Question Time last night, from Wootton Basset, boasted a pretty heavyweight panel - General Dannatt, Paddy Ashdown, William Hague, Armed Services Minister Bill Rammell and Piers Morgan. So much so, that I wasn't sure at the start that I thought it was really necessary to include the underwhelming seeming Respect Party leader, Salma Yaqoob. Ever since George Galloway flounced away from it, we've all rather lost interest in the Respect agenda. And anyway, it seeemed to me that broad consensus now seemed to exist along the lines of "the war in Iraq was wrongly conceived and should never have been fought; the war in Afghanistan was necessary, and we need to stay". There was quite bit of this sort of chummy consensus going on amongst the panellists to begin with. William Hague even went so far as to say that he thought Paddy Ashdown should have been appointed as some sort of high representative to sort out the Afghan mess.
Then Salma broke cover. This under-stated mother from Birmingham won over a significant number of audience members by breaking from the consensus that somehow the Afghan war was justifiable. Mentioning that she would be 'proud' to have any of her sons serve in the British army to defend their country, she attacked the reasons for British military involvement in Afghanistan at all, arguing that we were less safe now than we had been before Tony and George declared a fatwa against the middle east (my words, not hers). This was a not unconvincing point, and it was noticeable that the several audience questions following all seemed to begin with "I agree with Salma...." - and this from a heavily forces-biased audience too.
Yaqoob was not a ranter, she waited her turn even when she was clearly bursting to say things, but she was passionate, and it was certainly refreshing to hear someone challenge the idea that the West should be in Afghanistan at all. Piers Morgan said we were there as a direct response to 9/11. True, of course, but it begs the question as to why we are not similarly in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, two countries with arguably greater responsibility for nurturing the al-Quaeda cells who launched that notorious attack. All of the attackers on 9/11 were, of course, Saudi citizens.
Then there is the interesting question of George Bush's and Tony Blair's religious convictions. As Christians, one assumes they are keen devotees of the Bible. So did they miss that teaching of Jesus, recorded in the gospel of Matthew, that we should "turn the other cheek", and offer to carry our enemy's coat? Or maybe Christian teaching is only for those not in government? Or perhaps it's just too difficult full stop.
So well done Salma, and it may be that she starts to carve out a role for herself as a non-consensus spokesperson on the war not dissimilar to that of Shami Chakrabarti on civil liberties.