Via Pickled Politics, I learn of the not terribly well-publicised appointment of City banker Tariq Ahmad as a vice-chairman of the Conservative party, "for Cities". As Sunny suggests, the post might well be renamed "for ethnic minorities": previous holders include Baroness Sayeeda Warsi. And indeed, the press release announcing Ahmad's job virtually says as much:
"As part of its engagement with all sections of British society, the Conservative Party, under David Cameron, set up the role of Vice Chairman for Cities to ensure that the Party reaches all communities and understands their concerns. Tariq Ahmad’s experience puts him in an excellent position to continue this important work."
The press release quoted by Sunny, which is different from the one on Ahmad's website (and which I couldn't find on the official Conservative site either) adds that the Parliamentary candidate is "a local Cabinet Member for Community Safety Engagement with specific responsibility for the Diversity agenda" at Merton council. Thus does the leaden prose of local authority newspeak continue to infiltrate the modern Tory party. Let's hope the brain-numbing thought patterns associated with such language don't come along for the ride.
Ahmad is obviously a capable man, and the increasing prominence of people like him, successful, professional young Asians, in the Conservative party can only be a good thing. Labour has relied for decades on an ethnic block vote which has been deeply damaging both to democratic politics (postal votes, anyone?) and to members of the communities themselves, as the Labour party evolved ways of treating them somewhat analogous to the millet system of the Ottomans. The irony has always been that many people from immigrant backgrounds are natural conservatives: hard-working, self-recreating, entrepreneurial, committed to traditional values in education and family life. In stressing their group identity and need for government patronage, Labour has held them back just as surely as for decades it held back the working class. The best route towards a tolerant and cohesive society lies not in the promotion of "diversity" for its own sake but rather in treating all citizens equally and as individuals with their own unique contribution to make. Labelling people, whether by race, sex, religion or sexuality, ultimately diminishes them as human beings.
In an article he wrote for the Telegraph last year, Ahmad sums this up well:
My father arrived here with £5 in his pocket in 1953. He was originally from India but lived in Pakistan after partition. He came with three guiding principles: get to know the country, get to know the language, and get to know the people. He did all three....
As we grew up we were taught the basic values of education, respect, family and country. I am a Muslim but I went to a Church of England school, I played Jesus in a Nativity play. I know the words of the Lord's Prayer. But it didn't make me a Christian. What it did was to give me an understanding of the country I lived in and respect for all faiths.
He also had this to say:
One of my big worries is the influence of the religious extremists. We have to hit this on the head and say that everyone who comes to this country and tries to impose radical ideas and their ideology here is not welcome. We should have banned clerics like Abu Hamza and Abu Qatada long ago.
Why should they be critical of the country that has provided them with freedom of thought and speech? We let them carry on because that is the kind of country that we are; but what we should have said is that it is because we are the kind of country we are that we don't want people like you here.
I couldn't help noticing however a slight coyness about Ahmad's background. The press release describes him as "Vice President of a national youth organisation among many other roles". His own website goes into slightly more detail, describing his voluntary work for "a national Muslim youth association of over 5000 members, delivering and co-ordinating a variety of educational, charitable and sporting programmes". No name, though. I wondered why.
There's a clue in the Telegraph article, where he describes himself as a member of the Ahmadi community. And it turns out to be the Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association, or Majlis Khuddamul Ahmadiyya, which he has helped to organise. The Ahmadis form one of the major Muslim groups in Britain, and their mosque at Morden (of which Tariq Ahmad is a member) claims to be the largest in western Europe. They are not, however, uniformly popular with other Muslims. They occupy a position vis-a-vis traditional Islam similar to that of the Mormons with respect to orthodox Christianity, in that they follow a new prophet who arose during the 19th century. They have a number of other distinctive beliefs, too, including the idea that Jesus survived the crucifixion and travelled to Kashmir where he taught and eventually died of old age. They have their own caliph, currently Hadhrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, who gave an interesting interview last month in the Times.
Both Sunni and Shi'ite authorities regard the Ahmadis as heretics, indeed not as Muslims at all, and they have been subjected to considerable and increasing oppression, especially in their native Pakistan. It is a criminal offence for an Ahmadi to claim to be Muslim, or to worship publicly, or even to fast during Ramadan. Indeed, using the traditional salutation "Salaam" might be enough to get an Ahmadi arrested for blasphemy. Their motto is "love for all, hatred for none"; this has not however prevented them from being at the receiving end of mob violence, often with the tacit support of the authorities. As they have spread to other countries, intolerance has followed in their wake. The Saudis have been particularly unpleasant. No surprises there.
It's not surprising that someone from such a background should come to appreciate the benefits of a secular society, nor that he should find a welcome in the modern Conservative party. I wish him luck.