Lady Warsi was asked yesterday about the exact moment she made up her mind to resign from the Tory-led government over its policy (or perhaps more accurately, non-policy) on Gaza. She replied:
“There were many moments. Every time a school was bombed. Every time you saw a picture of Gaza with no lights at night. Every time a child about the age of my own children was killed. The moment when young boys playing football on the beach were suddenly there no longer.”
It was a heartfelt and powerful response from a gutsy lady who has repeatedly shown over the years that she is nobody’s poodle.
I first met Sayeeda Warsi in 2006, just a year after she had very narrowly failed to win the Dewsbury seat in the 2005 General Election. She had come down to East London to attend a Muslim event. Sitting next to her for dinner I was impressed at how outspoken she was in her comments. She came across as bright and sassy.
The last time I saw her was just a few months ago. I was on a train to Reading on my way to fix an issue with a Cisco switch there (we had lost management access to it so I couldn’t do it remotely). While on the train I heard an unmistakeable Yorkshire accent just behind me across the aisle. I peered over, and sure enough, it was Lady Warsi chatting away with a civil servant. She motioned me over and explained that she was on her way (to Bristol I think) to talk about women and faith. It was part of her brief as a Minister in the Foreign Office. We chatted for a bit. I expressed sympathy for the attacks she had suffered a couple of years ago when some Tory big guns were clearly out to boot her off her then position as the Co-Chair of the Conservative Party. I wrote about those attacks here on this blog at the time. She said that those attacks had now died down after they had managed to get her demoted. We then discussed some personal matters we had in common.
So, it was heartening to see her speak out so clearly and forcefully yesterday saying that the government’s position on Gaza was “morally indefensible.” It is absolutely inconceivable that the Prime Minister David Cameron would have responded in the mealy mouthed way he has to date about the horror in Gaza if it had been over two thousand Israelis that had been killed instead of Palestinians. The government’s response to the situation in Gaza has been transparently racist.
The good news is that Lady Warsi’s resignation has led to other politicians now coming out much more vocally to distance themselves from Cameron’s shameful response to Gaza. The Scottish First Minister, Alex Salmond, has called for an arms embargo on Israel. Closer to London, the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, has sided with Lady Warsi, and has said he agrees with her call to ban arms licenses to Israel.
Lady Warsi was arguably able to stand up to the government because she is not dependent on the government for her career. Prior to being ennobled in 2007, she was a successful solicitor.
The contrast with some of today’s Muslim organisations is clear. I mentioned here a couple of years ago how some Muslim organisations had effectively sold out their independence in exchange for grants from the government. They had full-time ‘Chief Executives’ whose salaries were being paid by the government. Some of their leading figures sent messages to their members about how excited they were about meeting the Queen. One of them even posted a twitter message just two weeks ago (now apparently deleted) asking why Hamas were firing rockets at Israel. It could have been straight out of an Israeli propaganda manual: do not focus on actions of the oppressor but ask ridiculous questions of the oppressed. Others have re-branded themselves as ‘Counter Extremist’ specialists and have begun launching unfair attacks on the MCB. How desperately sad.
They should take a leaf out of Lady Warsi’s book and go and get themselves a real career so that they do not need to debase themselves in such a shameful way.
On a more positive note, the demonstrations for Gaza over the past few weeks have been incredible. It has been so inspiring to see a younger generation of Muslims actively using social media to rally others and demand that the government adopt a more even-handed and just policy.
After Britain so disgracefully signed away the land of the Palestinians to the Jews in the infamous Balfour Declaration – it is the very least that we could do.