
All very proper and commendably statesmanlike for London's Mayor at such a time. And he has drawn understandable praise for the way in which he has managed to articulate the spirit of the city under attack.
Yet two days ago, Mr Livingstone had made a series of remarks about the causes of this terrorism that were anything but statesmanlike. Indeed, they came close to justifying suicide bombings and even providing incitement to others to carry out further attacks.
Although he said repeatedly that he did not support suicide bombings anywhere and opposed killing and all violence, in the next breath he blamed Britain for having practised 'double standards' in its foreign policy which had helped drive young British Muslim men to murder their fellow citizens. In an extraordinary interview on BBC Radio Four's Today programme, he blamed '80 years of western intervention in predominantly Arab lands' and accused Britain of having betrayed the Arabs after World War 1 by denying them their freedom in order to obtain their oil.
By this bizarre interpretation of history, Mr Livingstone lined himself up alongside such enemies of this country as the radical sheikh Omar Bakri Mohamed and Anjem Choudary, leader of the extremist group al Muhajiroun, who had similarly blamed British foreign policy for the London attacks.
But much more incendiary was what he said about the Israel/Arab conflict in this interview and at a press conference the previous day. Rightly observing that this issue has inflamed many young Muslim men, he made a series of remarks which would have almost certainly inflamed that sense of grievance still further -- and also came close to justifying the terrorism that flows from it.
He accused Israel, for example, of having 'indiscriminately slaughtered men, women and children in the West Bank and Gaza for decades', and said that 'given that the Palestinians don't have jet fighters, they only have their bodies to use as weapons'.
Now, Israel has done many controversial things which may justifiably be criticised, and sometimes its troops undoubtedly behave badly. But it does not indiscriminately slaughter the innocent; on the contrary, it goes to great lengths to avoid doing so -- for example, by conducting dangerous house-to-house searches for terrorists from which it sustains a high rate of casualties, as opposed to routinely bombing from the air.
Above all, its military actions are only taken to defend itself against systematic attack. Yet Mr Livingstone remarkably portrayed suicide bombings as morally superior to Israel's attempt to prevent its citizens from being murdered.
Despite the Mayor's professed horror of terrorism, this effectively justifies suicide bombings carried out by Palestinians against Israelis. He excoriates Britain for 'double standards' -- and yet, while weeping over the victims of the London bombings, implies that the Jews of Israel are fair game for slaughter.
Even more lethally, Mr Livingstone's distortions about the Middle East conflict will undoubtedly have reinforced the unfounded, yet murderous, feelings of grievance about Israel in the Muslim world.
He claimed on the Today programme, for example, that one reason why Palestinians became suicide bombers was that they did not have the vote. The implication was that Israel prevented them from having the vote and was therefore an apartheid state. But the Palestinians in the disputed territories don't have the vote in Israel because those territories are not part of Israel. And in any event, they do have a vote - which they used to elect their Prime Minister, Mahmoud Abbas.
Such false assertions can only further inflame the murderous rage which drives Muslim boys into the arms of the cynical terror-puppeteers who turn them into human bombs.
Nor was this all. For Mr Livingstone also claimed it was wrong to brand a British Muslim boy a 'terrorist' if he got involved in Palestinian violence against Israel, whereas 'if a young Jewish boy in this country goes and joins the Israeli army and ends up killing many Palestinians and comes back, that is wholly legitimate'.
These comments are simply utterly unacceptable. British Jews do not serve in the Israeli army; the only 'Jewish boys' who do so are Israelis. Mr Livingstone thus implies a wholly unwarranted double loyalty among British Jews, whose patriotism is unquestionable.
Furthermore, by making the inflammatory suggestion that these 'Jewish boys' may be mistreating Palestinians, the Mayor has made Jewish boys in Britain fair game for Muslims who will no doubt be further enraged by such incendiary falsehoods, and increased the risks to a Jewish community which is already suffering a record number of anti-Jewish attacks.
In the current situation, such remarks are deeply irresponsible. They are also wildly inappropriate. Mr Livingstone is not a foreign minister. He is the Mayor of London. In that capacity, he has notched up some considerable successes. His congestion charge has reduced London's traffic; his extra buses have proved extremely popular; and he has expressed a proper concern to reduce crime and disorder.
But one cannot profess a horror of terrorism and the mass murder of innocents in London while justifying such outrages elsewhere. Opposition to terrorism must be indivisible. Yet Mr Livingstone has also used his position to welcome to London -- and even publicly embrace -- Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi, the prominent Muslim cleric who supports suicide bombings in Israel. And yet Mr Livingstone still defends him, on the grounds that the sheikh has condemned the bombings in London.
Such attitudes would be unacceptable for London's Mayor at any time. But with the city under attack from terrorism, such double standards are insupportable.
They also raise an urgent question for the Prime Minister. For Mr Livingstone is not some far-left maverick on the fringes of politics. He is the Labour Mayor of London -- brought back into Labour's fold by Tony Blair himself.
The Government is drafting new laws against incitement to terrorism and declaring the firmest of resolve against all who justify acts of terror. If the Prime Minister really means this, he should therefore ask whether Ken Livingstone can still be a member of the Labour Party.
Terrorism can only be defeated if the country displays an unambiguous solidarity against all such deliberate slaughter of the innocents, wherever it takes place, and rejects the moral inversion expressed in the weasely justifications of the terrrorists' motives. The mayor has an urgent case to answer.