For and against: the British MP who would be a suicide bomber

January 26, 2004

“HAMAS SICKENED AT BEING LINKED TO LIBERAL DEMOCRATS”

* For and against: Emotive reactions to the British MP for children's issues who says she would consider becoming a suicide bomber

 

CONTENTS

1. "Hamas sickened at being linked to Liberal Democrats"
2. Jews for Justice for Palestinians
3. Her critics shouldn't be so hasty
4. Kilroy and Free Speech
5. The Atkins diet
6. Differing views in South-West London
7. There is no context for "this idiot"
8. Will she crash a plane into her local shopping mall?
9. "Grotesque"
10. It is so "sad" that you have been sacked


FORKED TONGE

[All notes below by Tom Gross]

Fierce debate continues in Britain after Dr Jenny Tonge, a Liberal Democrat Member of the British Parliament, continues to stand by her comments even after being sacked on Friday as the party's parliamentary spokesman for children's issues that were she a Palestinian, she would consider becoming a suicide bomber.

Although subscribers to this email list in Britain (making up perhaps 5 per cent of the list) will be familiar with much of this, others may want to read the full range of opinion included in this email to gain an insight into the extraordinary debates in twenty-first century Europe regarding the rights and wrongs of murdering Jews through terrorist acts.

 

“A VETERAN COMMUNITY DOCTOR”

Dr Tonge is described in today's Guardian as "a veteran community doctor" and "a pragmatic liberal." The paper reports that rank-and-file Liberal Democrats are petitioning for Jenny Tonge to be reinstated on the party's front bench in parliament. The Liberal Democrat deputy chairman, Donnachadh McCarthy, told the paper that "The sacking of Jenny Tonge has been greeted with dismay across wide sections of the party."

In contrast, Michael Ancram, the Conservative Party deputy leader, said her comments would "sicken those across the world who have lost loved ones to suicide bombers".

 

SHE WAS “SPEAKING FROM THE HEART”

Richard Burden, chairman of the British parliamentary all-party Palestinian Group said: "She should not have said it in those terms. But she was being straight and honest and speaking from the heart."

Following the controversy, Dr Tonge has defended her comments on the BBC's Newsnight program, saying she could "fully understand where they [the suicide bombers] are coming from," and on Sky News: "I guess if I was in their situation with my children and my grandchildren and I saw no hope for the future at all... I might just think about it myself."

 

GAZA AND THE WARSAW GHETTO

Previously, in June 2003, Dr Tonge compared the treatment of Palestinians in Gaza to the Nazis' segregation of Jews in the Warsaw ghetto.

Dr Tonge (and those cited, below, who defend her in The Guardian and The Independent) have failed to explain how two of last year's suicide bombers who murdered Israelis at Mike's Place bar on the Tel Aviv beachfront, came from well-off families from Derby in the British Midlands.

 

JORDANIAN FM TODAY: ARAB POLITICIANS MUST CONDEMN PALESTINIAN SUICIDE BOMBERS

Dr Tonge will no doubt be disappointed by today's statement from the Jordanian Foreign Minister, Marwan Muasher, who said Arab states need to explain their peace proposals to Israelis and take a "clear, unequivocal stand against suicide bombs." Muasher declared at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland: "We have not told the average Israeli citizen that suicide bombs are wrong from a moral and political point of view."

Dr Tonge has yet to give an opinion about a massive suicide bombing planned for central Tel Aviv which was thwarted, according to Israel radio today. The would-be bomber, Ahmed Ashkar, 18, of Yasser Arafat's Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, has been arrested by Israel (not, needless to say, by Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority.)

One wonders, too, what she makes of the murder today of Palestinian "collaborator" Nidal al-Dabbik, 27, by the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades.

[All notes above by Tom Gross]

 

SUMMARIES

I attach the following articles and letters, with summaries first:

“HAMAS SICKENED AT BEING LINKED TO LIBERAL DEMOCRATS”

A humorous piece by Daily Telegraph Parliamentary sketchwriter, Frank Johnson: "... Less widely reported was that a Palestinian suicide bomber caused equal outrage by saying that, were she British, she might just become a Liberal Democrat MP. She was immediately called in by the Hamas chief whip and had her bomb withdrawn. A Hamas spokesperson said: "Her comments would have sickened those Conservatives across England who over the years have lost seats to Liberal Democrats." The bomber had said: "I do not condone Liberal Democrat policies, but I do understand, having been to Britain and seen the way that Britons have to live, why people there adopt this most desperate of actions of joining the Liberal Democrats, and in some cases, voting for them..."

 

“JEWS FOR JUSTICE FOR PALESTINIANS”

The Guardian publishes no less than 11 readers' letters on the same day (January 24, 2004) on this subject. First among them, not surprisingly for The Guardian, was the one from Irene Bruegel of "Jews for Justice for Palestinians," who instead of condemning suicide bombs, writes of the "the human rights abuses, daily humiliations and overwhelming frustrations witnessed in the occupied territories" and "Israel's inhumane and illegal operations."

Other letters follow from Betty Hunter, General secretary, Palestine Solidarity Campaign; and from Maggie Hamilton who criticizes the Israeli embassy in London for saying they wouldn't "expect any human being to express an understanding of such atrocities"; and from Dr Brian Robinson who also fails to condemn Palestinian suicide bombs, but writes: "As a secular Jew, I fear that if the Jewish community continues to defend the indefensible and continues to censure anyone who dares to raise legitimate criticisms of Israeli policy, then it's simply in danger of increasing the very anti-semitism it claims to be trying to prevent."

 

HER CRITICS SHOULDNT BE SO HASTY

"A necessary argument," (Leading article, The Guardian, January 24, 2004). "Killing people is wrong. Full stop. But it is clearly also sometimes possible to understand why people do it. On occasion, though without ever condoning the killing, it is even possible to sympathise with what drove them to it... Many people, especially those with experience of the Israeli occupation of Gaza and the West Bank, will agree with her... she was right to stand by her comments yesterday. What she said may have struck many as wrong, but that does not justify her dismissal from her party's frontbench, or the sweeping condemnation in which some of her critics too hastily indulged yesterday."

 

KILROY AND FREE SPEEECH

"Call yourself a liberal, Mr Kennedy?" (Leading article, The Independent, January 24, 2004). The Independent, the only British daily paper edited by a Jew, and one of the most viciously anti-Israel newspapers in the world, writes in its editorial: "Charles Kennedy should be ashamed of himself. The Liberal Democrat leader sought yesterday to distance himself and his party from the comments of Jenny Tonge, the Lib Dem MP for Richmond Park... That Mr Kennedy, the leader of the party perhaps most committed to the ideal of free speech, should discipline Ms Tonge for expressing a personal opinion that should in any case be uncontroversial is a terrible mistake. He should have defended to the last her right to speak her mind."

[Tom Gross adds: These comments are in striking contrast to calls in the Independent and throughout most of the British media for the sacking of BBC talkshow host Robert Kilroy-Silk, for his remarks about Arabs see the dispatch of January 14, 2004, titled "The BBC's Arab problem."]

 

THE ATKINS DIET

"Atkins diet, Suicide bombs and others" (Letters to the Independent, January 26, 2004). [Tom Gross adds: Even by the Independent's standards the lumping together of letters about the Atkins Diet, suicide bombs, and off-piste skiing accidents, under this single headline may be considered insensitive.]

Rabbi Ian Morris, Chairman of the Reform Rabbis of Great Britain, writes: "Your leader asserts that Charles Kennedy should be ashamed of himself for removing Jenny Tonge from the Liberal Democrat front bench. On the contrary, it is you who should be ashamed... Dr Tonge asserted that she did not regard suicide bombing as being so immoral as to be beyond the boundaries of defensible behaviour. That is what saying "I might just consider it myself" means.

... Suicide bombing is not political discourse. Nor is it ever a moral option. Nor is it a weapon of war or resistance when used against civilians in restaurants or discotheques or skyscrapers. It is a weapon of hate, calculated to punish those who have the temerity to seek peace, be they Arabs or Jews, or the West in general. Peace between Israel and the Palestinians was in sight when the suicide bombers, whom Jenny Tonge so feelingly understands, deliberately and cruelly blew it to bits..."

Michael Lewis writes: "Jenny Tonge has attempted to explain suicide bombing on the basis of the desperation of the Palestinian people... There are many desperate people on this planet and they don't resort to suicide bombing. Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela reached their objectives quite differently.

... Jenny Tonge is indulging in rationalisation, not explanation. Every act in the world can be rationalised. Stalin's slaughter of millions of Russians can be rationalised on the basis that he felt the industrialisation of Russia was a priority. Adolf Hitler's Germany was humiliated and desperate too. If a man finds his wife cheating on him does he not have the right to beat her?

... What is wicked about Jenny Tonge's comments is not the rationalisation she has employed but the fact that she has chosen this subject to rationalise. We don't choose to rationalise the gulags, Hitler, domestic violence or any other of the world's unconscionable brutalities against innocent people... Terrorism is defined not by its cause but by its method. Many terrorist organisations have valid grievances. Osama bin Laden is right (and agrees with George W Bush) that Saudi Arabia is a corrupt and despotic regime, yet George Bush's answer is to pressure the Saudis to democratise whereas bin Laden's is to slaughter its innocents. Ms Tonge lacks the insight to understand the difference."

Richard Frost writes: "Jenny Tonge was perfectly justified. I've just spent two months in Nablus... I suspect that I would be likely to do something terrible."

 

DIFFERING VIEWS IN SOUTH-WEST LONDON

E-mail received from Edward Davey, MP for Kingston & Surbiton, the neighboring parliamentary constituency to Dr Tonge's: "I was shocked to hear Jenny's statement... I do not share her views at all, and condemn in the strongest possible terms..."

 

THERE IS NO CONTEXT FOR "THIS IDIOT"

Carole Malone (The Sunday Mirror, January 25, 2004): "Jenny Tonge, who was the Lib Dem's spokeswoman on children's issues until she was sacked for her stupidity, has refused to apologise for saying that if she was a Palestinian she would consider becoming a suicide bomber. So let's get this right. An MP who had responsibility for children's issues says if she was a Palestinian she'd be willing to strap explosives to her body, walk into a crowded restaurant and blow women and children to bits.

The idiotic Tonge who is also, incredibly, a doctor insists we must put what she says into context. Well, I'm sorry, but there is no context for these facile, inflammatory remarks. Terrorism solves nothing and it must never be used as an excuse for ANY cause. Miss Tonge's party acknowledges this, as does the Government. If she doesn't understand that, it's time she shoved off out of politics now."

 

WILL SHE CRASH A PLANE INTO HER LOCAL SHOPPING MALL?

Peter Dobbie, Mail on Sunday, (January 25, 2004): "Jenny had a good frontbench job with the Lib Dems which, after her outburst, she has lost. Hopefully she will now have more time to attend to the mundanities of her constituents... In doing so, she might reflect that the skies above her [South-west London] constituency are some of the busiest in the world. Whenever there is a terrorist alert we cast an anxious glance to the heavens and wonder whether one of the aircraft could be a target; whether a suicide bomber might seize control of an incoming or outgoing flight. I wonder then where my MP's sympathies would lie."

 

“GROTESQUE”

Melanie Reid (The Herald, Scotland, January 24, 2004): "We all say extremely stupid things at one time or another... But after pro-Palestinian Lib Dem Ms Tonge declared she could have become a suicide bomber, there was no going back. There is something so utterly crushing, so grotesque, about suicide terrorism that it transcends all hypothesis or metaphor. Discussing it in such terms is repugnant. Sadly, Ms Tonge's rashness will have only harmed the Palestinian cause in Britain."

 

IT IS SO “SAD” THAT YOU HAVE BEEN SACKED

Email from The National Association of British Arabs urging people to write to Dr Tonge in support. The NABA chairman, I K Jalili FRCS FRCO, writes: "I write to extend to you the support of the National Association of British Arabs on the principled stand you have taken and to express our dismay at the action taken against you... It is most unfortunate, and saddening to Arabs everywhere that so few politicians are willing to express the plight of the Palestinians as human beings, perhaps because those who did have suffered a similar fate to yours. We shall however continue in our endeavours to highlight the worsening situation in the Middle East and take heart from comments such as yours."


ARTICLES AND LETTERS IN FULL

HAMAS SICKENED AT BEING LINKED TO LIBERAL DEMOCRATS

Hamas sickened at being linked to Liberal Democrats
By Frank Johnson
Daily Telegraph
January 24, 2004

A Palestinian suicide bomber caused outrage by saying she might become a Lib Dem MP

Dr Jenny Tonge, the Liberal Democrat MP for Richmond Park, has been sacked as a frontbench spokesman for saying that, were she a Palestinian, she might just become a suicide bomber herself. Michael Ancram, the Conservative deputy leader, for example, said her comments would "sicken those across the world who have lost loved ones to suicide bombers".

Less widely reported was that a Palestinian suicide bomber caused equal outrage by saying that, were she British, she might just become a Liberal Democrat MP. She was immediately called in by the Hamas chief whip and had her bomb withdrawn. A Hamas spokesperson said: "Her comments would have sickened those Conservatives across England who over the years have lost seats to Liberal Democrats."

The bomber had said: "I do not condone Liberal Democrat policies, but I do understand, having been to Britain and seen the way that Britons have to live, why people there adopt this most desperate of actions of joining the Liberal Democrats, and in some cases, voting for them.

"The British are a people who, in parliamentary elections, have to live without any proportional representation at all. No wonder they sometimes resort to desperate measures. To us in Palestine, someone like Charlie Kennedy may be an extreme moderate, and a fanatical moderate.

But it is his sheer need for publicity which drives him to resort to such extreme acts as going on Have I Got News for You. We may be horrified by such a deed, but for many Britons in camps such as Richmond Park, Newbury and Romsey he represents the only hope."

Gordon Brown, asked to comment on her outburst, urged Britons to have nothing to do with Liberal Democrats, whatever the outside interference from Palestine. He reiterated that he preferred to defeat Tony Blair by peaceful means.

 

BLAME AND PRAISE FOR TONGE

Blame and praise for Tonge
Letters
The Guardian
January 24, 2004

Far from encouraging suicide bombing, Jenny Tonge was looking to the roots of the problem: the human rights abuses, daily humiliations and overwhelming frustrations she witnessed in the occupied territories (Lib Dem MP: Why I would consider being a suicide bomber, January 23). Rather than condemn her, we need to build support for the majority of Palestinians who decry terror and for the increasing numbers of Israelis who recognise that Israel's inhumane and illegal operations are the fundamental threat to their security.

Irene Bruegel
Jews for Justice for Palestinians


Jenny Tonge has attempted to explain suicide bombing on the basis of the desperation of the Palestinian people. She is correct that the Palestinians are desperate, but wrong that this is the cause of suicide bombing. Suicide bombing emanates from the wicked, cynical manipulation by terrorist organisations of ordinary people. There are many desperate people on this planet and they don't resort to suicide bombing. Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela reached their objectives quite differently.

Michael Lewis
London


Your report omits the context in which Jenny Tonge's statements were made. At a packed meeting on Wednesday in the House of Commons, called to protest Israel's construction of an apartheid wall, we heard speaker after speaker give first-hand accounts of the suffering being inflicted daily on the Palestinian people. Jenny Tonge prefaced her remarks with a strong statement condemning all forms of violence and terrorism. The real news of the night was a ringing condemnation of the wall from Gerald Kaufman MP, who called for economic sanctions against Israel.

Betty Hunter
General secretary, Palestine Solidarity Campaign


So, Jenny Tonge would be a suicide bomber? Where would she realise her ambition? At a bus stop, like the suicide bomber who killed over 20 people in Tel Aviv in December, or at a restaurant where 21 people were blown up by an Islamic Jihad bomber in Haifa? Or would she get on a school-bound bus like the Hamas bomber who killed 23 in August?

Michael Dickson
London


Jenny Tonge's inflammatory comments not only illustrate the growing sympathy for terrorists, but encourage a greater hatred towards Israel. These suicide bombers only deepen the plight of the Palestinians and create a greater barrier against achieving peace.

Yossi Board
Helsinki, Finland


Jenny Tonge did not say that she sympathised with suicide bombers. She empathised with them, a very different situation altogether. To empathise means to have tried to stand in another's shoes.

Maggie Churchward
Sydney, Australia


When I see the dreadful carnage caused by suicide bombers I can understand why Israelis feel like shelling Palestinian homes to destruction and shooting peace protesters. That does not mean that I am promoting or condoning such barbarities any more than Jenny Tonge is supporting terrorism.

John Birtwistle
Weymouth


What is the difference between killing for wages and killing out of desperation? As far as I can see, the only difference between an RAF pilot dropping cluster bombs on Iraq and a Palestinian suicide bomber is that the former kills people with very little threat to his own life, while the latter kills people in the certain knowledge of their own death.

Malcolm Povey
Bournemouth


It is ironic that in the same week that suicide among the prison population in England causes banner headlines and a call that something must be done, we see the knives out for somebody having the temerity to say what is in their heart concerning other people driven to suicide. The Palestinian youth have been betrayed by everyone from the UN to their own politicians and those who would exploit their anguish.

P Chesters
Wallasey, Wirral


So the Israeli embassy wouldn't "expect any human being to express an understanding of such atrocities". This lack of insight is precisely why the bombings will continue. Israelis must recognise their responsibility in creating the conditions whereby people are driven to such levels of desperation and frustration. And it's time our own politicians understood that they fuel this despair by their refusal to take active measures to stop Israel's land-grab.

Maggie Hamilton
London


As a secular Jew, I fear that if the Jewish community continues to defend the indefensible and continues to censure anyone who dares to raise legitimate criticisms of Israeli policy, then it's simply in danger of increasing the very anti-semitism it claims to be trying to prevent.

One of Jenny Tonge's most important points is being completely ignored - the fact of Israeli illegal occupation of Palestinian land and the repressive measures that accompany it. Tonge has done us all a service including the Jewish community, which should be thanking her for her insight, not castigating her.

Dr Brian Robinson
Milton Keynes

 

A NECESSARY ARGUMENT

A necessary argument
Leading article
The Guardian
January 24, 2004

Killing people is wrong. Full stop. But it is clearly also sometimes possible to understand why people do it. On occasion, though without ever condoning the killing, it is even possible to sympathise with what drove them to it. As a poll over Christmas by the Today programme showed, a large number of people in this country think they understand why the Norfolk farmer Tony Martin killed the burglar who broke into his house. Many of them including several MPs even think he was right to do it. We disagree with them. But that does not mean that Mr Martin's supporters are outside the bounds of civilised debate, or that any MP who speaks up for Mr Martin should be treated like a parliamentary leper.

Exactly the same argument applies to Jenny Tonge, the Liberal Democrat MP, whose comments on Palestinian suicide bombers triggered such a predictable furore yesterday. What she said was this, as reported: "This particular brand of terrorism, the suicide bomber, is truly born out of desperation. Many many people criticise, many many people say it is just another form of terrorism, but I can understand and I am a fairly emotional person and I am a mother and a grandmother. I think if I had to live in that situation, and I say this advisedly, I might just consider becoming one myself. And that is a terrible thing to say."

It is indeed. Dr Tonge does not condone suicide bombings, as she made clear at the time and again yesterday. Her comments were also carefully framed. They were sensitive, up to a point, about the issues involved. Many people, especially those with experience of the Israeli occupation of Gaza and the West Bank, will agree with her, though that is not in itself a justification, just as others are appalled by what she seems to imply. What is beyond doubt is such views are an unavoidable fruit of a bitterly controversial issue. In that sense she was right to stand by her comments yesterday. What she said may have struck many as wrong, but that does not justify her dismissal from her party's frontbench, or the sweeping condemnation in which some of her critics too hastily indulged yesterday.

 

CALL YOURSELF A LIBERAL, MR KENNEDY?

Call yourself a liberal, Mr Kennedy?
Leading article
The Independent
January 24, 2004

Charles Kennedy should be ashamed of himself. The Liberal Democrat leader sought yesterday to distance himself and his party from the comments of Jenny Tonge, the Lib Dem MP for Richmond Park.

Yet what Ms Tonge said on Wednesday was unexceptional. She said the violence and humiliation suffered by Palestinians at the hands of the Israeli state "made me understand how people can become suicide bombers".

The outrage expressed by the Israeli embassy and the Conservative foreign affairs spokesman, and endorsed by Mr Kennedy in sacking her, is misplaced. It speaks of a lack of faith in the struggle against terrorism that any attempt to understand the motives of those engaged in it is automatically condemned as support for them.

Yes, she did personalise her comments by saying that, if she had to live in the Palestinians' situation, she "might just consider" becoming a suicide bomber herself. But it takes a pretty sad kind of literalism to interpret this as support. Ms Tonge was quite clear yesterday: "That doesn't mean to say I condone suicide bombers. I don't. I think it's appalling and loathsome."

Yet, as she also said, "we have to try to understand where they are coming from". If we do not make that basic effort of imagination, we risk the kind of counter-productive repression that has so often failed against terrorist movements in the past. If the Israeli government does not see how the roots of suicide bombing lie in the toxic soil of national humiliation and perverted religiosity, it is less likely to be able to prevent further atrocities."

To make such a point does not remotely mean that Ms Tonge or anyone else who tries to understand suicide bombers believes that everything done by the Israeli state is wrong.

That Mr Kennedy, the leader of the party perhaps most committed to the ideal of free speech, should discipline Ms Tonge for expressing a personal opinion that should in any case be uncontroversial is a terrible mistake. He should have defended to the last her right to speak her mind.

 

ATKINS DIET, SUICIDE BOMBS AND OTHERS

Atkins diet, Suicide bombs and others
Letters to the Independent
January 26, 2004

Sir: Your leader (24 January) asserts that Charles Kennedy should be ashamed of himself for removing Jenny Tonge from the Liberal Democrat front bench. On the contrary, it is you who should be ashamed of your bizarre position and apparent failure to comprehend a simple, fundamental moral argument.

Nobody would argue with the proposition that there is a need to understand people's motivations in all situations. But that is not what is being discussed here. It is that Dr Tonge asserted that she did not regard suicide bombing as being so immoral as to be beyond the boundaries of defensible behaviour. That is what saying "I might just consider it myself" means.

Is it acceptably moral to assert that I may hijack an airliner and fly it into a skyscraper for any reason whatsoever? Is it acceptably moral to consider detonating an explosive belt in an Arab restaurant where Arabs and Jews are socialising together? I do not need to rehash each incident you have reported in these pages.

Suicide bombing is not political discourse. Nor is it ever a moral option. Nor is it a weapon of war or resistance when used against civilians in restaurants or discotheques or skyscrapers. It is a weapon of hate, calculated to punish those who have the temerity to seek peace, be they Arabs or Jews, or the West in general. Peace between Israel and the Palestinians was in sight when the suicide bombers, whom Jenny Tonge so feelingly understands, deliberately and cruelly blew it to bits.

Shame on you for losing sight of so fundamental a reality. Shame on Jenny Tonge for failing to identify suicide bombers as killers of peace as well as people. Respect for Charles Kennedy for asserting the primacy of a morality which, disturbingly, you do not appear to share.

With damaged, but fervent, hopes for a just and respectful peace for all parties in the Middle East.

Rabbi IAN D MORRIS
Chairman, Assembly of Rabbis of the Reform Synagogues of Great Britain, Leeds

Sir: Jenny Tonge has attempted to explain suicide bombing on the basis of the desperation of the Palestinian people. She is correct that the Palestinian people are desperate but wrong that this is the cause of suicide bombing. Suicide bombing emanates from the wicked manipulation by terrorist organisations of ordinary people (often children). It tends to increase when peace prospects and therefore hope are rising.

There are many desperate people on this planet and they don't resort to suicide bombing. Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela reached their objectives quite differently.

Jenny Tonge is indulging in rationalisation, not explanation. Every act in the world can be rationalised. Stalin's slaughter of millions of Russians can be rationalised on the basis that he felt the industrialisation of Russia was a priority. Adolf Hitler's Germany was humiliated and desperate too. If a man finds his wife cheating on him does he not have the right to beat her?

What is wicked about Jenny Tonge's comments is not the rationalisation she has employed but the fact that she has chosen this subject to rationalise. We don't choose to rationalise the gulags, Hitler, domestic violence or any other of the world's unconscionable brutalities against innocent people. By simply raising suicide bombings in this manner she is giving them credibility even though she says she is opposed to them.

Terrorism is defined not by its cause but by its method. Many terrorist organisations have valid grievances. Osama bin Laden is right (and agrees with George W Bush) that Saudi Arabia is a corrupt and despotic regime, yet George Bush's answer is to pressure the Saudis to democratise whereas bin Laden's is to slaughter its innocents. Ms Tonge lacks the insight to understand the difference.

MICHAEL LEWIS
London NW8

Sir: Jenny Tonge was perfectly justified. I've just spent two months in Nablus and the experience of occupation is dreadful: it is like living with filth in the house, the heart and the mind and never feeling free or clean. After ten years of that, I suspect that I would be likely to do something terrible.

RICHARD FROST
Appleby, Cumbria

Sir: A few days ago it was Kilroy and his remarks about Arabs sacked by the BBC. Now it's Jenny Tonge's turn - sacked by the Liberal Democrats for her comments on Palestinian suicide bombers. Is this the end of free speech as we know it?

Political parties and the media seem to be embarking on an orgy of self censorship. If this goes on the range of permitted expression within political debate will become so narrowed as to be pointless.

Jenny Tonge did not condone or support suicide bombings or terrorism of any kind. The Liberal Democrat leadership seems to have panicked. The sacking of Jenny is a cowardly disgrace and sends a message of despair to all those who hope for some robust honesty in the political life of our country and especially from the Lib Dems.

ALASDAIR GIBSON
Kingston upon Thames, Surrey

Sir: Sam Green (letter, 24 January) may well be right to suggest that Hamas and Islamic Jihad provide the warped ideological justification for the actions of suicide bombers. However, the actions of the Israeli government serve as a very effective recruiting sergeant.

When Israel builds a "fence" ostensibly for its security, but which in effect annexes many square kilometres of Palestinian territory and treats Palestinians brutally when they protest, it is hardly surprising some misguided individuals resort to such extreme actions. In subjecting the inhabitants of towns and cities to air attack and punishment demolition of the houses of families of bombers, Israel is ensuring that in this atmosphere of hopelessness another generation of young Palestinians will become cannon fodder for the extremist clerics.

Jenny Tonge was absolutely right to raise the issue.

TIM COLE
Ilford, Essex

 

E-mail received from Edward Davey MP as follows:

Dear [name deleted],

I understand exactly why you have sent this message.

I was shocked to hear Jenny's statement, and will be discussing my concerns directly with her.

I would be grateful if you could make clear to anyone you speak to that I do not share her views at all, and condemn in the strongest possible terms all violence, terrorism and suicide bombers. There are no excuses.

Yours,
Edward Davey, MP for Kingston & Surbiton

 

Email from The National Association of British Arabs

Dear Friend

You will today have heard of the comments made by Dr Jenny Tongue, Liberal Democrat MP. It is with great sadness that we learn that she has been sacked from her front-bench position because of those comments.

NABA's Chairman, Dr Ismail Jalili has written the letter below to her and would urge you to please write to both her and the Liberal Democrats expressing support for her.

If you do not wish to write a letter you can email your comments via either the House of Commons website: www.locata.co.uk/commons or via the Liberal Democrats website: www.libdems.org.uk

Or directly to
Jenny Tonge MP
The Old Station Works
119-123 Sandycombe Road
Richmond
TW9 2ER
tonge@cix.co.uk

From NABA
23 January 2004

Rt Hon Dr Jenny Tongue MP
Liberal Democrat for Richmond
House of Commons
London
SW1A

Dear Dr Tongue

I write to extend to you the support of the National Association of British Arabs on the principled stand you have taken and to express our dismay at the action taken against you.

We fully appreciate that your comments do not in any way support suicide bombers but rather express the utter despair and lack of hope felt by Palestinians of ongoing generations at the worsening situation in the Occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. The lack of any progress on the much touted 'Road Map' or any other solution only reinforces the Palestinians belief that they are conveniently forgotten by the outside world.

It is most unfortunate, and saddening to Arabs everywhere that so few politicians are willing to express the plight of the Palestinians as human beings, perhaps because those who did have suffered a similar fate to yours. We shall however continue in our endeavours to highlight the worsening situation in the Middle East and take heart from comments such as yours.

With kind regards

Yours sincerely

I K Jalili FRCS FRCO
Chairman

cc Rt Hon Charles Kennedy MP
Rt Hon Menzies Campbell MP
Lord Dholakhia

N A B A, The National Association of British Arabs
Tel/Fax: ++44 (0)1780 765 655
Address: PO Box 77, Stamford PE9 2WQ, UK.
EMAIL: naba@BritishArabs.com

NABA is an independent British organisation working for the interests of the Arab community within Britain.


All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.