Aligned with his liberal background, the former cabinet minister argues the threat of Islamophobia across Europe must be challenged and overcome at the social, political and local levels.
For him, fear of Islam and Muslims is used for political ends by certain leaders across Europe. “I think it also meets people’s needs as most people are not tempted by Islamophobia. I’ve never met anyone who is afraid of Islam taking over Britain. It just suits the purpose of political leaders who want to build power for themselves,” he told Sunday’s Zaman in an interview.
On the subject of the recent Oslo attacks by Norwegian Anders Behring Breivik and the rise of right-wing political ideologies across Europe, Benn insists that this is yet again the work of politics and politicians, who, in their very cynical bid to secure power, exploit a certain group in society. “I think it’s very simple: political leaders want power. If they want power they tell people they’re being attacked by another group, and they build up support for themselves on the basis of being hostile to the group that they think are threatening society.” Benn argues that this has been a ploy used throughout history by politicians. It was used by Hitler with the Jews, South Africa and America against the black community and now much of it is directed towards the Muslims. Benn maintains that Muslims are preaching the same “policy of peace and love” that Christians and Jews practice, and we should therefore use this to find the, “basis for some common theology and resist all the attempts to warn people about Islam.”
In addition to the growing threat of Islam, Breivik also included multiculturalism, Marxism and Europe’s increasing transformation into “Eurabia” amongst other exceptionally elusive but nonetheless discriminatory terminology in his self-professed manifesto. Yet Benn maintains that we must take this as nothing more than a “warning about using Islam as an enemy;” for an individual who insists he is “protecting Norway from Islam and Marxism” is nothing more than a “madman.” The religion of Islam and the theory of Marxism are certainly “different,” yet we must not overlook the actions of this lone Norwegian as that of a madmen. Surely it is an omen of a greater, underlying form of discrimination that is slowly beginning to surface. Breivik would certainly not have received the likes of the above reception had he been a Muslim, and we must therefore be vigilant in our rapid dismissals as these will only prove to exacerbate a situation and ignore the underlying threats. Disregarding Breivik’s attacks as that of a madman does a great disservice to our society and is only a reflection of the emerging institutionalized racism prevalent across Europe, a factor that must also be tackled immediately.
Moving to the subject of the youth riots in England earlier this month, commentators from around the world were quick to point to the internal and domestic problems of the country, with Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi calling for Prime Minister David Cameron to “step down.” This was no doubt an unexpected turn of events for many of the country’s leaders. While Benn insists there was a “real problem” and “injustice” with the killing of Mark Duggan, this was accelerated by other elements that went in it for “personal gain.” Yet, Benn maintains that the factors that may have accelerated the riots, such as social deprivation, must be “dealt [with] by promises pursued by government.”
Lastly, on the question of the ongoing Arab revolutions in the Muslim world, Benn argues that each country must fight its own battle. “You cannot intervene in another country to produce liberty,” he insists. On the subject of whether a Western model of democracy, such as that of Britain, can be instilled in the Middle East, Benn claims that we must be critical for our own democracy is limited. “We have a very rigid medieval system that has been modernized to some extent,” but we do not expect anybody to follow our model. Additionally, Benn maintains the most vital factor to remember is that power should always be seen to belong in the people and not a group within the government. Only then will the likelihood of the abuse of power be reduced he insists.
Benn, who is considered a leading figure in 20th century British politics, was instrumental in the ratification of the Peerage Act 1963 and has enjoyed considerable popularity throughout his political career.
Benn, who once said he would like to be remembered as someone who “encouraged people,” cites Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu as the three greatest influences on our period of history. Benn, who met Gandhi in 1931, believes they have provided moral guidance for our generation like no other. While “Gandhi believed in non-violence, which was tremendously important, Mandela believed in human equality and Desmond Tutu believed truth would relax the tension that we have. I feel I’ve learnt a lot from them,” insists Benn.
On the question of power and democracy, Benn is far more resilient. He once argued that we must be wary of anybody with power, for those with “real” power do not like democracy. Here, Benn refers to his famous lines, “If you meet a powerful person, ask him five questions: a) What power have you got? b) Where did you get it from? c) In whose interest do you exercise it? d) To whom are you accountable? e) How can we get rid of you?” He insists that if you cannot get rid of powerful people, while they may be brilliant, you do not live in a real democracy. Benn maintains that we must have the right to change governments and replace them with new ones, and this must be applied on a global scale.
On the question of power and the ongoing News of the World phone hacking scandal, Benn interestingly claims that in the Western world “media performs the same role as religion does in other parts of the world.” Yet while the scandal has weakened Rupert Murdoch’s control over political leaders, it has not completely diminished it. “It has produced a change, but it is only the beginning of the change,” he insists.
As the president of the Stop the War Coalition, Benn is an ardent anti-war demonstrator and subsequently became a leading figure of the British opposition to the War in Iraq. He had been the last Westerner to interview Saddam Hussein before the war broke out in Iraq in 2003. Benn says: “The decision to go to war in Iraq was a war crime; it wasn’t authorized by the United Nations. It was what [former] President Bush wanted to do and Mr. Blair went along with it.” Benn believes that we must “get back to the idea of discussing with people what the differences are and finding an answer,” as opposed to seeking a solution through war.
Benn, whose abhorrence for war stems from personal experience, was particularly scarred by World War II in which he lost his brother and many friends. Benn refers to the enduring words of the UN charter, “We, the people of the United Nations, determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, [which] twice in our lifetime caused untold suffering to mankind.”
Similarly, Benn attributes his increasing move to the left wing upon leaving ministerial office to his experience as a minister. As a Labour minister, Benn insists that politicians did not exercise “real power.” Instead, Benn points to the financial and media industries as the two sectors that held and continue to wield enormous levels of power. Thus, his process of moving to the Left was part of his education, Benn insists.