Leading: 42. Sayeeda Warsi: Britain and the Muslim World

Goalhanger Podcasts Goalhanger Podcasts 10/26/23 - 53m - PDF Transcript

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So welcome to The Rest is Politics' leading with me, Alistair Campbell.

And me, Rory Stewart.

And today we're joined by Baroness Saida Varsi. And though this is very much a leading interview,

we also do see it as part of the debate that we've been having about the dreadful events

in the Middle East. And we're trying to give a balanced assessment, provide a platform

to people that we believe have got something interesting and worthwhile to say about what's

happening, but also to try and help educate, inform and debate within the framework of

our motto disagreeing agreeably. So Saida, born in Yorkshire, to Pakistani parents, a

lawyer, then a member of the Cabinet when Rory was a rising star on the Tory backbenches.

Indeed, when she and I co-presented a Channel 4 programme, Make Me Prime Minister last year,

she confessed to me that she'd wanted Rory to beat Boris Johnson, so a woman of sound

judgement. She was the first Muslim member of the British Cabinet under David Cameron.

She was the first woman to chair the Tory party, but she resigned from the government

in 2014 over their handling of a previous crisis involving Israel and Gaza. And she

said this, support for Israel's attacks and official language surrounding the crisis

in Gaza was morally indefensible, not in Britain's national interest, and will have a long-term

detrimental impact on our reputation internationally and domestically. So what about now, almost

a decade on when the death toll is already even higher. In recent days, she's been expressing

similar concerns at the horror of what was inflicted by Hamas on October 7, and the support

offered by world leaders to Israel is being taken by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

as a green light to commit atrocities himself. She fears that ordinary Palestinians will

pay the price and fears too that around the world, whilst a rise in anti-Semitism is well

understood. Crisis moments such as these also lead to a rise in Islamophobia, but that we

take it less seriously. Said is not new to this debate, she wrote a book The Enemy Within,

a label thrown at her when she was part of the National Security Council, at a time it

was dealing with Islamist terrorist attacks here. And last week she delivered a speech,

a video of which we'll put in the newsletter, to which she gave the title Muslims Don't


Businesses may remember our interview with David Bedeal and his book Jews Don't Count,

and just as he argues that anti-Jewish racism is real and often all too casual, she argues

the same from a Muslim perspective. And just as his book is worth reading, so is hers,

and so is her recent speech worth viewing, even if she takes a few swipes of new labour.

However, Said, let's start right at the very beginning, where you were born, who your parents

were, and how that shaped the politician you became.

So 1971, second of five girls born to Pakistani immigrants who came over in the 60s, following

on from my grandfather who came in 1958. And at the time I was born, dad was working in

the ragmills, mom was a housewife. And my mom said things started looking up because

dad got a job as a bus conductor. So he was going up in the world. And I think probably

being born into an all-female family with the Muslim faith, working class background,

Yorkshire town, there were so many different influences very early on. But I think what

we knew, because I think we were five girls very early on, was that we had something to

prove. I just remember this statement from my mom consistently, you've got to be better

than the boys, you've got to be better than the boys. And I think there was a sense certainly

culturally at that time that an all-female family, well, there were five of us because

I'm sure my mom and dad kept trying for a boy. And an all-female family was really because

they'd failed and they hadn't produced this male heir.

Said, one of the things that has been quite striking in British politics is the rise to

prominence of people from Pakistani Muslim backgrounds. There was always these jokes

between Siddique Khan and Sajid Javed about, you wait for one father as a bus conductor

and then two come along at once and now we have a third.

I have a third. My dad was a bus driver actually, eventually, when things started looking even

better for him.

So, I mean, what is this story? I mean, you know, obviously you're very, very different

people from very different backgrounds, but there's a sort of strange echo that three

very prominent famous British politicians, all in some ways fathers on similar paths.

What does that tell us about Britain? What does that tell us about the Pakistani community

in the 60s?

I think there was a clear sense that our parents and our grandfathers came over as workers.

They came to improve their lives, to make a life for their family, but they were really

aspirational. And the one thing they wanted for the next generation, all of us myself,

you know, Sajid, all born in the UK, they wanted us to have an education. We were going

to be the first generation to go to university and they viewed the university as something

that was really quite achievable and was a bare minimum. And for us, it was particularly

unusual because we were girls. So at a time when there was still a conversation going

on in some of these conservative communities about whether or not girls should be going

to university, the one thing that my mom and dad decided, my mom particularly very early

on was that we were all going to go to university.

And again, a very odd reason for that, her view was that, you know, you don't have any

brothers, there isn't going to be anybody there to pick up the pieces if something goes wrong.

So you better be strong enough to be able to earn a living.

One thing that Alistair and I often talk about, Alistair's very, very serious linguist speaks

very good German and French. But of course, presumably you took for granted growing up

in a multi-lingual background in a way that other British people might not have done. And

you grew up with parents speaking presumably fluent Urdu and...

Well, we didn't speak a word of English when we went to school. So we learned English when

we got to school. So I think we must have been about four or five years old. And before

it was Urdu and Punjabi and Gujarati and all these other languages that were being spoken

around us. And my parents tried really hard to make sure that we kept those languages

obsessively. I mean, mom even bought us books and we had to do Urdu classes at home.

And I only saw the value of them, interestingly, when I was in cabinet and I did my first big

visit to Pakistan. And I remember being in Islamabad and there was a press conference

between myself and the Pakistani foreign minister. And he started off and he gave his

kind of spiel in English. And then the journalist turned to me and I did my whole thing in Urdu.

And he said to this day, you know, Shama Munkarishi said,

you didn't need to embarrass me like that. But the phrase that I used at the time was,

you know, if you want to speak to somebody's head, you know, you could use any language.

But if you want to speak to somebody's heart, you'll use the language that feels most familiar

to them. And after that, I didn't get any difficult questions from the journalist. It was like,

right, done. And did you, as a child growing up in Jewsby, did you, did you feel welcome?

Did you feel you were part of the community? Did you experience racism?

I did, but you almost accepted it as the way things were. So being chased after school,

I mean, look, it's a phrase which people find offensive, but it was a phrase that was used.

Pakhi Bashin was something that was a normal part of your life. You would know that at certain times

of the year, you know, there would be violence. And we were quite lucky because my mom had a car

and she learned to drive very early on. So she would come and pick us up from school in the

way that some of the other kids didn't get picked up. And we were also slightly more protected

because we were girls and not so much in the, in the thick of it. But also, I mean, remember

that after the busses, dad went on to become a taxi driver. And I remember still vividly Sunday

mornings were the worst because he would invariably get beat up on a Saturday night. He would come home

bruised and battered. We remember waking up on Sunday mornings and knowing that dad had been

beaten up again. And I think my parents' generation just accepted that because to some extent,

they felt it was, they would say things like, well, you know, it's their country, isn't it?

And these things are going to happen. And then my generation grew up and thought,

well, it's not their country. Who's theirs? Our country. And we're not prepared to

tolerate this. And I think the question for me is, when I look at racism now,

do I get beat up in the street? Well, no, I don't. But almost that kind of, you know,

packybashing was easier to deal with. You know, you knew who you were dealing with. It was in

front of your face. It was violent. It was immediate. And it was clear. What I find much more difficult

is the kind of racism that I face now, the stuff that I talked about over a decade ago when I said

Islamophobia has passed the dinner table test, I call it respectable racism, the stuff that you

find in think tanks and editorial newsrooms and conversations in politics, which is far more

pernicious and difficult to deal with. What you were describing, interestingly, is the time when

what Soella Braverman says now, when she says multiculturalism isn't working, sounds to me

like it maybe wasn't working then, but I feel works a lot better now. I mean, what's your sense

of multicultural Britain and how well it works as a multicultural nation? It depends on how you

define it. If multiculturalism is people from different backgrounds, different religions,

different races working together, well, look across the country, look at, you know, interfaith

marriages, look at interracial marriages, look at interracial and interfaith business relationships,

look at the way in which we get along, you know, when we go out for a walk and, you know, we talk

to people of all backgrounds, people out walking their dogs, the way in which people rub along

works incredibly well. Far better. So multiculturalism has worked and is working, but there are

definitely people in politics now and in the editorial newsrooms and in think tanks who don't

want it to succeed. And that's why we've got to push back on it. I mean, the phrase that I've used

consistently is that we have people who dress up as patriots, but they are arsonists, and they use

language and policy, which sets our country alight, and they divide us through this divisive culture

wars. Can you give us, give us a sense what this is? I mean, it's difficult for me to understand

any, I mean, you're talking about people like Michael Gove writing his book on

Celsius 77? Yeah, I think that is an example of it. But I'll give you an example of what we saw

in government Trojan horse, the Trojan horse scandal, this so-called scandal of where we were

in Birmingham, where effectively we felt that extremists had taken over schools and they had,

they were radicalising the kids there. And a huge inquiry was started off the back of a letter,

which subsequently turned out to be a complete hoax, and the, and was found to be bogus. And

without questioning any of this, this letter, which interestingly had the same title as a chapter in

one of Michael's book, Trojan horse. And then suddenly off the back of this letter, we went

into these schools, we destroyed lots of lives, these children still live with a stigma of what

happened. We sacked teachers and just just just to explain to listeners who don't remember this,

my memory of this is that the allegation, which then proved to be false, was that these were

somehow breeding grounds for extremism. Yes. And they were taking over the schools.

So if you take my generation, who basically said to, you know, migrant communities, you have to

play your part, you have to be part of the school system, you have to be part of the local charitable

space. So many people, when they saw that their schools were failing, became governors. And the

allegation was that these governors were all linked, and they were taking over these schools,

and they were putting in place a radicalized idea, and therefore radicalizing the children. And yet

interestingly, most of these schools were doing incredibly well academically. So whatever the

schools were doing was working for, from an educational perspective, but this Trojan horse

letter then triggered this inquiry. And this made you presumably increasingly uncomfortable with

the Conservative Party, and even with David Cameron, you don't felt that he supported you

strongly enough. She loves David Cameron. I have a huge amount of time for David,

and it's very difficult not to like David, and anybody who's worked with him will understand

that. But you know, one of the things I joke with him all the time is I genuinely believe that Michael

Gove radicalized David Cameron and took him down a path where he made him believe in ideas which

had no evidential basis. Look, I'm a lawyer, first and foremost, and I always say, you know, show me

the evidence. I'm happy to be convinced. But you can't just make things up. I remember a

conversation in government where we were talking about madrasas and mosques, and halfway through

this conversation, I remember telling to my colleagues and saying, have any of you ever been

to a madrasa? Have any of you ever been to, you're having this conversation from such an

ill-informed perspective. So what was the agenda? What was the agenda? Something like Michael Gove,

who people keep saying has got a, you know, brain the size of a planet. What's the agenda going on

there? You know, there was this really fascinating moment, which is now in the public domain, and

actually I write about in my book, where when we were talking about madrasas, somebody said,

you know, if if we can't do them for extremism, we can always do them for health and safety.

There's always the Al Capone method. And that disturbs me deeply because it's about saying we

need to kind of shut down this space. What I was saying in my lecture last week was the silencing,

stigmatising and stereotyping of British Muslims has deeply disturbed me over a period of now,

you know, 15 years where tiny, tiny little changes were made, where we end up now in a

situation where the government doesn't engage with the vast majority of British Muslim communities.

It doesn't engage with any group which is considered to be a representative or a body on

behalf of Muslim communities. We can't have a conversation about issues around extremism.

We now have a second class version of citizenship. I mean, you know, my children and your children

could commit the same crime, and my children could have their citizenship stripped because

their great grandfather left a country somewhere, a country that they may never know, may never have

visited, have never taken up citizenship of. But because there is a rare potential probability

or a prop possibility that they may be entitled to a second citizenship, this is the Shamima

Begum case, what concerns me. And again, to remind us, so Shamima Begum went off to join ISIS

and then was not able to return to the United Kingdom because actually her citizenship was

stripped by Sajid Javid, wasn't it? Yes, it was. So you've had Sajid Javid, Preeti Patel,

and now Swela Ravaman. And I get this feeling from your speech that you don't think much of

Swela Ravaman. But what do you think about, you've had three home secretaries there who are all

non-white, and yet you seem to identify as contributing massively to this problem that you've

identified. I agree. Because if we think that diversity of thought is based upon the colour

of your skin, we've got it horribly wrong. I'm not just saying this because Rory's a white man,

but probably has more understanding of large parts of the world, including the Muslim world,

than many of my colleagues in government who would profess to be Muslim. So I don't think that this

is an issue about understanding, and it's about an issue of the rule of law, and it's an issue

about equality, and it's about looking at your country and thinking which other ways in which

I can make policy where in the long term I create a sense of ease. The anxiety and the fallout of

the Shamima Begum case has been horrific. One thing you said in your speech which really kind

of took my breath away was you talked about, you used the word totalitarian in the context of how

British Muslims are treated by the state. Do you really mean that? I worry that that is where we

are going, and I wanted to sound the siren, and I wanted to stop and make people think about the

consequences of the way in which we are dealing with this matter. We have to change course,

and to do that, I have to stop people in their tracks. If I stopped you in your tracks,

Alistair, it worked. Well, I watched it twice. So what have you had to, I guess, learn as a

politician about how to communicate this issue? Let's say you're communicating this issue to elderly

white conservative voters. Have you found it's difficult to do? Have you

discovered ways of finding that empathy and connection, or is it just impossible to do?

Well, the book that I wrote was written with Doris and Devon in mind, because I wanted to

write this for somebody who probably hadn't come across many ethnic minority communities,

probably didn't really know much about Islam or Muslims, probably read the Daily Mail,

and therefore I wanted to make sure that the book was really well evidenced. There are pages and

pages and pages of citations. I got obsessed about citations. You're sure that's the way to Doris's

heart is lots of citations? I know. Doris wouldn't necessarily read the citations. She wouldn't read

the citations, but what I wanted her was when she was reading the book and thinking, surely that

can't be true, for there to be some evidence where she could look back and think, oh, okay,

so it is. What I find really disturbing is that we're in a stage of politics where almost

evidence and fact doesn't seem to matter anymore. This isn't just a problem for the things that I

care about. It matters in so many other areas. Michael Gove was the man who said we'd had enough

of experts, so that's part of the same thinking. I also sometimes wonder in British politics

whether there isn't a problem that nobody likes people being too earnest or too engaged in something,

that people don't want people raising problems. They want everybody to be quiet and grateful and

relaxed and that people get irritated if you say there's something wrong with the country.

They do, but then change never happens if we all had to accept the status quo because we'd

still have slavery, wouldn't we? You have to be a disruptor and you have to challenge the status quo

for change to happen. What you can't do is you can't bring all your difference and your expertise

to the table and then just reinforce the status quo. I used to say this to David all the time to

say, there's no point in giving me a seat around the cabinet table if you don't want me to bring

my authentic self to the table. I'm not going to be your nodding dog brown-eyed girl because that's

not what I signed up for. Anyway, why would anybody join the Godforsaken world of politics

if it wasn't to make a difference? If all you want is a job or you just want a bit of attention,

there are better ways to get it than giving up your life and being scrutinized in the way that you

are and being vilified as we often are as politicians, you've got to be there to make a

difference. I made a decision very early on that one I wasn't going to try and just fit in and fall

into line that actually my country and making my country better mattered. If that meant I upset

sections of my party, then so be it. Now, you've identified Michael Gove as one of the arsonists.

Is Seola Braverman the chief arsonist at the moment? Listen, I haven't identified anybody. I don't

want to make this personal because I think you take away- But you have said you've already said,

you're already on record as saying she's unfit for office. I think she's unfit for office and I

think that the rhetoric, I mean only recently when she talked about, you know, so-called Pakistani

grooming gangs which she then had to retract from because the statement she'd made turned out to be

false even based upon the Home Office's own assessment and, you know, newspapers had to

correct their records off the back of it. I just think language is really important. If you genuinely

care about your country and you genuinely want to create a situation where, you know, the majority

of people in that country feel like they belong and they matter and those are really important

words to belong and to matter, then you don't constantly create divisions and make people

feel like outsiders. No, I fear as a fellow ex-conservative that we're allowing-

I don't have an ex-conservative, I still take it for a wee bit.

So I feel we're giving too much opportunity for Alistair to basically suggest it's all the

horrible old Tories. Do you think Labour and New Labour are completely exempt from criticism?

No, she does not. Absolutely not, which is why in the speech-

So tell us a little bit about that because you haven't heard about that. We've heard about

Michael Gove and Seola Braverman. We haven't heard you criticise Labour.

If you go back to the new Labour years, the policy of disengagement, and I'll explain what this

policy is, basically, New Labour decided that you had to be a certain kind of Muslim to be engaged

with, that you had to effectively acquiesce, you had to say what we wanted to hear. And they created

these non-representative fictitious groups, one of them was called the Quillian Foundation,

one of them called the Sufi Muslim Council. They thought this was the answer to Muslim

engagement. Both of them are now defunct. Both of them were run by people who are now

incredibly interesting and believe in the fact that Trump won the last election and conspiracy

theories about COVID. But anyway, at the time, Tony clearly thought these were trusted people

to which he used to engage with the British Muslim community. And however much we screamed

about it at the time and said to New Labour, no, this is not the way to do it. It was patronising,

it was not real, it was not authentic. And I think there was a lack of disrespect. You know,

I have a lot of time for Tony Blair, I have even more time for his wife, Sherry. But actually,

Tony became quite enamoured with what was coming out of the US, this kind of odd,

neo-conservative thinking. He became really ideological. And I think he started what I now

believe is this rot which we're seeing today. And I know that's difficult for you to hear, Alistair,

as a fact-based person, you know, I find that. And I give lots of evidence, actually,

in my speech and from why this happened. You do, and I've read it, and I listened to speech,

but I think you're being harsh. And I think you're also not necessarily understanding the context

in which he was operating. But I'm not here to defend Tony Blair. I do that enough on the main

podcast. I do want to ask you, though, about you said that Rory's not a conservative. You still

consider yourself to be a conservative. But where do you see the conservative party now? I mean,

you don't have a vote because you're in the House of Lords. But would you vote for a conservative

party that's going to keep on Suella Braverman, possibly being your next leader?

Well, I don't have a vote at the general election, which makes it easier. And I don't have to deal

with that question. And like, you would advise every cabinet minister to say, when you're a

communications director, I don't answer hypothetical questions. But the point is going back to-

In which case, you just said you wouldn't vote Rory, is that what it has?

I won't answer a hypothetical question, and you would not expect your cabinet minister to keep

saying that. But I think for me, what disturbs me is often people say to me, you know, how is it that

you've fallen out of love with the conservative party? And I say, well, because the conservative

party has fallen out of love with democracy and the rule of law. And when you get to a point

where your cabinet colleagues start behaving in ways- Well, why are you not a cross-bencher?

Why are you still taking the conservative whip? Because I want us to come back to the center

ground, Rory. You know, we have to stay and fight. Remember the cabinet that I sat around the table

with? Ken Clark, Dominic Grieve, Justin Greening, you know, William Hague, David Willits. These

people were, even when you disagreed, were serious figures who you could have genuine conversation

with. And I failed to accept that that party has gone, and I failed to accept that that party can't

exist again. And that's why I will continue to hold the line, but I will continue to hold the party's

feet to the fire. And what is it in your values that made you a conservative in the first place?

What makes you conservative, not labor? Why wouldn't you join the labor party?

We had this conversation, you know, Alistair and I were having this conversation about whether

Jesus was a socialist, and I said, well, Mohammed was definitely a conservative.

Listen, he believed in a two and a half percent rate of tax, Zakat. You tell me which socialist

party is going to give you a two and a half rate of tax. And then he incentivized you through good

deeds to give him many other ways. He believed in a small state. No, no, you said that. Do you

accept he was a state? I'm not convinced. I'm not convinced. I'm holding court on Muslim theology.

So tell us where you're a conservative. I think because I fundamentally believe in a small state

and a bigger society, I think the state should not interfere in people's lives. I believe that the

state should be a safety net of last resort, that you should help and incentivize people

to stand on their feet, on their own two feet in the way that you can. Hard work, aspiration,

changing your life through education. I would say, you know, with the only religion whose

profit was a businessman, right? That is everything about the way I was brought up

conservatively, you know, socially conservative whilst growing up, importance of family, those

family ties and community. I think everything that I grew up with when I started looking at

Labour, I thought, well, this doesn't really represent me. And what I found interestingly,

you know, in the early days was that my connections and my kind of meetings with Labour people really

early on felt really patronizing. Because in the Conservative Party, right, either they were

racist and I thought, okay, I see where you see me. Or this homie is an equal. With Labour,

it was very patriarchical. It felt very inauthentic. And it just didn't feel like a

comfortable. One of the earliest politicians who I absolutely love was Neil and Glynnis

Kinnick. And he always said to me, we missed the boat because something just didn't feel right for

me there. I felt that with you that we missed the boat. When we did that program together,

I could never understand why you were a Tory. She believes in business. Is that what it is?

I believe in a landscape that she believes in business. I believe in a small state and I believe

in the state getting out of your way. And I believe in the state giving you the freedom to

be able to become the best possible version of yourself. And I believe in hard work. I just felt

the Labour Party definitely saw me as a bit of a kind of a victim community in the way that

the Conservatives didn't. Saida, Rory, let's just take a quick break.

So Saida, to move us on to where we are. And actually, we're here at half past night night

because Alastair, who always wants to be on top of the story, was keen to get you and particularly

wanted to get you this week because we are interviewing you in the midst of all the events

in Israel and Gaza. So I wanted to try to get something that we often talk about on this issue,

which is the tribalisation of pain, the sense of the difficulty that people are having empathising

with the other side. And I wanted to give you a chance to talk a little bit about how the Jewish

community in Britain is feeling at the moment. I've been very struck that Jewish friends of mine

over the last 10 days have felt very scared. I mean, they really have seen some of these crowds

in the streets, seen people chanting messages about death to Jews, and they feel like a very

small minority. And really, for the first time, these people I've known for 40, 50 years, they

feel scared in their own country. And obviously, we will especially go on and talk about the other

side. But could you talk about that first for a bit? Yeah, many years ago, I sat down with a very

senior member of the British Jewish community. And in fact, I was speaking to him earlier today.

And I said to him that we need to have a space where British Muslims and British Jews can have a

conversation. And it needs to be an honest, open conversation, because I deeply worry about the

fact that you are a small community. You're not a growing community. But you are a powerful and

influential community in all aspects of our public life. And when I look at the British Muslim

community, it is not particularly powerful or influential, but it is a growing community.

And we need to find a way in which we can talk openly about antisemitism within Muslim communities

and Islamophobia within Jewish communities. In fact, I did a speech on it in which I talked

quite frankly about these aspects of our communities. And let's just, can you talk a little bit about

antisemitism? It is a real thing. It is a real thing. And it's, for me, and Alice and I were

talking about this earlier, when I was brought up as a Muslim, before I could love Muhammad and

his teachings, I learned to love Jesus and his teachings and Moses and his teachings. You cannot

be a Muslim in my world, unless you understand and love the teachings of the people who came

before him. And there's no way that I can be brought up loving Jesus and Moses and not loving

the followers of Jesus and Moses, those great faiths. And for me, I've always referred to

the Jewish community as my cousins. And when I've spoken to members of the British Jewish

community and particularly those whose families have been kidnapped by the recent terrorist

attack by Hamas, you know, we held each other in Parliament and cried because the sense of

loss and despair and anxiety that they must be feeling right now in the middle of this attack

is something that you can only comprehend when you understand the humanity of them as people and

as individuals within that community. And, you know, for this to succeed, we have to find a way

in which we can understand that humanity and we can also understand the humanity of the other

communities that make up Britain. You know, what's really disturbed me and you know, I've

called this out. There were two marches that went on this Saturday. One was the pro-Palestinian

march and then the other one was the Hizbet-e-Hareer march. One was the kind of main march and one was

this march outside the Egyptian embassies and the Tunisian embassies. And this group, Hizbet-e-Hareer,

is a group that was protesting outside Muslim embassies that's attacked British Muslims for

most of their life. That's attacked people like me for doing what I do. And therefore,

am I surprised that they're saying vile things about British Jewish communities? Not at all because

they say vile things about British Muslim communities. And do you think the police should

have been more vigorous in acting? I mean, do you think it's okay for people to be able to

walk through the streets saying death to the Jews? I think it's absolutely appalling. No,

of course you can't. Why should we allow that on our streets? And why should any Jewish person

in this country feel threatened or scared or feel like there's no future for their children?

I mean, the whole point of my speech last week was I failed to accept this position that my

grandchildren or their children will not call this place their home. And I've spoken to Jewish

friends where I've said to them, where do you think your grandkids will be? And they've said

things like New York. And they've said, where do you think your grandkids will be? And I said,

I don't know, Dubai. And it can be tragic that successful British Jewish communities and successful

British Muslim communities are making plan Bs. And so until we understand the humanity

and the fear of the other, and until we work together rather than against each other, I mean,

one of the things that's really disturbed me this week, and I've called it out on Twitter,

is some of the stuff that was written by the editor of the Jewish Chronicle and the Jewish news,

really awful stuff about Muslims being part of some sort of blood, yeah, blood cult. And,

you know, and thankfully when I challenged it, and I spoke to, you know, friends within the

Jewish community, they managed to get these things taken down. These kind of overt attacks on

Jewish communities by Muslim communities and overt attacks by Jewish communities upon Muslim

communities, it's going to stop. And we've got to stop having this kind of sense of us and them,

and which is why one of the things I'm trying to put together this week is get the same heads

on both sides together and say we have to do this in a joint way. Your speech last week,

which I watched twice actually, I found it very interesting. But there's a lot of anger in there

because you feel actually that there's a kind of, for all the anti-Semitism exists, it's kind of

always been out there, it's been challenged, it's been attacked, whereas you feel there has been a

kind of anti-Muslim feeling that has just been allowed to grow and grow and grow and grow.

And the people that you represent have maybe just kind of moved away, just keep their heads down

because they they kind of feel it, it's insidious, but it's happening all the time. So just maybe

just explain what you were trying to say in that speech, because am I right that you were angry and

making the saying what you said? I think I was hurt, Alistair, more than angry, because as I said

in the speech, both my grandfather served in the British Indian Army. Our relationship with

Britain goes back long before they came to these shores. They were prepared to give their blood

and lives for fighting against Hitler's armies and fighting fascism. And I now have a child back

in the armed forces in uniform. I have a father who broke his back in the mills, building his life

and building Britain's industries after the Second World War. And I served my country at the cabinet

table. And I'm tired of being put in a place where I'm othered. I'm tired of being seen as part of a

community, which is having its loyalty questioned. And do you feel that even now, even having been a

cabinet minister, nor is it you still feel that you have your loyalties, Britain question? When I

was in cabinet, and I used to sit on the National Security Council, we had a terrorist attack on

the streets of London. Drummer Lee Rigby was killed. And I was part of the task force that put

together a response to that terrorist attack. And at the time, somebody who actually the Cameron

government considered to be beyond the pale, and this individual who's recently swelled a

braver man stood at the dispatch box and said he was somebody who had mainstream views, which shows

how far our party has moved, said a paraphrase, how can we deal with the war on terror when we

have her Baroness Varsie the enemy at the table? Who was this? Douglas Murray. And it was that

blunt and brutal. That is having my loyalty question. That is suggesting that somehow

I am part of the problem at the heart of government. And articles were running newspapers

effectively accusing me of entryism. You know, this was kind of that haunting McCarthyistic

approach of saying, well, who is she? Where does she come from? Who are her friends? What

is she trying to do? And yes, I did feel like I was, you know, during my time in government,

it was difficult. But I think it's not so much about how I feel personally. It's the fact that

I hear from young Muslims who feel like they're being silenced, who feel like they can't be

themselves, who feel fearful, who are looking for exit routes. And that really saddens me.

So one of the things that has been surprising, I think over the last sort of 20 years is the way

in which for a long time the issue of Israel and Palestine was pushed to the side. Whereas in the

70s, 80s, early 90s, it was the very center of the conversation around the Muslim world in the

Middle East. There was a sense in which the central gravity moved to Dubai, to Saudi, to the Gulf.

That's where the money was. That's where the energy was. And that the sort of old Middle East, Egypt,

Palestine, Iraq, Syria were sort of marginalized. And you almost got the sense that the rulers of

those countries cared less about Palestine than they did in the 1990s. What was that? What happened

there? How do you reflect on that period? And why did the Muslim world disengage or seem to

disengage from Palestine for a bit? I think the failure of the Oslo Accords was a big part of

that. I think the assassination of exact Rabin and the consequences that flowed from that. There

really hasn't been a serious peace deal on the table since then. And what people forget is that

Rabin, who was probably, I mean, he got a Nobel Peace Prize alongside Yasser Arafat,

two years after those Oslo Accords, he was assassinated by a far-right Israeli extremist

because they didn't want those Oslo Accords. There was a section of Israeli politics and society

that didn't want those Accords to succeed. But since then, there has been no serious attempt other

than a small attempt, I think, in 2016 by John Kerry to have hope. Therefore, I think we disengaged,

the UK disengaged, the United States disengaged. And the only time we re-engage is when there is a

terrible tragic act of violence, as we've seen this month. And then after that, when everything

calms down, and we saw this in the 2014 Gaza conflict where I stood down. And the reason I

stood down at that time was because, one, I was appalled at the fact that our stated policy was

not being followed, that our values that we say were part of our foreign policy were not being

followed. Do you mean the commitment to the two-state solution and both sides of the argument?

Both sides of the argument, international accountability. There was a moment where we

were talking about a resolution before the Human Rights Council, which would have held both Israel

and Palestinians to account for any war crimes that may have been committed.

And we abstained. You know, when we start abstaining on international accountability,

we get ourselves into some really murky territory. And there was also no commitment to rebuild Gaza,

post the conflict. And I seriously thought about it long and hard. You know, a working glass girl

from Dewsbury doesn't wake up one day and find herself at the cabinet table. This was one of the

best jobs in the world and I was serving my country. But I also could not put my name to things

which fundamentally were against what I think are British interests and were fundamentally

against my own conscience. So really fast forward, that was almost a decade ago now.

So you had a situation at the weekend, for example, where you had the King of Jordan,

senior people within Saudi Arabian government, essentially saying that as far as they're concerned,

Israel is engaged in committing King Abdullah said war crimes. And yet both the British government

and the British opposition are clearly wanting to signal real solid support for Israel. So how do

you feel about that? Where are you on that kind of scale? And what would you be wanting the British

government to say and do now? I think war crimes are not adjudicated upon by the Jordanian King or

the British Prime Minister. War crimes are adjudicated upon by the International Criminal

Court. It's why we've set it up. It's why we fund it. In the past, we've been one of its biggest

funders. So the question I ask is, why don't we allow the Palestinians and the Israelis to go

before the International Criminal Court? If we want to operate in a world where there is a rules based

system, then why don't we allow that rules based system to take its natural course? Because what

is the hope that we're if we if we genuinely believe in a two state solution, what are we doing

to bring that two state solution about? Do you think anybody does believe in a two state solution?

I mean, I think one of the things I've noticed stuff over the last 10 years is increasingly

people saying, yes, of course, we say we believe in a two state solution, but we don't think it's

possible anymore. I call it the fig leaf that justifies our inaction. You know, I've said that

on numerous occasions, I feel that the opportunity for a two state solution is closing or has closed

unless we're prepared to take that initiative now. For listeners, remind them why it's closing

or might already have closed because for two states to exist, they both have to be functional and

they have to have enough land mass to operate as a state and the way in which the legal settlement

building has expanded over the West Bank, which is the occupied territories, means that it is almost

impossible for a physical Palestinian state to exist unless we went back to the 67 borders

and the political will in Israel to go back to those 67 borders is zero.

And therefore, when I argue this with my colleagues and I say, I would stand up and take issue with

anybody who said that the right of Israel to exist, it shouldn't exist. You know, we question

that and we call it out for what it is. But what about those people who deny the right of Palestine

to exist by not questioning the reality on the ground, which basically means de facto,

we are denying the right of Palestine to exist as a state.

So when we were, as you were both saying earlier, the international community took it

off the ball anyway. In the meantime, the settlements were going on and eating further

into the space. So do you now feel that the two state solution is something that is unlikely

to make any meaningful progress? And how could it happen? Presumably, Israel would have to remove

almost all its settlements, which as you say is almost politically inconceivable in Israel.

And Israel built those settlements knowing that it was illegal and it was an occupied

territory and was continuously told by the international community not to do so. So the

two options that look, Israel needs the two state solution more than the Palestinians do.

And the reason why I say that is because the alternative to a two state solution is a one

state solution with equal rights for all people who make up that one state,

which would effectively make it a majority Palestinian state. And therefore, I cannot

understand at a time when there was peace between Israel and all of its Arab neighbors,

practically, the Abraham Accords basically showed a clear recognition for the state of

Israel amongst the Arab world, at least the ones that mattered. Why, during that period,

when the effectively it was peace times was when Israeli settlements were expanded at a rate we

had never seen before. And over and over again, we have seen Israeli politics move further and

further to the right with the most extreme right wing politicians like Smotridge and

Ben-Govir now at the heart of Israeli politics. I guess we're sort of coming to the end, but

one of things, I mean, you're incredibly well informed on this subject and you keep referring

to yourself as Pakistani girl from Jewsbury. When did you become so well informed about

Israel and Palestinian politics? What time in your life? How do you keep up to date on it?

When did it become central to you? I think foreign policy was central to every conversation we had

around the dinner table from about the age of five. My dad's a great storyteller. We knew

everything about partition, post-partition, the 71 war, the creation of a first-science

people, everything. We were taught this. It was just an integral part. And Israel and Palestine

was just an integral part of that conversation. And the Oslo cause were within our living memory

when I was a young lawyer. And then, of course, it framed my whole politics because I gave up

one of the best jobs in the world because of what happened in Gaza.

Do you worry that what is happening now with the justified support that Israel has been getting

morally and politically and diplomatically, that Netanyahu is just sort of pocketing that

and taking it and essentially feels now that you can do what the hell he likes?

So one of the most disturbing quotes that I've read from, you know, all the reading that I've

done over the recent years is one from March 2019 when Netanyahu told his Likud colleagues,

and this is a quote, anyone who wants to thwart the establishment of a Palestinian state has

to support bolstering Hamas and transferring money to Hamas. This is part of our strategy

to isolate the Palestinians in Gaza from the Palestinians in the West Bank.

Divide and rule. He needed Hamas to succeed to ensure that there wasn't the case

for a joint Palestinian voice so he could say there was nobody to negotiate with.

And if you look at the coalition agreement that Netanyahu signed when he got into bed with these

far-right extremists, he talks very clearly that all the land between the river and the sea is all

of Israel. So he denies the right of Palestine to exist as a state as part of his basic politics

and their coalition agreement. This is why I have a worry that if you are a genuine friend of Israel,

you do not support those aspects of Israeli politics that in the end are committing deep

self-harm to the state of Israel. So how do you feel about the way that both the UK government

and the UK opposition have handled things in the last few days?

I think they have been naive. I think they have been ill-informed.

And there's so much difference between them. Are they pretty much on the same song sheet?

I think they're pretty much in the same space. You see, the thinking with Israel has always been

that even when we're dealing with people like Netanyahu, we hold our nose and we deal with him

because as long as we keep him on side, we will have some influence in the way that he manages

these situations. But my experience over the years, both from within government and outside,

is that we never have any influence over him, that effectively he has us jumping to his tunes.

And that's why in the end, when thousands of Israelis took to the streets in Israel to say

he's not good for Israel and actually took to the streets here in London when he came for his

official visit when they were saying to the Prime Minister, he's not good for Israel,

they were right. Those Israelis were right. So we should always stand with Israelis,

but we should not be standing with an Israeli government who is as harmful

to Israel as it is to the Palestinians. Well, I just want to say thank you. I feel

in the way sorry that we're so focused on this because you have so much more to talk about.

I'd love to get more into your politics and your youth and your professional life.

But I think that was also a very, very powerful testimony. And thank you very much indeed.

Thank you. Thank you.

So, Rory, I felt fellow formatory.

Yeah, I'm not quite sure why I'm giving all my views, why she's still a member of the

Conservative Party, although she provided a good account of her Conservative principles and why

she's not Labour. Thank you for that. For listeners who didn't understand the full context,

you may or may not have picked up that my co-worker here is something of a workaholic.

And so when he saw an opportunity to do a recording that ran to nearly 10 o'clock

at night, he seized it, took her out to dinner and got us into the studio.

I thought she is very interesting. And I think for some listeners, some of her

conversation around Islamophobia will be quite challenging and hard listening.

She's got very, very strong views. I said we'll put the speech in the newsletter.

It was filmed. It leads university and it's very, very strong speech,

particularly in this context, because although she made clear when you were asking about,

well, how do you think Jews and Israelis feel at the moment? She is a very empathetic person,

but I think she just feels that Muslims have had it so hard for so long. It's been totally

normalised. She clearly absolutely despises Brabham and what she's doing. I thought it was

interesting that when you said to her, why are you still a Tory? She actually was saying,

because we've got to fight back at some point. It was interesting afterwards. One of the

guys who'd been on the tech team had been listening to her. He said that he was really

impressed. There was no arming and aring. Very articulate, very clear in what she says.

And I think she has a point about Islamophobia. I think that when you look at the history of

how she was trying to get the conservative party to take it seriously and it didn't.

And in the speech, she talked a lot about the stalling on the inquiry, then getting rid of

any sense of independence around it. And it's a difficult argument to put in the current context

because there's so much focus on anti-Semitism. I think that the issue became very tightened

for her after 9-11, because I think it's that moment that she began to feel that Muslims were

being increasingly characterised as terrorists. And this was, I think, the point that she was

trying to make about Tony Blair and the organisations which New Labour engaged with,

which is people who were branded moderate Muslims, were not actually represented

for the full community. She's trying to say that I think that there is a very rich,

mainstream, full Muslim tradition, which is neither represented by the terrorist,

nor by the people who say the kind of things the governments want to hear.

Yeah. And I think that's a fair point. And I think it was a bit harsh on my boss,

because I think the context of 9-11 did change a lot of these debates.

But where I think she's absolutely got a point is that a lot of the Muslim community have kind

of just felt like they have to disengage. It's not even that they want to disengage,

but they feel they have to disengage because they're always having to get through so much

undergrowth in the debate before they can even be heard. But of course, the danger of that is

it does lend itself then to the more extremist voices to be the ones that are heard.

And again, speaking to Jewish friends over the weekend who were so horrified by these

demonstrations, as she says, I mean, it included groups like Izby Tahrir who are real

extremists associated with real horrors around the world. But there is also that sense,

and I don't know whether it's something that's morally relevant, but it's definitely something

that's psychologically relevant, which is that the Jewish community feels they're a very, very

small community. And the Muslim community in Britain is a much larger community, and they

therefore feel that there's a particular type of threat that they're experiencing by seeing

large crowds of people saying death to the Jews. A Jewish friend of mine made a really interesting

observation, which was that when you see pro-Palestinian rallies and marches, you see people

of all generations and all walks of life. And she said that when you go to an event that is

about speaking up for Jewish people, you tend mainly to see Jews. And they do feel, I think,

quite beleaguered and isolated on that. I think on the marches, though, we should be careful,

because several members of my family who went on both of the Palestinian marches who said,

actually, that the media coverage bore no relation to their experience of it at all.

So the first one, I think you saw the mail on Sunday, I think it was, when they spotted two

people with hang gliders on their back. And that became representative of the whole thing.

And this week, the big thing became about people shouting Jihad and why weren't they arrested

and so forth. And they were just saying it just didn't feel like that as people just...

But of course, presumably, if you're feeling very frightened and troubled, it's the media

that you're seeing. I mean, it's not as though the Jewish community is on those marches. What

they're seeing is the media reporting. And you can see why people feel very, very frightened.

It's a very odd feeling because these are people that I've known all my life and who

I don't think at any stage that I've ever known have felt so troubled and frightened about being

in Britain, so under threat. No, listen, there's no doubt there is an existential feeling attached

to both sides at the moment, which is what's driving the pain and the hurt. But equally,

let's be absolutely frank about it, we have large parts of the media who want to take it

to these streams, because that's what they think is going to make people more interested in the

story. In the story. Yeah. So we saw her at a very, very dark moment. But I think we forget that

she was an amazing sort of symbol of David Cameron's government. She was very proud to be a

conservative, as you heard, happy to speak about why being a Muslim and a conservative connected,

which was incredibly important, as you can imagine, for David Cameron's government. She

was flamboyantly charming. She wore very striking clothes. She was made chairman of the Conservative

Party, which was, again, quite a radical thing to do, because the Conservative Party members

are generally older, more right-wing than the general population. Chairman. What is this woman

chairman thing? I think it was so-called chairman. It still is. It's so-called chairman. And I really

warmed her when I first met her. And of course, she has become very unpopular with bits of the

Conservative right. But I also really like the fact that she's sticking with the Conservative

bit, sitting in there saying, I believe in the Conservative Party, I'm fighting for it,

and I'm not letting you guys have it. Well, I spent a lot of time with her last year doing that

Channel 4 program, and she's a very, very empathetic, kind, very kind woman, actually.

And I think has got a handle on what's happening inside the Conservative Party. And I think you're

right. It's good that people like that are sticking in, because when she listed the cabinet that

she sat with, it's very different to what we've got now. Although there's one common link,

Michael Gove. It's the greatest survivor. Michael Gove, who keeps saying he will come on

the podcast, but we never quite managed to pin him down on that date. There we are. Michael,

you're always welcome, so that we can challenge some of your views and actions.

Very good. Well, thank you. Thank you for making that happen. See you soon.

Machine-generated transcript that may contain inaccuracies.

How prevalent is islamophobia in the UK? How can we help Jewish and Muslim communities at this time? Why have the Oslo Accords failed?

Rory and Alastair are joined by the first Muslim woman Chair of the Conservative Party, Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, to discuss her politics, life growing up in an immigrant family in Northern England, the ongoing conflict in the Middle East, and much more.

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