Alex Salmond's willingness to fish in the wilder waters of Muslim politics is irresponsible and offensive to the heroes of 30th Juneby Tom Gallagher / August 1, 2007 / Leave a comment
Alex Salmond is fast turning into one of the most nimble politicians in British politics since Lloyd George. Since becoming Scotland’s first minister, Salmond has proven not only to be a skilful media politician but a formidable operator in the corridors of power. Since taking charge of the executive in May, with a one-seat majority, his Scottish National party (SNP) has launched a blizzard of initiatives.
Unusually for a nationalist leader, Salmond has cultivated a range of minorities, notably Scotland’s growing Muslim population, which is concentrated in a number of seats the SNP hopes to wrest from the Labour party. On 31st July, Salmond held a reception for Scottish Muslim leaders at his official Edinburgh residence where he declared that, in terms of engaging with Muslims, “We are ahead of virtually every other European country.”
He made more headlines on 7th August when he presided over a civic reception in Glasgow in honour of the men and women whose courage helped save Glasgow from disaster on 30th June, the day when two would-be bombers struck the terminal building of Glasgow airport. One of the heroes that day, 31-year-old baggage handler John Smeaton, later commented that he was only doing his civic duty when he intervened to help the police overpower one of the bombers. Yet there is growing evidence that Salmond is intent on strengthening his support among those members of Scotland’s 60,000-strong Muslim community who are all too ready to champion an ethno-religious identity rather than a civic one.
The chief tactician upon whom Salmond relies to build bridges with Scottish Muslims is Osama Saeed, the Scottish organiser of the Muslim Association of Britain (MAP). Saeed stood as an SNP parliamentary candidate in 2005, and has enthusiastically defended the idea of a global Islamic state in the press, on one occasion urging Muslims to withhold co-operation from the police. Following the failed bombing, Saeed was chosen by the BBC in Scotland to speak for Scotland’s Muslims. Largely excluded from the broadcast media were Muslims such as Glasgow university lecturer Amanullah de Sondy, who appealed in the Scottish press for more attention to be directed at “what I call progressive Muslims, the silent majority who do not wear their religion on their sleeve, and are open to discussion and debate about western dress, gender relations, social norms and other aspects of Scottish life.”
This July, Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon,…