Alright, they were pretty unexceptional - couched as a polite request. But he must have known that it doesn't take much to offend the ummah - or their self-appointed spokespersons, anyway. And he'd spent the previous few years bowing and scraping in best dhimmi fashion - preferring to look the other way when Muslims avoided Holocaust Memorial Day, for example.
Some said he was trying to look tougher than John Reid or jockeying for the Deputy Leadership. Didn't feel right. Was he genuinely worried for social cohesion ? Could he possibly be sincere ? I asked the sainted Mick Hartley and he thought this was probable.
The other Ministers waded in. Phil Woolas - like Jack Straw, representing a community with a strong BNP vote. Then Gordon Brown. Harriet Harman (and Trevor Phillips, who I've noted before seems to have opened his eyes a little). Ruth Kelly. The mighty Prescott. Those Labour MPs who demur, like John Denham, are not in the inner circle. Of the Cabinet, only Peter Hain has to my knowledge expressed misgivings.
Still didn't make sense. Why now ? Traditionally the Government's response to radical Islam has been :
3,000 dead in New York - extra police patrols to protect mosques. Fund reports on Islamophobia. Orgy of breast-beating and apology. Throw taxpayer money at Muslim pressure groups and "community projects".
56 dead in London - extra police patrols to protect mosques. Blanket condemnation of Islamophobia. More money thrown.
London bombers turn out to be British-born. Set up working parties on exclusion and Islamophobia. More funding. Working parties blame terrorism on British foreign policy, racism and Islamophobia.
Cartoon brouhaha. Congratulate the British press on its wise restraint.
Demonstrators call for the murder of those who insult Islam. Police arrest angry passers-by while ignoring the placards.
The past is not necessarily a guide to the future. The trees do not grow up to the sky. Yet there's nothing in the Government's past record to lead one to expect such a volte-face. What happened ?
You've just got to conclude that Mohammed Abdul Bari's September 10th Sunday Telegraph interview was the camel that broke the Straw's back.
" ... some police officers and sections of the media are demonising Muslims, treating them as if they're all terrorists — and that encourages other people to do the same. If that demonisation continues, then Britain will have to deal with two million Muslim terrorists — 700,000 of them in London"
This interview, so noted by rightish bloggers, somehow failed to be reported by the BBC or Guardian. The MCB have complained that Bari was misquoted, to which the journalist replied "I have consulted my notes, and stand by the story as written."
To this Muslim blogger, Bari's remarks were "an error on a grand scale". It was worse than a crime, it was a blunder, eh ? But I'd have to agree. It was the latest in a series of incidents in which a few individual Muslims seem to have set out to prove that Islamophobic stereotyping is actually a pretty good predictor of reality.
The BNP leader Nick Griffin was charged with using words or behaviour likely to stir up racial hatred after a 2004 speech in which he claimed that there would be bomb attacks by "asylum seekers or second generation Pakistanis living in Bradford". A year later there were bomb attacks by second generation Pakistanis from Leeds and Dewsbury, and the arrest of refugees after a failed bombing attempt.
In 2004, Home Office Minister Paul Goggins illustrated the kind of evil that a Religious Hatred law could prevent :
you might get a poster "showing women wearing burkas, saying that such women are not to be trusted, er, could be suicide bombers, er, who knows what they are hiding under their coats, a poster of that kind ..."Then the Times reported :
A MALE suspect in a major anti-terrorist investigation in Britain escaped capture by allegedly disguising himself as a Muslim woman dressed in a burka, The Times can reveal.Now Mr Bari has, with one interview, made it nigh-on impossible to prosecute anyone who suggests or implies that any Muslim is a potential terrorist. After all, hasn't the MCB secretary said so himself ? Nobody can demonise the Muslim community more impressively than that, can they ?
So I imagine the Government are doubly cheesed off.
Firstly, the responses to their various consultation exercises post 7/7 have been, let's say, not exactly encouraging. Their attempts to 'engage' have been met with a chorus of complaint and accusation coupled with requests for more funding - a tactic which up to now has been pretty successful. But it seems there's a limit even for this government.
The Government withdrew its support from Britain’s largest Muslim organisation yesterday after accusing it of failing to lead the fight against religious extremism.
Ruth Kelly, the Communities Secretary, attacked the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) for boycotting Holocaust Memorial Day, criticising police anti-terrorist operations and “sitting on the sidelines” in the campaign against extremists.
Secondly, I've got no idea what the polls are saying, but I can't believe that the (pre-veil) events of the last year - the foreign prisoner scandal, the huge influx of economic migrants, the cartoon row - have had no impact on public opinion. At the end of the month the BNP leader's retrial begins (the jury failed to reach a verdict last time out). It certainly won't hurt the Government to be seen to be "tough on extremism" at such a time.
You never know - they may even be worried about the votes of the despised white working class.
UPDATE - I'd better point out that no matter what noises Straw and Kelly make, there's not a cat in hell's chance that they'll actually do anything about the long-term demographic challenge.