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The Hamas, MI6, BBC axis

by Melanie Phillips [1]

In the past few days, the BBC appears to have turned itself into a mouthpiece for Hamas. From a steady procession of talking heads has issued a stream of Arab propaganda, along the lines that what has happened in Gaza is an inevitable outcome of the Israeli/western collective punishment of Palestinian voters for democratically choosing a party of which the west disapproves, along with the Israeli/western refusal to ‘engage’ with Hamas, a situation which must now be remedied forthwith. If we look a little more closely at these interviewees, however, it seems that such a consistent line may not be altogether coincidental. The casual listener and viewer has been led to assume that all these ‘experts’ are random, if well-informed, observers of the Middle East scene. But a rather different picture emerges if one joins up some of the dots.

Guided by a couple of eagle-eyed blog-posters, I have been doing just that. Discussing events in Gaza on successive evenings last week, BBC TV Newsnight had on William Sieghart, Azzam Tamimi and Alastair Crooke.

Azzam Tamimi is a self-proclaimed Hamas sympathiser — who, incidentally, once screamed at me on BBC Radio Four’s Moral Maze that he was personally rewriting the Hamas Charter to remove its endorsement of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion (it’s still there), because even some Hamas types can see that this isn’t exactly great PR.

Alastair Crooke is a former MI6 agent who controversially acted between Israel and Hamas and Islamic Jihad as a go-between until MI6 recalled him, and who ever since has argued publicly for ‘engagement’ with Hamas. In 2004, he wrote about Islamists and the west in the Guardian [2]:

We do diverge on a few values, but the overwhelming bulk of Islamists and Muslims support elections, good governance and freedom (more so than in some European states, the polls show).

Explaining the thinking behind the group he had just founded, Conflicts Forum, he wrote:

We need to recognise the ‘other’ and acknowledge that Muslim values do not pose a threat to the strategic values of western society. Muslims do not hate our values. They hate our policies. We need dialogue at all levels.

William Sieghart, the founder of various arts events, a homelessness charity and a governor of the British Institute of Human Rights, was instrumental in inviting Hamas spokesman Ghazi Hamad to the Guardian Hay on Wye Book Festival. Those who might wonder quite how the Chairman of the Arts Foundation happens to have the phone number of the Hamas official spokesman in his Roladex might be enlightened to learn that Mr Sieghart also turns out to be chairman of Forward Thinking. [3]

Forward Thinking is a charity founded in April 2004

to address the growing social isolation of Muslim communities in Britain and to promote a more inclusive peace process in the Middle East.

This is its team.

Oliver McTernan is co-founder and director of Forward Thinking. He was responsible for initiating the first post-conflict talks between NATO and the former Yugoslav government. He was a Visiting Fellow of the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs at Harvard University and is a Senior Associate Fellow of the UK Defence Academy.

McTernan’s fellow trustee is Chris Donnelly. Formerly the senior political adviser to four successive Secretary Generals of NATO, he is director of the Institute for Statecraft & Governance and the Senior Fellow at the Defence Academy. He worked for 20 years at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, initially as an instructor in Russian and Soviet studies, and from 1973 as a member of the Soviet Studies Research Centre, which body he headed from 1979 until 1989.

The third trustee is Lord Hylton, described on the website as having a ‘distinguished parliamentary career on matters relating to conflict and civil rights’. Lord Hylton is also a member of the Arab lobby, having been a member of the Council for the Advancement of Arab British Understanding since 1993.

This is how Forward Thinking describes its Middle East initiative:

The objective of the Initiative is to focus on bringing leaders who have hitherto been excluded from the ‘dialogue community’ into a process of internal examination of contentious issues outstanding between the sides, and to provide them with the tools and knowledge to engage in a constructive bilateral process… Alongside its many achievements, a main shortcoming of the Oslo agreements was a steadfast failure to recognise the necessity of including religious and ideological conservatives on both sides in the peace process… Forward Thinking’s Middle East Initiative is based on our belief that as long as the voices of non-convinced constituencies are not included in the dialogue process between the sides, no long-term and sustainable solution can be reached. The current situation, in which parties previously excluded from dialogue processes – and specifically religiously motivated political leaders – are gaining power, represents a unique opportunity to engage with them and bring them into constructive dialogue channels.

Religious and ideological conservatives on both sides’ who have been excluded? But Israel’s government is a coalition including the religious parties. They have not been excluded from anything. The only excluded ‘religious and ideological conservatives’ Forward Thinking are trying to include would appear to be… Hamas.

So to discuss Hamas, the BBC put on in quick succession a) a Hamas sympathiser b) a former intelligence officer promoting the view of the Foreign Office and intelligence world that Israel and the west must talk to Hamas; and c) the chairman of a charity which promotes talking to Hamas and whose director and fellow trustee are associated with the military and intelligence complex.

Now scroll forward to the BBC Radio Four Sunday Programme [4] yesterday morning. This featured an interview with Beverley Milton Edwards, described merely as a professor of Islamic studies at Queen’s University, Belfast. Prof Milton Edwards described Hamas in glowing terms as a ‘Muslim national movement’ which was trying to bring law and order in Gaza by cracking down on antisocial and unIslamic menaces like drug or alcohol abuse, and which promoted the rights of Muslim women, including talking about the dangers posed to them by the ‘Israeli occupation’ (which is of course finished in Gaza, but let that pass). The programme did not challenge this account, nor did it have on anyone to point out that Hamas is not only committed to the destruction of Israel but imposes such tyranny upon the hapless population under its control that Palestinians are fleeing into Israel to escape it.

What the programme also failed to tell us was that Prof Milton Edwards was a co-founder and (former) director of Conflicts Forum — the organisation set up by none other than the ubiquitous Alastair Crooke, and which boasts on its board of advisers none other than the equally ubiquitous Azzam Tamimi (whose most memorable public apercu was that he would consider becoming a ‘suicide bomber’). Its website [5] reveals that it stands for rather more than merely ‘engaging’ with Islamists such as Hamas. It actually promotes them as fine and upstanding people:

The overwhelming majority of Islamists are striving to create just societies and bring about political reform in a region entrenched with inequity, that has long suffered t
he overbearing influence of foreign powers… Conflicts Forum’s aim is to engage and listen to Islamists, while challenging Western misconceptions and misrepresentations of the region’s leading agents of change.

The Islam scholar Daniel Pipes has this devastating account of Crooke’s attitudes and the activities of Conflicts Forum on his website [6]:

Conflicts Forum has several advantages, starting with the fact that what it terms the ‘prevailing Western orthodoxy’ is – as noted above – quite soft. The group’s founder and leader, Alastair Crooke, 55, was a ranking figure in both British intelligence and European Union diplomacy, someone who hobnobs with insiders, gives upbeat speeches at premier venues (‘It is Essential to Negotiate with Terrorists’ at the London School of Economics,’ ‘Can Hamas Be A Political Partner?’ at the Council on Foreign Relations), and enjoys a fawning press. But Crooke’s true identity came out in a clandestine meeting he held with the Hamas leadership in June 2002, at a time when he still represented the European Union. We have an account of the meeting prepared by Hamas (which Crooke claims is inaccurate). It deserves reading in full for an insight into Crooke’s amoral, craven, appeasing, and dhimmi-like mentality.

•He recounts to Hamas having insisted to two high-ranking European politicians that ‘the status of Europe in the eyes of the Palestinians has started to deteriorate’ because Europe did not adequately support the Palestinians.
•’The main problem [in the Middle East] is the Israeli occupation,’ which is music to Hamas ears.
•‘As for terrorism, I hate that word,’ he tells leaders of a leading terrorist organization, going on to imply that he instead sees Hamas operatives as ‘freedom fighters.’

This last fits Crooke’s routine public dismissal of terrorism as a threat. The West, he says, faces not ‘terrorism’ (his quote marks) but a distinctly less nasty ‘sophisticated, asymmetrical, broad-based and irregular insurgency.’ And his Conflicts Forum, dubbed by journalist Patrick Seale ‘a club of disaffected diplomats and intelligence officers,’ engages in a pleasant form of personal diplomacy that diminishes the horror of Islamist terrorism.

Thus, at a Conflicts Forum meeting last month in Beirut with the leadership of four Islamist terrorist groups, including Hamas and Hizbullah, the mood and the food were too good to allow this inconvenient subject to intrude. Stephen Grey, a journalist covering the event, later reflected on it: ‘Invited to dinner with the participants in the Beirut talks, and sharing jokes with the Hamas men over tiger prawns, avocado, pasta and cherry tomatoes, I wondered privately how one would explain all this intimacy to the mother of a child killed by a suicide bomber.’

I gather that Prof Milton Edwards is no longer associated with Conflicts Forum. The fact remains that she helped found it, that various articles [7] she wrote with Alastair Crooke remain on its website, and that she believes there is a ‘common platform’ between the west and Islamists bent on its destruction. In 2005, this website [8] noted:

An Al Jazeera news segment Tuesday reported on reported on an ‘unprecedented meeting’ in Beirut between leaders of the two terrorist groups and a new U.K.-based consulting firm, Conflicts Forum. Participants were said to include ‘American persons close to American decision-makers.’ The Forum’s co-founder and director, Beverley Milton-Edwards, speaking in English, had this to say to Al Jazeera:

I think the importance of this meeting, as the speaker from Hezbollah pointed out this afternoon, is that this isn’t actually about enmity between the people from Islam and Muslims and those in the West. In fact, the idea here is to end this disconnection–for people to understand that there is a common platform between the peoples of Islam and the West. So this is a unique opportunity for opinion formers in North America and Europe to hear that enmity is not on the table.

At the very least, the Sunday Programme should have told its listeners that Prof Milton Edwards had a history of promoting the interests of Islamist terrorists. The fact that it did not does not suggest a BBC conspiracy, any more than the disgraceful procession of Hamas apologists being interviewed on TV without any kind of challenge or health warning suggests such a thing either. The much more likely explanation is scarcely less disturbing. It is that a group of people representing both Hamas and its western apologists in the British military and intelligence world have been pushing themselves forward to the BBC as informed and dispassionate commentators on events in Gaza — and the BBC editors and producers have not seen ft to check them out because of a combination of ignorance, sloppiness and — most lethal of all — the fact that they mainly agree with the appeasement of genocidal terror that these propagandists are promoting.

Just to remind you: this is (in part) what the Hamas Charter [9] says:

For our struggle against the Jews is extremely wide-ranging and grave, so much so that it will need all the loyal efforts we can wield, to be followed by further steps and reinforced by successive battalions from the multifarious Arab and Islamic world, until the enemies are defeated and Allah’s victory prevails. …The prophet, prayer and peace be upon him, said: The time will not come until Muslims will fight the Jews (and kill them); until the Jews hide behind rocks and trees, which will cry: O Muslim! there is a Jew hiding behind me, come on and kill him!

The enemies have been scheming for a long time, and they have consolidated their schemes, in order to achieve what they have achieved. They took advantage of key elements in unfolding events, and accumulated a huge and influential material wealth which they put to the service of implementing their dream. This wealth [permitted them to] take over control of the world media such as news agencies, the press, publication houses, broadcasting and the like. [They also used this] wealth to stir revolutions in various parts of the globe in order to fulfill their interests and pick the fruits. They stood behind the French and the Communist Revolutions and behind most of the revolutions we hear about here and there.

They also used the money to establish clandestine organizations which are spreading around the world, in order to destroy societies and carry out Zionist interests. Such organizations are: the Freemasons, Rotary Clubs, Lions Clubs, B’nai B’rith and the like. All of them are destructive spying organizations. They also used the money to take over control of the Imperialist states and made them colonize many countries in order to exploit the wealth of those countries and spread their corruption therein. As regards local and world wars, it has come to pass and no one objects, that they stood behind World War I, so as to wipe out the Islamic Caliphate. They collected material gains and took control of many sources of wealth. They obtained the Balfour Declaration and established the League of Nations in order to rule the world by means of that organization. They also stood behind World War II, where they collected immense benefits from trading with war materials and prepared for the establishment of their state. They inspired the establishment of the United Nations and the Security Council to replace the League of Nations, in order to rule the world by their intermediary. There was no war that broke out anywhere without their fingerprints on it…

Their scheme has been laid out in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and their present [conduct] i
s the best proof of what is said there… Within the circle of the conflict with world Zionism, the Hamas regards itself the spearhead and the avant-garde. It joins its efforts to all those who are active on the Palestinian scene, but more steps need to be taken by the Arab and Islamic peoples and Islamic associations throughout the Arab and Islamic world in order to make possible the next round with the Jews, the merchants of war.

This is the demented and genocidal creed of the people with whom our military/intelligence establishment is now telling us we must ‘engage’ and whose interests it is ruthlessly pushing, courtesy of an intellectually and professionally bankrupt BBC. If the British Parliament still counts for anything at all, it should call time on this monstrous appeasement of evil.