common ground

Britain’s Afghans/Securing Europe

Program 0203 January 15, 2002

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(This text has been professionally transcribed, however, for timely distribution, it has not been edited or proofread against the tape.)

LORD AHMED: I’ve had letters, nasty letters from people who said that “Rather than seeing you in the House of Lords we would like to see you in Tora Bora.”

KRISTIN MCHUGH: This week on Common Ground, controversy over Great Britain’s response to September 11. And the changing politics of European security.

ESTHER BRIMER: There are important members of the NATO alliance which are not members of the European Union. The most sensitive of these, of course, is Turkey.

KEITH PORTER: Common Ground is a program on world affairs and the people who shape events. It’s produced by the Stanley Foundation. I’m Keith Porter.

MCHUGH: And I’m Kristin McHugh. The reaction to the September 11 attacks is more diverse beyond the shores of the United States. Great Britain, for example, is a strong supporter of the US war on terrorism. But it hasn’t been all smooth sailing for Prime Minister Tony Blair.

PORTER: The British Parliament has thrown out a clause in a proposed antiterrorism bill which would have made incitement to religious hatred a crime. Britain’s Muslims called for the clause since, as Common Ground’s Max Easterman reports, some UK citizens have verbally and physically attacked Muslims in that country.

[sounds of a busy café]

MAX EASTERMAN: I’m sitting in a café in East London. With me is Shagufta Yaqub, who’s in her early twenties. Like many third-generation Muslim women here in Britain, Shagufta is wearing traditional dress, including the hijab, the head scarf. It’s a symbol of pride in being a Muslim. But Shagufta, I gather it’s also something that’s brought you less than welcome attention in the past few weeks.

SHAGUFTA YAQUB: There’s been some very negative incidents. I mean I was walking down the High Street in Birmingham yesterday. I was with two other women and we were all wearing head scarves, obviously visibly Muslim. And a man just said to us, “Islam,” in a very bitter way. And that wouldn’t have happened before. Suddenly Muslims have come to public consciousness in a way that we never had before.

HALEH AFSHAH: We have all been categorized as “the enemy,” and categorized as terrorists. And we have all found a need to say that we are not terrorists.

EASTERMAN: Haleh Afshah is Professor of Middle East Politics at York University in northern England. She’s an Iranian Muslim who’s lived in Britain for 25 years. And she recently experienced a different but also very typical kind of attack.

HALEH AFSHAH: There was a meeting in which I was speaking about how many of us Muslims were not guilty. I had a young American man coming up to me and showing me a picture of his brother who had died in the Towers, and tell me that my statement that the Muslims were not guilty had been disrespectful to his brother. And that actually, really for me, epitomizes the way that many of us have been “otherized” as the guilty parties who deserve to be killed because we really are the enemy.

EASTERMAN: The frequency of incidents like these since September the 11th has convinced many Muslims and the Home Secretary—that’s the Secretary for the Interior—that Britain needed to outlaw attacks on religion in the same way as attacks on ethnic origin. But a majority in the House of Lords, the upper House of Parliament, threw out that clause from a new antiterrorism bill. They said it would infringe freedom of speech. That’s an argument that doesn’t impress Britain’s first Muslim peer, Lord Achmed.

LORD AHMED: Since 11th of September attacks on Muslim communities have gone up at least 75 percent. For instance, I’ve had letters, nasty letters from people who said that “Rather than seeing you in the House of Lords we would like to see you in Tora Bora.” And in Northern Ireland, we have religious discrimination laws and everybody’s protected. On mainland Britain Jewish and Sikh communities are protected under law. But the Muslims are not. And what we are really saying is that we don’t want to become second class citizens; we want equality.

EASTERMAN: Britain’s Home Secretary, David Blunkett, has disappointed many Muslims. Although he’s in favor of banning incitement to religious hatred, he’s also said that ethnic minorities should assimilate more and give up practices like forced marriages which are not British. Many Muslims now feel that this ambivalence is helping to stoke up anti-Muslim sentiment. And according to Professor Haleh Afshah, the far-right British National Party, the BNP, has capitalized on Mr. Blunket’s remarks.

HALEH AFSHAH: The British National Party is absolutely feeding on that. It’s a very, very obvious policy change, arguing that of all the “baddies,” the Muslims, are the worst.

EASTERMAN: So they’re worse than the Jews now?

HALEH AFSHAH: They’re worse than everybody.

[sound of a phone dialing, followed by the sound of a modem connection, and then a keyboard clicking]

EASTERMAN: If you visit the BNP Web site—here it is now—you’ll see their campaign against Islam—a minaret with a flashing red “No Entry” symbol on it. And a link here takes you over to a score of different articles: “What if Islam Ruled Britain?”, “No to Islam,” “Islam: The Bloody Track Record.” Professor Haleh Afshah says it’s now OK to attack Islam—it’s open season.

HALEH AFSHAH: It has become acceptable to be anti-Moslem. And it has become a sign of nationalism and almost heroic. People who might have at one time hesitated about their feelings or about admitting to Islamaphobia, now almost wear it as a badge of honor.

[people talking at a café]

EASTERMAN: All this has happened at a time when many young Muslims like Shagufta Yaqub have been rediscovering their sense of identity through Islam, and also when they and many others have been showing less and less trust in the political system which they say doesn’t include them on its agenda. Miss Yaqub, who’s the Editor of Q News, the Muslim monthly magazine, recently commissioned an opinion poll on her readers’ attitudes to the war on terrorism. The results must be worrying both for the U.K. and the US. Two-thirds of them thought the war on terrorism was part of a pre-September 11 agenda—it would have happened anyway. Over 90 percent trusted neither President Bush nor Prime Minister Blair, and five times as many people trusted Osama bin Laden than trusted Blair. Shagufta Yaqub says the attitudes of the majority white community have driven a wedge between Muslims and mainstream politics.

SHAGUFTA YAQUB: People do associate what happens in the Middle East with Muslims in Britain and Muslims everywhere. And I think it’s not the same when you’re talking about the Irish community—if there’s an international terrorist who’s Israeli or Irish or of any other nationality, somehow it’s not associated with that community all over the world. When it comes to Muslims, we’re seen as some kind of monolithic group, a very extreme one, and that even though some Muslims appear to be very moderate and living in the West, that somehow deep down they have some kind of sympathy for the people who perpetrated these crimes on September the 11th. And it’s very tragic.

[sound of street traffic]

EASTERMAN: This is Bradford, England’s old wool capital, once the wool capital of the world. It’s a sprawling city of a quarter of a million people in West Yorkshire, with some fine old Victorian buildings like the town hall here on my left.

[sound of ringing bells, like church bells]

EASTERMAN: And a long tradition of civic pride. It’s now more famous for its photography museum than for woolen mills. Wool’s been in decline for many years. But while it was king it sucked in waves of immigrants. The last of these were the Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, and Indians who came in the 1950s and 60s. In percentage terms, Bradford has the highest urban population from the Indian subcontinent---20 percent. And that’s set to rise to over 25 percent in the next 10 years. The vast majority of them are Muslims and there are now 61 mosques and madrassahs in the city.

[the sound of Moslem prayers]

EASTERMAN: I’ve come east, from the city center to the Amadiyya Mosque on the Leeds Road. It’s a cold, rainy evening but there are well over a hundred men here at prayers.

[the sound of Moslem prayers]

EASTERMAN: The Imam is reminding the worshippers here that there are two kinds of Muslims—those who are well guided by the Koran and those are misguided by it. I’m wondering if this coded warning about taking what Osama bin Laden’s been saying about jihad and the evil enemy in America too literally.

IMAM NASEEM BAJWA: In these days, the way most of the Muslims are practicing Islam is not the right way of Islam. So I think in the light of this you can judge yourself what is the position of Osama bin Laden. He is not one of those people who are following the messiah. But at the same time I am not saying that what America and its allies are doing, they are doing everything innocently and they are very wise people. No. You will, you know reap what you sow. [laughs] So anything can just destroy those people who are acting unjustly.

[a group of men talking]

EASTERMAN: So in effect, a plague on both your houses. But if the Imam is determined to be evenhanded, almost delphic, members of his congregation are much more outspoken. Mohammed Iqbal and Faran Chaudry are young men with strong feelings about America’s dealings with the Muslim world.

MOHAMMED IQBAL: The three main fundamental reasons why American policy is so questioned. First of all, is the Palestine issue. Yeah, we need that resolved. Second issue is American troops being in Saudi Arabia. That’s a very, very important issue. Third issue is the bombing of Iraq. America bombs Iraq when and wherever it feels like it. You can’t keep on doing that. I mean, it’s over a million children now died in Iraq. Who’s the biggest terrorist then? Is it America, or Britain, or is it Al Qaeda.

FARAN CHAUDRY: This incident hurt America deeply because for the first time in a hundred years the victims actually struck, in a sense, was this a lesson that America needed teaching? I think if you ask a great many Muslims and non-Muslims who have studied international affairs, they’ll say that they’re not totally surprised. And the reason being, because people were becoming extremely frustrated, humiliated. And when they think their life means nothing to them, then events like this are inevitable.

EASTERMAN: And you mean there are going to be more terrorist incidents?

FARAN CHAUDRY: It wouldn’t surprise me at all, to be honest, because I mean, there’s a lot of respect for America for what it stood for. You know, I grew up with Starsky and Hutch, you know, my childhood. And you had so many American heroes, I can’t count that many anymore to be honest with you. I really can’t.

EASTERMAN: Many Muslims claim that whatever they say they are misunderstood. The United States in particular, they claim, deals in simple formulas. There’s no room for sophisticated or complex argument. But complexity is what Muslims see all around them, especially in the Middle East. For example, they condemn the Taliban for its crimes against women, but they also see its good side, that it wanted to establish a truly Islamic state. Faisal Boti edits the Web site Uma News, and he says the Muslims everywhere are in ferment over Afghanistan just because it is not a straightforward issue.

FAISAL BOTI: This precipitous action that the US have led has confirmed suspicions that when it comes to dealing with Muslim countries another standard is applied to that when dealing with other countries. This is a war against political Islam, or against those people who derive from it some kind of liberationist ideology. I think this war is not simply about the destruction of the means that Osama bin Laden is employing, but really, it’s a war against their aims, too. And this is why Osama bin Laden continues to attract lots of sympathy. Is because people identify with the aims, if not always the means, of people like him.

EASTERMAN: Faisal Boti’s view is controversial but it’s not unique in the Muslim community. And there’s another opinion which you hear expressed by Muslims and non-Muslims alike here in Britain—that the United States has learned nothing from events and its own experiences in the Middle East over the last half century. The Muslim peer Lord Ahmed puts it like this. “America,” he told me, “can wage wars on terrorism till it’s blue in the face. But it won’t have peace and security until it faces up to why people want to attack it.”

LORD AHMED: You know, if you look at the 60s, when there was a problem in Algeria, bombs were exploding in Paris. When tensions grew in Northern Ireland, bombs were exploding in London. Now that tension is growing in the Middle East, the incidents have taken place in New York and Washington. It’s people’s perception that who is responsible for the, whatever their sufferings are. And I think it’s OK to have laws to try and prevent terrorism. But unless you deal with the causes of terrorism you’ll never be able to deal with the symptoms.

[sound of vehicle traffic]

EASTERMAN: The problem for Washington and for its allies in the British government here in London is this: that Muslims do have a strong sense of belonging to the Umma, the world congregation of Islam. This doesn’t mean they’re unpatriotic or ungrateful. Those living in the West are well aware of how much better off they are than their fellows elsewhere in the world. But if, as we’ve heard, Muslims in Britain feel they’re still second class citizens, instant suspects the moment other Muslims do something wrong, then how much more aware of their second class status in the world community are the majority of the 1.3 billion Muslims who don’t live in the West? If there’s a broader lesson to be learned from the tragic events of September the 11th, perhaps that is it. For Common Ground, this is Max Easterman at the Houses of Parliament in London.

MCHUGH: European security, next on Common Ground.

ESTHER BRIMER: I would not say that the United States needs to feel concerned by the development of the European Union as an international actor. But we will have to rethink how we do behave in certain international organizations.

PORTER: Printed transcripts and audio cassettes of this program are available. Listen at the end of the broadcast for details, or visit our Web site at Common Ground is a service of the Stanley Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that conducts a wide range of programs designed to provoke thought and encourage dialogue on world affairs.

MCHUGH: NATO—the North Atlantic Treaty Organization—was founded 50 years ago to protect Europe from the Soviet Union. Now the Soviet threat has disappeared and several nations are clamoring to join NATO.

PORTER: With the common threat to NATO gone, are there common values which hold this organization together? If so, how do those values overlap with the interests of the broader European Union? I recently put these questions to three experts on European security, including retired general William Nash. Nash led the US Army’s First Armored Division and served as commander of the American forces in Bosnia.

GENERAL WILLIAM NASH: The nations that joined NATO in the early days were, many of whom were still recovering from the effects of World War II. Germany, who has been a staunch member of NATO for many years, was not one of its original founding members, cause it was not yet in a posture able to join a grouping of largely democratic nations focused on common values, as you say it. Since the end of the Cold War, NATO has begun a process by which it’s involved more from a military coalition with a political foundation to really more of a political coalition with a military capacity. And therefore as it becomes more and more of a political organization, the issue of common values becomes more important.

PORTER: Vladimir Madic is from Clemson University. Tell us your thoughts.

VLADIMIR MADIC: Values were a basic ingredient of the alliance, a very important one from the very, very beginning. And they haven’t lost a bit of the importance. So today NATO members and aspiring members share the same values as they share the same interests. I would emphasize also the second phase of the development of NATO and this is after the end of the Cold War when this was in a way reconfirmed and when a number of former Communist countries in Eastern and Central Europe applied and expressed their interest to join the organization. Now, after September 11, NATO gets even more importance for its members and for the aspiring members, because it is an organization which in cooperation with, with the countries associated in different forms with NATO, like the program of Partnership for Peace or Founding Act in case of Russia, can address some common new challenges and threats to their own security.

PORTER: We’re also joined by Esther Brimer, a Research Fellow at the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies. Esther, tell us what you think about this common values system

ESTHER BRIMER: I would agree with my two participants that there are some underlying political elements. But I did want to highlight a couple of those. One, of course, the NATO premise of civilian control of the military, which is a fundamental principle which all of its participants accept and is an important philosophical point. Interestingly enough, the other regional organization that you have cited, the European Union, for example, has always had a question of values or politics underlying it. Although many people have focused more recently on its security aspects—off and on its economic aspects—it was, of course, founded with political aspects to basically solve the Franco-German problem after the Second World War and to try come up with ways resolving political differences within Europe. As it, we, as it continues to expand, those issues and solidifying peace among its members, as we look to succession states, is an important factor. But it is interesting to note that neither of the institutions—NATO nor the European Union—is a traditional regional organization in the understanding of the United Nations’ understanding of regional organizations, which are organizations which are formed under Article VIII of the UN Charter. And it’s important to notice that in a sense NATO and the EU are in a sense exceptions to our understanding of regional organizations on a global basis.

PORTER: Bill Nash, Esther Bremer laid out some of the values which make up that common value system. How do you define that common value system?

NASH: I think I disagree a little bit with the, with the founding principles that, that Esther and Vladimir might have emphasized. Because I think at the time the leading value of the formation of NATO was that of survival. Or they anticipated attack from abroad. But, since then, and without regard to the nature of the history and the evolution of NATO, I mean, today there’s no doubt that democracy is a very important, plays a very important role. Which includes, of course, civilian control of the military.

Second, a free market economy, which of course gives it an overlap with one of the founding principles of the European Union. And then the respect for human rights and the respect necessary to the individual citizens of all the nations that are members.

PORTER: Vladimir Madich? How do you define this common value system?

MADIC: Well, the overarching concern when NATO was formed was certainly the Soviet threat and the threat of communism in Western Europe. And it was heightened by the outbreak of the Korean War when NATO became what it is, or what it used to be throughout the Cold War—a formidable military alliance with elements of political, political alliance as well. Today it is different and these values have gained, gained a higher importance because it, more of the emphasis is, is on democracy. We may say that in the beginning it may have been maybe a little bit less important, but it was important enough not to admit NATO, to have links with a country which was thought to be indispensable for, for NATO and defense of Western Europe, through direct cooperation with the United States, based, based on the fact that we had there a totalitarian regime. And it, which did not qualify for membership in NATO.

BRIMER: Just to say, while I would agree with the initial security needs for the foundation of NATO, it is important to note a good example of why the values have become so important, that after the end of the Cold War when there had been a nascent discussion about the role of NATO, that it was felt it was still useful, although the immediate military threat had dissipated. Clearly, that part of that reason was because of the values in which it embodied, which were seen as valuable by its members.

PORTER: Bill Nash, now that we’ve sort of talked about the history of these organizations and the common value system, what’s the next stop on the road here? What countries are most likely to next be members of these organizations? But more importantly, what’s the connection between the two? I mean, is ascension to the European Union an essential step to get into NATO? Or is membership in NATO an essential step to get into the European Union? How do these things interlock?

NASH: Well, technically they don’t overlap. In other words, the criteria for joining NATO and the criteria for joining the European Union are different in the sense that there’s not a process by which they’re connected. Obviously, the principles of democracy, free market economy, and military capacity in the case of NATO, is an important element. But I’d like to take you back a little bit more, because in 1994 NATO, with US leadership, established the Partnership for Peace program, where practically all of Europe joined the Partnership for Peace over a period of time, to include Russia, were active participants. And the Partnership for Peace program was the beginning of what has turned to be a process towards accession into NATO. A decision was made several years later to add new members. The first three new ones of course were the Czech Republic, Poland, and Hungary. This process has turned more from the, a coalition against a common threat to a coalition of common political values against a threat that is not as specified as it was during the Cold War.

PORTER: Esther Bremer?

BRIMER: Being a member of one does not necessarily guarantee membership in another. Let’s take that apart. First, there are important members of the NATO alliance which are not members of the European Union. The most sensitive of these, of course, is Turkey, which has been a long-standing member of the NATO alliance and is in the process and has begun the process of admission to the European Union. But it’s said to be 13th on the list of 12 of members who are now in the process. And in many ways at times feels excluded from the larger process. And I think both leaders in Turkey and within the European Union would see that this is going to be a long process and therefore although they’ve been long-standing members of NATO, they do not feel that they’re on the fast track for admission into the European Union.

Importantly, there are members of the European Union who are not members of NATO. A couple of good examples: Sweden is a member of the European Union—joined in 1995 along with Finland and Austria—but has at this point maintained its neutral status. That may be under process of reevaluation, but it is not yet a member of NATO and has said consistently that it does not want to be a member of NATO.

PORTER: I have one last question and I’ll start with you, Bill Nash. As NATO and the European Union expand, what does this do to the American role? Should Americans feel insecure that they are going to have less and less of a voice in either of these organizations? Noting, of course, that the United States is not part of the European Union. Yet still, as the organization grows do we view them as a competitor?

NASH: A stable, peaceful, prosperous Europe is to America’s advantage. So, as the European Union is the lead agent for those European countries to build democracy and build economic prosperity, it’s to our advantage to support that effort. At the same time, NATO, which is becoming more and more a political organization and less focused on a specific military threat, is a way for the United States to stay reasonably, actively involved in Europe, in cooperation with its allies, and then using that organization to advance our interests in other parts of the world to which we and the European allies have common interests. And as we’re seeing today, that interest extends to the Caucuses, to Central Asia, and to portions of the Mid-East. And it most importantly involves our relationship with the growing democracy of Russia, which has work to do on a number of levels—political, economic, as well as military. But it gives us a venue by which, in addition to our bilateral relationships with Russia, it allows us to do it, to interrelate with our allies.

BRIMER: I would not say that the United States needs to feel concerned by the development of the European Union as an international actor. But we will have to rethink how we do behave in certain international organizations. That as the EU takes on an international character we will see the EU as a unified, single organization, present in addition to the member states. In the World Trade Organization we’ve already seen this. The European Union and the Commission, in particular, has the competency to negotiate on behalf of all 15 members on trade issues. As we turn to the security area, now we increasingly see the European Union countries voting together in the United Nations. Again, the United States and the European Union member countries tend to vote the same way, but not always. And as we look at some of the nontraditional security issues and what we might call the global issues—human rights, environment, elsewhere—the voice of the European Union will be an important one. And although we share many important common values in these areas, we will, we may find that how we implement these issues will be rather different. And we will find a united European Union voice on those areas.

IN TERMS OF NATO, it is, of course, important to remember, and I want to echo what my colleagues have said, that is an important framework for maintaining American participation in Europe. And that over time we will want to continue to do that, but we’ll also think about how it is done.

PORTER: Esther Brimer is a Research Fellow at the John Hopkins University’s American Institute for Contemporary German Studies. We also heard from retired general William Nash, Director of the Center for Preventative Action at the Council on Foreign Relations, and Professor Vladimir Madic of Clemson University. For Common Ground, I’m Keith Porter.

MCHUGH: And I’mKristin McHugh. Cassettes and transcripts of this program are available. The transcripts are free. Cassettes cost $5.00. To place an order or to share your thoughts about the program, write to us at: the Stanley Foundation, 209 Iowa Avenue, Muscatine, Iowa 52761. Please refer to Program Number 0203; that’s Program 0203. To order by credit card you can call us at 563-264-1500. That’s 563-264-1500.

MCHUGH: Transcripts are also available on our web site, Commongroundradio is all one word. Our e-mail address is

PORTER: Cliff Brockman is our Associate Producer. B.J. Liederman created our theme music. Common Ground is produced and funded by The Stanley Foundation.

© 2002 by The Stanley Foundation

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