Below is part of an interview Jackie Ashley did with me for the Guardian in which I warned on the rise of Islamist ideology and the damage it would do to young British Muslims. No one listened then and I am not sure they are listening now
The Guardian, Monday 24 November 2003 09.17 GMT
There are two Denis MacShanes. There is the multilingual, debonair Ministre Britannique who pops up constantly across Europe – a front-page article for Le Monde here, a warm-up speech for the German chancellor there, and the kind of treatment in Le Figaro magazine normally reserved for local heroes, with glossy pictures of Denis posing in his chinos and button-down shirt, or jogging through the streets of Paris.
He is lauded as “un Anglais qui aime la France”, and reassures readers that the anti-French campaigns of popular British newspapers need not be taken at all seriously; we only use them to “emballer nos fish and chips”.
And then there is the MP for Rotherham, Foreign Office minister and euro-nut, who agrees that there’s a bit of the loneliness of the long-distance runner about him – particularly on the euro – as he pounds round Hyde Park at 6 o’clock most mornings.
This second Denis MacShane, a former journalist, has a liking for the vibrant word or phrase which often lands him in hot water. His latest pronouncement was over British Muslim loyalties, when he said the community had to choose between Britain and extremist conceptions of Islam.
We meet on the morning of the suicide bombings in Istanbul. MacShane is truly shocked by the murder of so many, among them a British diplomat. “The one thing being a Foreign Office minister does is to reveal how thinly stretched British diplomacy is,” he says, “and how very dedicated men and women serve their country, often in lonely and exposed parts of the world – and now, one sees, sacrifice their lives.”
It is later that day that he releases the text of a speech he is making in his constituency, only to drop a phrase about British Muslims having to make a choice between the British way or the values of terrorism, after an angry eruption from Muslim organisations.
When I ask him about it later he does not backtrack: “It is one thing to condemn al-Qaida attacks, but the real challenge is to change mentality so that there is no support for any violence of any sort – including in the Middle East or Kashmir – in order to obtain a political end.
“A young South Yorkshire Yemeni, who was 22, has just killed himself in a suicide terrorist attack, and we all have to ask ourselves what kind of hate messages against democratic values so scrambled his head that he followed the terrorist road, instead of a bright future in Britain.”
Doesn’t it all smack a bit of Norman Tebbit and his famous “cricket test” for ethnic minorities (who do you cheer for, England or Pakistan?).
“I certainly don’t want to be associated with Tebbit,” he says, but he’s not taking any flak from certain Muslim groups either: “I am comforted by the fact that there were elected Muslim councillors at my constituency meeting, and they supported me, which is more important than the views of self-appointed spokesmen in London.”
Not much fence-mending there.