our conversation throughout the night was dominated by Amjad Bashir and our growing concerns about him, especially the rumours beginning to permeate about a gerrymandered selection in Keighley. Dan Hannan, the MEP who took Bashir as a defector into the Tory party, had no idea that a number of serious allegations against him had been coming to a head for some time. Bashir knew we’d had enough of him, and decided to jump. And I was relieved that he went, too. He was the basis of numerous furious rows in MEP meetings. His political agenda appeared to be different from ours, and now he can lobby for an expansion of EU foreign policy including Turkey joining the EU, and for Palestine to be recognised as a state, from within the Tory party. Perhaps he’ll also get a more sympathetic hearing for his views on Pakistani blasphemy laws. I joked on Friday to Paul Nuttall that Bashir knew the end of the road had come, and that the other parties were welcome to him. I never for a second thought that the Tories would accept him. Caveat emptor.
I am sure there is alot waiting to spill out about this man. I worry when someone shifts too often and Bashir is clearly a bit shifty. However, some of the issues he has raised are valuable. We must never dismiss what someone says because he is himself unreliable. Bashir has some reasonable concerns about Palestine and maybe he has something to say about Pakistan: I do not know what his views on the blasphemy laws might be. Mine, obviously, tend towards the liberal, though of course I wince at the thought that one might ever cause another offence by taking the name of God in vain or mis-representing the Prophet. I certainly do not think such activity merits the death sentence or is an excuse to bomb people, That is absurd- God gave us intelligence to use it to convince our friends and our enemies to change their minds and change their behaviour. And the told we have at our disposal: come on- they are better than bombs: wit, academic scrutiny, questioning, analysis, humour, memory. Wow! What an arsenal!
There is an issue, however, that lies behind this paragraph and that needs attention. I worry that people still misunderstand the nature of Islam and try to impose a 19th Century western critical apparatus on the Koran- those verses we can and cannot “accept”. This is in fact what marks out the extraordinary letter sent by Eric Pickles in the wake of the Paris attacks to Imams throughout the UK and I wrote rather pointlessly to the Times about this. But let me repeat-
Two points need criticism in Pickles’ letter: What is missing from the letter is a reassurance that, while free speech is protected and promoted in the UK, it also comes at a price. Free speech is only truly possible when it is accompanied by mature responsibility and kindness (انظر أيضاً or חסד /XSD in Hebrew). Without these qualities, free speech can easily be abusive and descend into a form of bullying. Secondly, and maybe more worryingly, it should not be necessary for anyone who lives here by right to define or defend their “Britishness”. I am not even sure what Pickles even means by “promote a positive image of British Islam”. Not since the dark days before the Roman Catholic Relief Act of 1829 did a group of British subjects have to prove they were not “5th Columnists”. And years later, when Pugin designed and decorated the Palace of Westminster, that was never quite enough, was it! Yet today, the Queen reads her speech from the throne he created.
(I thought about this a bit and realised a few things: the first is that, left to its own devices, the Catholic Church in England has embraced many of the features assumed to be distinctive of the Anglican communion, as well as a particularly english form of triumphalism. Check here for a video of Benedict’s entrance to Westminster Cathedral. It is a stunning piece of music by James MacMillan, quintessentially British, though admittedly with a touch of Hammer Horror about it all.
and on the subject, check out this setting of Lux Aurumque: simply stunning and, I would argue, absolutely British! Do remember that Latin was the sacred language of the West and that Queen Elizabeth I was an expert , holding conversations and reading in Latin! In other words, here is a manifestation of a faith that shows “a positive image of British Catholicism”, but it was an organic development, not a packaged promotion. Pugin’s churches, likewise, promote “a positive image”, though the language that he used to promote this in “contrasts” was written when he was still an Anglican. This is about faith, not about a supermarket selection, and Pickles is absolutely wrong in the way he writes and what he expects. It is insulting, demeaning and futile. It serves only to breed resentment. By definition an British imam in a British Mosque is already “promoting a positive image of British islam”. In a way, he has to do nothing more.)
Here is the man who designed the Houses of Parliament. His son fought an uphill battle to get his father recognised as the designer, but until the 20th Century it was barely acknowledged by the establishment. A great shame.
Now, of course, there are 5th Columnists hiding in the Muslim community, but they are hiding in plain sight- and it should not be necessary for all Muslims to “prove” themselves because of the activities of a minority. Instead, the majority should be given support, not forced on to the defensive to say how they are promoting a “positive image”. Should we bother to read what are promoted by liberals as worrying texts of the Koran in context and within the context of helpful hadiths and commentaries, then we would never have a problem with Islam at all.
Today, it seems to me that Islam is going through a transition and there are three distinct forms of “interpretation”- the Wahabi (which we might see as a puritanical sect but which is also influenced by its cultural context – and of course is very wealthy), the Iranian model (which goes well beyond Shia and fuses radical politics with a fairly aggressive and expansionist ideology) and a version of Islam which has already reconciled itself to co-existence with the West and which the West long-ago accepted. We owe our Renaissance and advances in Astronomy and Medicine indeed to the links we already had 1000 years ago with Islam! There are various sub-catagories of course; the least “fundamentalist” of these is the Iranian version which interprets so much, it manages to reconcile the impossible- elevating the idea of “sahid”/martyrdom to such a level that it obliterates the absolute command in the Koran against suicide and against injuring women, children and the sick; that ignores appeals for peace. Islam is the only world religion that has a specific prohibition in the primary scripture against suicide.
What we need to do today is to encourage the third way- and to accommodate any group that fosters what Blair called “moderate” Islam. The Wahabi model and the Iranian model are, however, influencial and so appeal to a community that feels pressured. So, in this context, any links that can be fostered with Turkey are to be encouraged. Turkey is an example of a State that espouses the “third way”, and while some of its discussions seem arcane (the headscarf thing, for instance, which is actually, in part, a political statement- you can tell which party someone belongs to by the way she wears her scarf), it is on the right track and has dealt well with business. Indeed, it only took Turkey 4 years to build an excellent High speed rail link from Istanbul to Konya, further I note than the link proposed between London and Birmingham! Links with Turkey are within the UKIP remit which is to set up our own bilateral agreements rather than to have these agreements and associations imposed by the EU. Would we want Turkey in a wider trade association of European states- certainly, but would we want Turkey to be part of the EU as it currently stands? I think even Turkey has reservations about that one! Should it be treated by Brussels in the way it is currently treated? Absolutely not! But then Brussels treats too many nations with utter contempt – and the Greek debacle is the natural result (more on that later). To push Turkey aside is a silly and short-sighted vision, and in the end, the more it makes Turkey wait, the weaker the European project (in whatever form it finally emerges) will become. Turkey has a natural home within the European community- and we desperately need Turkey’s help if we are to deal with Islamic terrorism.
As for the Keighley thing- it is quite astonishing the way little people run around causing chaos when they are given a bit of power. Even without looking at the specific allegations, the range of Bashir’s affections from Galloway to UKIP is astonishing. Our job in politics is to create harmony and to get things done. Amjad Bashir has misunderstood his job and it augurs ill as Nigel Farage says that the Tories now want him.”Buyer beware” indeed!
We must find a more positive voice to speak about Islam and to promote those forms of Islam, in fact the dominant forms, that have co-existed with us already for so long and that today are threatened especially by the Iranian interpretation of Islam. This means that we must have a better relationship with Palestine and Pakistan as well as with Turkey. Only when we speak in one voice with Islam can we ever hope to confront the dangers of the Iranian experiment and the surge towards terrorism.
Here is a report by Will Kilner on the original allegations made in Yorkshire:
ALLEGATIONS of interference in UKIP candidate selection in Keighley are at the centre of a continuing row between Bradford businessman Amjad Bashir and his former party. An investigation is currently underway into the selection of UKIP’s local election candidates in the three Keighley wards at a hustings event held last week. E-mails outline how there were a dozen new membership applications at the beginning of the month, and there were question marks over a dozen new faces who appeared at the event claiming to be members. This saw complaints about “infiltration” by people not committed to UKIP and led to an internal party investigation over the selection process. Confirmation as to who will represent UKIP in the Keighley Central, Keighley East and Keighley West seats at May’s Bradford Council elections is expected in the next week. It comes as Yorkshire and Humber MEP Mr Bashir was suspended by UKIP over allegations of a “grave nature” shortly before announcing his defection to the Conservatives on Saturday. UKIP leader Nigel Farage said: “The final straw on Friday, was the hustings meeting that took place in West Yorkshire where gerrymandering appears to have taken place.” When Mr Bashir’s denials were put to him Mr Farage added: “He can deny that, but I tell you what he can’t deny and that’s his continuing association with political extremists from Pakistan despite us saying please, please, keep away. “Whichever way we look at this, he had reached the end of the road with us, he knew that.” Mr Farage expressed his surprise that the Conservative Party had accepted him, but Chancellor George Osborne insisted he was “not aware” of any reason why the Tories should have turned Mr Bashir away. Mr Bashir has dismissed his former party’s move as a “desperate attempt” to smear him to distract from the news of his decision to join the Conservatives and said there was “not a shred of truth” to the claims. Meanwhile Respect MP George Galloway has also claimed that Mr Bashir once joined his party, but was de-selected as a candidate for Bradford Moor prior to the council elections in May 2012 after concerns were raised about his fitness to stand. The Bradford West MP would not specify what the issues were, “but they were sufficiently grave to make us realise that he was not a fit and proper person to represent Respect. Clearly both UKIP and the Tories have lower standards,” he said. Mr Galloway has also tabled a parliamentary motion calling on the Government and Conservatives “to declare to the voters of Yorkshire and the Humber that Amjad Bashir’s relentless party switching and misrepresentation of his past makes him unfit to represent them, whatever party’s colours he temporarily wears”.