Denis MacShane is a lowly minister at the Foreign Office, allowed only as much slack on the leash as Jack Straw pleases on European matters. He owns a clutch of Muslim councillors in his Rotherham constituency. Now he has caused a stir in the wake of the bombings in Istanbul.
MacShane requires British Muslim leaders to use "clearer, stronger language" against terrorism and to urge on their followers "the British way of life". The boss man seems to be saying that "we condemn terror in all its forms" isn't enough. We need something more like "we comprehensively, unreservedly and passionately condemn terrorism in the name of the most merciful and beneficent bwana Denis MacShane". Perhaps not even that will do. MacShane may require a revision of the Koran to have his name and his thoughts on Islam inserted therein.
I have known MacShane for years. He once - as head of the National Union of Journalists - signed a petition demanding my release from Pentonville Prison. A friend nicknamed him "Denis the Menace".
Why did the Menace visit these shallow criticisms upon British Muslims, knowing that at every turn, even before 9/11, they have condemned terrorism in unambiguous language? He was due to deliver a speech at a constituency meeting, perhaps attended by two women, three Muslims and a bull-mastiff puppy. But, in advance, he circulated the text to the entire British press. He was later ordered to amend his speech (and never actually delivered it in that form) but that is beside the point.
The point is that MacShane, as a Foreign Office minister, thought he would get at least a sight of the US president during his visit, and an exchange with Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell. Not even a glimpse did he get. He was airbrushed out of history. If he went to dinner at Buck House, he was not on the Guardian's exhaustive guest list, and must have been concealed beneath the stairs. Meanwhile, Dr Zaki Badawi, the unofficial head of Muslims in the UK, sat next to Cherie Blair. Again, when the bombs went off in Istanbul, Straw travelled there and was most prominent. The Menace did not even get a photo op.
Is it unkind to suggest the Menace was seeking the limelight? Alas, I write from Birmingham, where I am celebrating Eid, the Muslim festival. Not a single Muslim here has ever heard of MacShane. All questions about him are met with blank stares.