August 24, 2005,
"I love her," former U.S. President Bill Clinton recently said. "She is an enormously able person," he continued. "If she ever campaigned for office and wanted me to go ringing doorbells for her, I'd be happy to do it."
He was talking about the lawyer wife of a head of state, but it wasn't Hillary this time. This time Clinton is talking about Cherie Booth Blair, British Prime Minister Tony Blair's wife.
Would Cherie run? Stranger things have happened. And Cherie, like the former U.S. First Lady did during her husband's presidency across the pond from her, has certainly made a name for herself during the Blair years. And in the British example, it's a name that doesn't suggest good things for Britain or the war on terror.
Most recently, Booth has made headlines by cautioning Britain's leadership that "the government, even in times when there is a threat to national security, must act strictly in accordance with the law." She was also seemingly opposed, following the London bombings, to talk of even more tri-partisan, antiterror legislation, saying that such a response would "cheapen our right to call ourselves a civilized nation."
Far from simply expressing a general caution about respecting personal rights, Booth a human-rights lawyer who uses her maiden name professionally made her comments even as Tony Blair was talking about refusing "to give an inch to terrorism" as he has consistently said since Sept. 11, and reinforced following the horrific July 7 attacks on London.
By voicing the less-than-subtle public warning to her husband, Booth's statements were acutely irresponsible. Perhaps the worst part of her comments is that she made them in Malaysia, no bastion of human rights.
Could her remarks be excused as impertinent, but relatively harmless comments from a political wife? No, not with Cherie. She's no stranger to England's current, bloody confrontation with the brutality of militant Islam. The prime ministerís wife knew what she was doing.
Shabina Begum knows Cherie's familiarity with the issues. Miss Begum is a Muslim teen who won a court victory earlier this year with Cherie Booth's help. Cherie was the girl's lawyer in a case that should have given the feminist Booth whiplash.
Begum sued her state school for not allowing her to wear her full-length jilbab attire that would have left only her face and hands exposed. She had already been attending the school under a dress code which allowed for some but not all of the jilbab for two years. Critics, such as British writer Theodore Dalrymple, author of Our Culture, What's Left of It intimates ( in National Review) that "she was almost certainly put up to this by her older brother, a supporter of Hizb ut-Tahrir, a Muslim party that seeks to establish a Muslim world state, that believes democracy is blasphemy, and that denies that the Western citizenship of Muslims is real or meaningful, or confers any privileges or imposes any duties."
Not exactly the kind of company the prime minister's wife should be keeping.
After her legal victory, Begum said in a statement that the school's pre-court dress code was: "a consequence of an atmosphere that has been created in western societies post-9/11, an atmosphere in which Islam has been made a target for vilification in the name of the 'war on terror'."
Booth called the ruling "a victory for all Muslims who wish to preserve their identity and values despite prejudice and bigotry."
As British columnist Melanie Phillips wrote at the time, the court ruled in favor of the full jilbab "despite the fact that her headmistress warned that this would leave other Muslim girls defenceless against targeting and intimidation by fundamentalists, and despite the fact that this girl was backed by just such an extremist group."
If the school's policy was in fact some kind of "vilification"-of-Islam policy, it would, of course, be outrageous and totally appropriate for Booth to fight. But in a country where unbridled immigration is running into an identity crisis for a culture that has embraced multiculturalism over some modicum of sensible assimilation, Booth's involvement in the high-profile case only adds to the problem.
Unfortunately, the problem of Cherie is about much more than her political future-i.e. if she decides to pull a Hillary. Instead, this all gets at the heart of British identity today. And the media focus on Mrs. Blair adds to the mixed signals from the Blair government a government which has knighted as one of its key supposedly moderate Islamic allies a man who in 1989 said "death is perhaps too easy" for Salman Rushdie, the author of The Satanic Verses. Just this year, the same ally said that "There is no such thing as an Islamic terrorist." That like Booth's involvement in the schoolgirl case is an insult to real moderate Muslims who condemn violence and understand the need to assimilate a little for the health of a civilized society.
If Britain is going to stand up against terrorism which, hit at home so recently, it should know full well like never before that it has to send a clear message to those who would use religion to wage war or oppress.
Cherie sure doesn't sent that message.