LONDON — During the week of August 4, British Pakistani member of Parliament Sayeeda Warsi (pronounced “Varsi”) resigned in frustration of David Cameron’s foreign policy regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Her actions have sparked new debate in the British outlook of the conflict and have revived an old dichotomy: is it more ethical to give up one’s political position in solidarity of something, or to fight for one’s belief with the political power one already has?
Long before her resignation, Warsi had made a name for herself by igniting discussions on race and religion, often featuring the Islamic population in Britain, and by passionately displaying her own. For example, she wore a traditional South Asian shalwar kameez, loose trousers with a long shirt or tunic, to her first meeting in Downing Street, where the two most senior British Cabinet ministers reside.
According to members of Cameron’s cabinet, Warsi was an important representational asset in Parliament. She “had been seen as a political bridge to the country’s Muslim minority,” reported the New York Times in early August.
Now Warsi has given up that representational power in a move that sparked both debate and controversy. The main target of her resignation was Prime Minister David Cameron for declining to echo British critics who consider Israel’s attack on Gaza “disproportionate and an outrage.” While Cameron’s opinions do not condone Israeli violence in Gaza, they do not take an adamant stance against it either.
This is exactly what appalled Warsi and led to her writing a letter of resignation to Cameron. In the letter, she calls Britain’s “approach and language” during the current crisis in Gaza “morally indefensible.” She continues to write that Britain’s position will have “long-term detrimental impact on [Britain’s] reputation internationally and domestically.”
Cameron’s response reiterated Britain’s stance on the conflict while making it clear that he is in support of Israel’s actions only insofar as they are in self-defense. He also described his “grave concern” for the civilians of Gaza who have been bombarded with missiles these past few months.
Citing the common preference for diplomacy, Cameron wrote that “we support a negotiated two-state solution as the only way to resolve this conflict once and for all and to allow Israelis and Palestinians to live safely in peace.”
Warsi’s resignation drew comments out of others as well, attracting criticisms of her and of Cameron from other members of Parliament. Ed Miliband, the Leader of the Opposition, sided with Warsi, agreeing that Cameron must say more clearly that “Israel’s actions are just wrong and can’t be defended and can’t be justified,” but critics like George Osborn, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, argue that Warsi’s actions were “disappointing and frankly unnecessary.”
This revives an old debate, reminiscent of the discussions sparked by the resignations of Parliament members in 2003 following Britain’s involvement in the Iraq War. Is it morally acceptable for a government official to renounce office because of political policy?
Nicholas Soames, a former defense minister and a member of the Conservative Party, says yes, arguing that “Sayeeda Warsi was right to leave over a matter of such great importance. The government needs to note and learn from her resignation.”
However, this is a slightly more intricate debate than a simple “yes” or “no” warrants. By resigning, Warsi has endangered her reputation and has relinquished some of the power she had to affect political change from within. As evidenced by the onslaught of criticism, she is also in danger of not being taken seriously by the some of the current members of Parliament.
The discussions Warsi facilitated may have helped increase Britain’s empathy for Gaza and its denunciation of brutal Israeli attacks myopically, but in the longterm, when Cameron and others stop thinking about Waris’s resignation, she may no longer be in a position to help or vocalize for Gaza.
– Adam Kaminski
Cowell, A., & Castle, S. (2014, August 5). Muslim Minister Quits British Government to Protest Gaza Policies. Retrieved August 8, 2014.