Plans for Thatcher statue outside UK Parliament rejected

Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher arrives for a service of thanksgiving and re-dedication on Battle of Britain Sunday at Westminster Abbey in London in this September 19, 2010 file photo. (REUTERS)
Updated 24 January 2018
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Plans for Thatcher statue outside UK Parliament rejected

LONDON: Plans to erect a statue of former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher opposite Parliament were blocked Tuesday due to concerns over its design and lack of support from her family.
The planning committee of Westminster Council — the local government authority in that part of central London — unanimously rejected in an evening meeting the proposal, which would have placed the statue in Parliament Square.
“The lack of family support and the committee’s concerns around the design of the proposed statue were the key determining factors in turning down this application,” said councillor Richard Beddoe, Westminster’s planning chairman, in a statement.
The Public Memorials Appeal, a British charity, commissioned the one-and-a-half times life-size bronze statue of Thatcher dressed in the robes of the House of Lords, where she sat as a baroness following her 11-year prime ministerial tenure.
But Westminster councillors deemed the depiction inappropriate for the location, which hosts statues of other notable politicians including wartime prime minister Winston Churchill, and noted Thatcher’s family had not supported it.
The late leader’s daughter Carol reportedly opposed the plan because the statue does not feature her mother carrying a handbag.
Thatcher was famous for her wide selection of handbags, which became a symbol of supposed steadfastness.
“As our country’s first female prime minister Baroness Thatcher is a hugely significant figure in British history and in principle the council is in favor of a statue commemorating her in Parliament Square, but it must be the right statue, with an appropriate design and the support of her family,” Beddoe said.
“We would welcome future proposals for a more appropriate statue of Baroness Thatcher, depicting her as prime minister, rather than the current design that shows her in the House of Lords and one that has clear and public support of her family.”
Thatcher, who was Conservative prime minister between 1979 and 1990, died in 2013 aged 87, leaving a divisive legacy.
Her program of privatizations and deregulation helped turn around Britain’s ailing economy but devastated its working-class heartlands, which suffered subsequent industrial decline.
When the plan to place the £300,000 (341,000 euros, $420,000) monument of the so-called “Iron Lady” in Westminster was previously considered last year, fears surfaced it could be vandalized.
In 2002, a protester decapitated an Italian marble statue of Thatcher in London’s Guildhall Library, while graffiti went up around London after her death including one mural reading “Burn in Hell Maggie.”
Last summer current Prime Minister Theresa May called for the plans to go ahead, arguing “there should be no suggestion the threat of vandalism should stop a statue of Margaret Thatcher from being put up.”
Westminster council’s statement Tuesday made no reference to vandalism fears.
It also noted the so-called ‘10-year rule’ — the principle of waiting a decade after the death of a subject before erecting a statue in their honor — was not a reason for refusal in the case.
A bronze sculpture of Thatcher was unveiled inside the Houses of Parliament in 2007.


Tony Blair: UK Muslim activist groups promote ‘extremist world view’ 

Updated 18 January 2019
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Tony Blair: UK Muslim activist groups promote ‘extremist world view’ 

  • Organizations stir up resentment by portraying Muslims in Britain as victims and alienated, report finds
  • Divisive ideas about the place of Muslims in the West are "threatening social cohesion"

LONDON: Former British prime minister Tony Blair has accused some Muslim organizations in Britain of spreading views that often mirror those of extremists. 

While they are non-violent, such groups stir up resentment by portraying Muslims in Britain as victims, alienated from British society and in constant conflict with the non-Muslim world. 

Most disturbingly, they “promote a worldview that significantly overlaps with that of a proscribed Islamist extremist organisation, Al-Muhajiroun” - a banned group which does espouse violence.

The allegations appear in a report from the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change - the think tank Blair founded after leaving office - and names four groups: CAGE, Hizb ut-Tahrir Britain, the Muslim Public Affairs Committee UK and Islamic Human Rights Commission.

The report identifies six “key themes” shared by all four groups: Victimization, opposition between “good” and “bad” Muslims, opposition between Islam and the West, a delegitimization of the government, making Islam central to national politics and justification of violence.

“There is a range of views on these six themes, with differing degrees of severity from mainstream to extreme,” the report says. Of the four, Hizb ut-Tahrir comes close to sharing Al-Muhajiroun’s stance on violence. 

Banned since 2000, Al-Muhajiroun notoriously dubbed those  behind the Sept. 11 attacks “the Magnificent 19” and several of the group’s adherents have perpetrated other atrocities. 

The report warns that such a “corrosive narrative” promoting divisiveness between Muslims and non-Muslims can only embolden the far right and calls on the UK government to establish “a working definition of extremism” by identifying the key ideas that would “flag up” potential danger.

“Divisive ideas about the place of Muslims in the West are threatening social cohesion in Britain today,” said the former prime minister, who went on to serve as a special Middle East envoy. 

Tony Blair said divisive ideas about the place of Muslims in the West are threatening social cohesion. (AFP)

“Countering and recognizing this is an essential part of fighting extremism because - let us be clear - there is nothing incompatible between being British and being Muslim. But too many people, Muslims and non-Muslims, actively push messages that suggest otherwise.”

 The result, he said, was a “skewed discourse” in which fringe views dominate because moderate voices are afraid to speak out. Blair also accused  UK politicians of giving up on the discussion.

“Many Muslims in the UK hear more from divisive groups about how there is a security state set up to oppress them than they hear from our national leaders about how communities and policymakers can work together to build a thriving, inclusive Britain,” he said.

“Often when people think of this challenge, they focus entirely on violent, jihadi groups. Yet, as this report shows, many of the central ideas that British Muslims are hearing today from some activist groups are worryingly similar to the ideology of violent extremist groups.”

The Home Office (interior ministry) of the UK government describes Hizb ut-Tahrir as a “radical, but to date non-violent Islamist group” that “holds anti-semitic, anti-western and homophobic views.” Almost all the articles on the Hizb ut-Tahrir website portray Muslims as oppressed and bullied. Some articles are clearly anti-Saudi in tone and content.

CAGE was founded as an advocacy service to raise awareness of the plight of detainees held at Guantanamo Bay during and after the War on Terror. Its outreach director, Moazzam Beg was himself held in Guantanamo Bay for two years before being released without charge. However critics have labelled CAGE “apologists for terrorism,” a “terrorism advocacy group,” propagators of a “myth of Muslim persecution” and “a front for Taliban enthusiasts and Al-Qaeda devotees that fraudulently presents itself as a human rights group.”

The British-born Daesh extremist Mohammed Emwazi, nicknamed Jihadi John, who was filmed beheading hostages had been in contact with CAGE while in the UK, complaining that he was being harassed by British intelligence agencies.

Responding to the Blair Institute report, CAGE called it “an academically flawed attempt to remould Islamic belief and silence Muslim voices that challenge repressive state policies,” and dismissed the former prime minister as “commonly known for being funded by despots.”

CAGE research director Asim Qureshi said: “It’s unsurprising, considering Tony Blair’s penchant for misinformation that his organization would use seriously flawed methodology in order to draw false conclusions.”

Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC) has held consultative status with the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs since 2007. However it has also been described as “a radical Islamist organisation that uses the language of human rights to promote an extremist agenda including the adoption of sharia law” and “neo-Khomeinist.” 

The Muslim Public Affairs Committee UK encourages tactical voting in elections to dislodge members of parliament who support policies which it considers not be in Muslims’ interest. In 2005, the MPACUK targeted Lorna Fitzsimmons, a Labour MP for Rochdale, a town in north-west England with a large Muslim population, printing leaflets that claimed she had done nothing to help the Palestinian cause because she was Jewish. She is not and the group later apologized.

Former home secretary Jack Straw, whose parliamentary seat in Blackburn also has a large Muslim population, called the group “egregious” after it campaigned for Muslims to oust him. 

Azmina Siddique, policy adviser at the Tony Blair Institute, said: “The groups studied in this report don’t represent what most British Muslims think…This isn’t about violent extremism but about sowing division. This ‘us versus them’ rhetoric is becomingly increasingly visible across our society, including from the far right. Policymakers and civil society must start to challenge rhetoric that falls into this grey space between activism and extremism so that we can tackle the increasingly toxic climate that is feeding into extremism.”

Arab News asked the three other UK groups to comment on the report but none of them responded.