London, Aug. 5: Sayeeda Warsi, the only Muslim woman in David Cameron’s government, resigned today as senior foreign office minister after condemning Britain’s pro-Israel policy in Gaza as “morally indefensible”.
Her unexpected departure immediately triggered consternation across party lines.
There is no doubt that Israel’s military campaign, which has resulted in the deaths of 1,800 Palestinians, a high proportion of them women and children, as against 67 Israelis, mostly soldiers, is causing much anguish in the British population as a whole.
Warsi sounded a warning that the war in West Asia could cause “radicalisation” among the 2.6 million strong Muslim population in Britain, a reference to home grown terrorists.
Some prominent Muslims have already expressed their dissent. For example, the England cricketer Moeen Ali, who is of Pakistani origin, made a political point during the third Test against India by displaying “Save Gaza” and “Free Palestine” wristbands, while the mayor of Tower Hamlets, Lutfur Rahman, a Bangladeshi, has flown the Palestinian flag from his town hall and issued a defiant tweet to publicise the event.
Some would say that Warsi jumped before she was pushed. Cameron might not have retained her were he to win the general election next May. Whether she has helped or hindered her career by “playing the Muslim card” remains to be seen.Warsi, 43, born in Dewsbury, Yorkshire, into a family of Pakistani immigrants, wrote: “Early evidence from the Home Office and others shows that the fallout of the current conflict and the potential for the crisis in Gaza and our response to it becoming a basis for radicalisation could have consequences for us for years to come.”
In her strongly-worded resignation letter, sent to the Prime Minister, on a day he was on holiday with his family in Portugal, Warsi said: “My view has been that our policy in relation to the West Asian peace process generally but more recently our approach and language during the current crisis in Gaza is morally indefensible, is not in Britain’s national interest and will have a long term detrimental impact on our reputation internationally and domestically.”
She added that she had “learnt the art of reconciling passion and idealism with pragmatism and realism, but I always said that long after life in politics I must be able to live with myself for the decisions I took or the decisions I supported. By staying in government at this time I do not feel I can be sure of that. It is therefore with regret that I am writing to resign.”
In his reply, Cameron expressed “regret” that they had been unable to speak before her resignation. “I understand your strength of feeling on the current crisis in the Middle East — the situation in Gaza is intolerable. Of course, we believe that Israel has the right to defend itself. But we have consistently made clear our grave concerns about the heavy toll of civilian casualties and have called on Israel to exercise restraint.”
Foreign secretary Philip Hammond said: “I do find it rather surprising that she has chosen now, this particular moment, to take this step when, in fact, we are now at long last seeing some relief.”
Cameron made Warsi party co-chairman, sent her to the House of Lords and gave her a seat in cabinet when he became Prime Minister in 2010. He was happy when Warsi demonstrated how much the Tory party was changing by wearing salwar kameez at high profile political events. Her broad Yorkshire accent was a change, too, from the sound of the Tory toffs.