Cameron and Blair: the real counter-terrorism coalition

Cameron is completing the policy Blair had begun to implement.

According to Mark Townsend and Hannah Olivennes writing in the Observer, David Cameron is set to emerge this week as the victor in a long and "bitter cabinet battle" with Nick Clegg by unveiling a "hardline approach to tackling Islamist extremism". Home Office sources say that Cameron has "quashed Nick Clegg's argument for a more tolerant attitude to Muslim groups" by confirming the analysis he made in his Munich speech in February.

Writing in the Guardian, Allegra Stratton also predicts that "the government will make good Cameron's pledge to ban foreign hate preachers and will bring in a new link between extremism and violent extremism". Then, her Westminster sources suggest, there will be proper scrutiny of groups "to make sure they are effective, not extremist, and reflect mainstream British values".

Clegg's calculation seems to be that he will lose the argument but at least win credit amongst his party for articulating an alternative analysis and standing up to Cameron. Understandably and regrettably, Clegg has been overly cautious, merely objecting to Cameron's posturing against multiculturalism while declining a perfect opportunity to defend specific Muslim organisations and individuals that have been unfairly labeled extremist by Cameron.

To illustrate, if the Observer is right that the Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board has had its annual public funding withdrawn because it "has links to the hard-line Muslim Association of Britain" then Clegg has missed a golden opportunity to challenge a fundamentally flawed policy. In fact the MAB has an outstanding track record of tackling violent extremism in the UK as I describe in my new book .

It is also on this point that Clegg might qualify the argument Stratton ascribes to Charles Farr, head of OSCT at the Home Office "that to get to the really nasty guys, you have to engage with the not-so-nasty guys". In certain cases that may indeed be the case but what is needed right now are more brave politicians on the front bench like Jeremy Corbyn on the back benches who are prepared to stand up for their Muslim partners against unfounded allegations of extremism.

In labeling many mainstream Muslim organisations as "extremist", Cameron reveals his affinity with Tony Blair, not Clegg. Cameron has always admired Blair's populist instinct throughout the war on terror - even though he tries to distance himself from its worst excesses now. Blair's genuine special relationship with George Bush, a Republican, and Cameron's superficial special relationship with Barack Obama, a Democrat, are both premised largely on the war on terror and an analysis that conflates many of their own Muslim citizens who oppose US / UK foreign policy in the Muslim world with a handful of violent and non violent extremists and terrorists.

While waiting a long time for Barack Obama to shake hands with hundreds of admiring parliamentarians in Westminster Hall David Cameron turned away from Clegg and stood listening attentively to Tony Blair. Blair was familiarly animated and passionate and Cameron appeared genuinely interested in what he had to say. While it was purely idle speculation on my part it did strike me that Blair may have been talking about violent extremism as this is perhaps the one topic where the two prime ministers' views are fundamentally inseparable.

Indeed, although Cameron was at pains in his Munich speech in February to create the impression that he was breaking with the past he was in fact completing the policy Blair had begun to implement himself. According to Townsend and Olivennes, Home Office sources say that "Cameron has quashed Nick Clegg's argument for a more tolerant attitude to Muslim groups by insisting on a strategy centred upon the notion that violent extremism is incubated within the ideology of non-violent extremism".

This is a policy first prescribed by Michael Gove and his friends at Policy Exchange and set now to become Home Office policy. It is also an extension of the policy that the arch Blairites, Ruth Kelly and Hazel Blears first began to implement when they enjoyed brief control at the Department for Communities and Local Government.

In fact, the popular notion that there is a conveyor belt from non-violent ideology to violent extremism or terrorism has been utterly discredited by academics and counter-terrorist practitioners. It always was a triumph of New Labour spin over reality. It seems extraordinary that Cameron will be allowed to consolidate such a misguided policy this week without at least one cabinet voice being raised in defence of the many Muslim organisations and individuals that will be falsely labeled extremist by it.

In 2008 Clegg tackled Policy Exchange head on when he defended the annual London Muslim event Global Peace and Unity against unfair allegations and pejorative back door briefings. Clegg is less inclined to show such bravery now as deputy prime minister. Not only is he up against Tory hawks but he also has to contend with a pro-active Blairite rump that continues to hold sway on this topic in the Labour Party. In effect, Clegg is the outsider up against an undeclared Cameron-Blair /Tory-Labour counter-terrorism coalition.

Robert Lambert is the co-director of the European Muslim Research Centre at the University of Exeter.

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It's easy to see where Berlin is being rebuilt – just hit the streets

My week, from walking the streets of Berlin to class snobbery and the right kind of gentrification.

Brick by brick, block by block, the people are rebuilding the city once called Faust’s Metropolis. To see it clearly, put your boots on. One of the most bracing walks starts by the Gethsemane Church, which served as a haven for dissenters in the last days of the GDR and takes you down ­towards the Hackescher Markt.

Here, in what is still the eastern half of a divided city that wears its division more lightly, is a Berlin experience both old and new. In three decades of frequent visits, it has been fascinating to note how much this part of town has changed. Even a decade ago these streets were rundown. With crumbling buildings showing bulletholes, it wasn’t hard to imagine what the place looked like in 1945. Now there are lilacs, blues, and yellows. Cafés, bars and restaurants abound, serving the young professionals attracted to the city by cheap rents and a renewed sense of community.

 

Breaking the fourth wall

Looking north along Schliemannstraße, you’ll find a delightful vista of well-tended balconies. It’s a pleasant place to live, notwithstanding the gaggle of grotesques who gather round the corner in the square. On Kastanienallee, which forms the second leg of the walk, an old city feels young. It’s a kind of gentrification but the right kind. There’s more to eat, to drink, to buy, for all.

Berlin, where Bertolt Brecht staged his unwatchable plays, was supposed to have been transformed by a proletarian revolution. Instead, it has been restored to health by a very middle-class one. Germany has always had a well-educated middle class, and the nation’s restoration would have impossible without such people. The irony is delicious – not that irony buttered many parsnips for “dirty Bertie”.

 

The new snobbery

The British Museum’s survey of German history “Memories of a Nation” is being presented at the Martin-Gropius-Bau as “The British View”. Germans, natürlich, are curious to see how we observe them. But how do they see us?

A German friend recently in England  said that the images that struck him most forcibly were the tins of food and cheap booze people piled up in supermarkets, and the number of teenage girls pushing prams. Perhaps Neil MacGregor, the former director of the British Museum who will shortly take up a similar role here at the new Humboldt Forum, may turn his attention to a “German View” of the United Kingdom.

There’s no shortage of material. In Schlawinchen, a bar that typifies Kreuzberg’s hobohemia, a college-educated English girl was trying to explain northern England to an American she had just met. Speaking in an ugly modern Mancunian voice that can only be acquired through years of practice (sugar pronounced as “sug-oar”), she refer­red to Durham and York as “middle class, you know, posh”, because those cities had magnificent cathedrals.

When it comes to inverted snobbery, no nation can match us. To be middle class in Germany is an indication of civic value. In modern England, it can mark you as a leper.

 

Culture vultures

The Humboldt Forum, taking shape by the banks of the Spree, reconsecrates the former site of the GDR’s Palace of the Republic. When it opens in 2018 it will be a “living exhibition”, dedicated to all the cultures of the world. Alexander von Humboldt, the naturalist and explorer, was the brother of Wilhelm, the diplomat and philosopher, whose name lives on in the nearby university.

In Potsdamerplatz there are plans to build a modern art museum, crammed in between the Neue Nationalgalerie and the Philharmonie, home to the Berlin Philharmonic. Meanwhile, the overhaul of the Deutsche Staatsoper, where Daniel Barenboim is music director for life, is likely to be completed, fingers crossed, next autumn.

Culture everywhere! Or perhaps that should be Kultur, which has a slightly different meaning in Germany. They take these things more seriously, and there is no hint of bogus populism. In London, plans for a new concert hall have been shelved. Sir Peter Hall’s words remain true: “England is a philistine country that loves the arts.”

 

European neighbours

When Germans speak of freedom, wrote A J P Taylor, a historian who seems to have fallen from favour, they mean the freedom to be German. No longer. When modern Germans speak of freedom, they observe it through the filter of the European Union.

But nation states are shaped by different forces. “We are educated to be obedient,” a Berlin friend who spent a year at an English school once told me. “You are educated to be independent.” To turn around Taylor’s dictum: when the English speak of freedom,
they mean the freedom to be English.

No matter what you may have heard, the Germans have always admired our independence of spirit. We shall, however, always see “Europe” in different ways. Europe, good: we can all agree on that. The European Union, not so good. It doesn’t mean we have to fall out, and the Germans are good friends to have.

 

Hook, line and sinker

There are fine walks to be had in the west, too. In Charlottenburg, the Kensington of Berlin, the mood is gentler, yet you can still feel the city humming. Here, there are some classic places to eat and drink – the Literaturhauscafé for breakfast and, for dinner, Marjellchen, a treasure trove of east Prussian forest delights. Anything that can be shot and put in a pot!

For a real Berlin experience, though, head at nightfall for Zwiebelfisch, the great tavern on Savignyplatz, and watch the trains glide by on the other side of Kantstraße. Hartmut Volmerhaus, a most amusing host, has been the guvnor here for more than 30 years and there are no signs that his race is run. The “Fisch” at twilight: there’s nowhere better to feel the pulse of this remarkable city. 

This article first appeared in the 01 December 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Age of outrage