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A battle of insults
British politicians seem to be competing to cause as much offence as possible to the Muslim community. When David Blunkett was home secretary, he came up with the extraordinary idea that the problems of social cohesion and integration could all be solved by calling upon parents, and he singled out Asian parents, to speak to their own children at home in English rather than in their nati
Thursday, October 19,2006 00:00
by Anas Altikriti, The Guardian

British politicians seem to be competing to cause as much offence as possible to the Muslim community.

When David Blunkett was home secretary, he came up with the extraordinary idea that the problems of social cohesion and integration could all be solved by calling upon parents, and he singled out Asian parents, to speak to their own children at home in English rather than in their native languages.

When asked how a Labour home secretary could ever come up with such a racially loaded statement, he responded that by saying this, he would leave the BNP with nowhere to go. In other words, Blunkett believed that by adopting a racist stand and making it official or "mainstream", the BNP would have the rug pulled from under its feet.

As ridiculous as this view seems, it’s now clear that the principal idea was by no means exclusive to Blunkett - who we now know was in favour of bombing an international TV station which held views other than to his liking, even if it meant killing journalists and correspondents working there.

Today we serve witness to the grotesque, at times even comical, spectacle of both Labour and the Tories competing on how far to the right each can go in their respective attacks against one of Britain’s largest yet most vulnerable ethnic and religious minorities.

Labour’s actions in particular are stomach churning. In its apparent unrelenting attempt to gain ground in the country and among middle England come hell or high water, New Labour has shamefully cast aside the last strands of what initially brought it to power nine years ago, particularly its stand with regard to ethnic minorities.

John Reid’s comments on "Muslim bullying" and his new formula for solving the security threat, by telling Muslim parents to spy on their children, had barely died down when Jack Straw decided that the time was right for him to interject with his own views on social cohesion, which was being impeded and obstructed, he opined, by a few hundred Muslim women wearing the niqab, or the face veil.

Of course, as a member of government and a human being, he has the right to voice an opinion on this or any other matter. But for a former foreign secretary and MP for a constituency where Muslims make up a hefty percentage of his electoral support, to voice an opinion of such timing and theme, one cannot simply regard it as a passing remark of no consequence.

In fact the consequences were twofold: Straw’s popularity rose by a remarkable 15 percentage points according to a YouGov survey, hence his chances of becoming deputy prime minister were given a boost, while verbal and physical attacks against Muslims throughout the country, including women wearing the niqab as well as the hijab, also rose but by a significantly greater percentage. One would be hard pressed to guess whether Mr Straw feels better or worse after making his comments.

In the other lane, David Cameron’s promise to "break Muslim ghettos" was joined by David Davis on Sunday suggesting that Muslims were seeking an apartheid system whereby they could isolate themselves from the rest of society - so that’s it then!

The race to cause as much insult and offence against the Muslim community in exchange for support among xenophobes, at a time when Muslims are being attacked in the vilest of manners from a variety of sources is nothing if not repugnant.

Therefore, when a "leaked" correspondence from the Catholic church spoke bitterly about the government’s undermining of the Judaeo-Christian heritage of Britain through its "preferential treatment" of Muslims, one knew not whether to laugh or to cry.

Which brings me to this new theme that has begun to emerge, and which I fear we will be hearing more and more of in coming days.

In his much-welcomed interview on the ill effects of the occupation of Iraq, General Richard Dannatt also spoke about underpinning Judaeo-Christian principles within the armed forces. What is this new term being flaunted, and where exactly are we heading with this? Is there an implication from religious, military or political circles that Muslims have had no impact whatsoever on modern day Britain? That they serve no cause and that should they wish to join or become part of any of these establishments, they have to adhere to and submit to those "Judaeo-Christian" principles or heritage and cast aside any dimension that may reflect their uniqueness?

Indeed, some seem to imply from such discourse that Muslims are "outsiders" or "foreigners" and constitute a burden on a country that they have lived in and served for around a century. Flashbacks to the struggle of Jews, black people and other minorities on these very same shores not so long ago and against very similar methods, rhetoric and policies provide an incredibly disturbing outlook - for Muslims first and foremost, but also for all those who claim a stake in this country and its future.

Opening this up further, one fears that there is a growing perception that by first attacking the notion of multiculturalism, then questioning Muslims’ allegiances and loyalties and further criticising their freedom to preserve a religious identity and essence which they feel is their human right, we are slowly but gradually becoming the apartheid state that David Davis allegedly warned against. To claim that this is being done in order to safeguard or promote a liberal, secular and democratic society would be laughable if not obscene.

Nor are government attempts to hand-pick Muslim representative bodies likely to come off, never mind amount to anything resembling success. If anything, such endeavours are likely to result in the further distancing of British Muslims from Labour, a trend that could have been reversed had it not been for the consistent official stand of throwing the blame at everyone else’s feet, whether it pertains to foreign or home policy failures.

Ruth Kelly’s recent statement therefore, is anything but helpful, not only for the sake of Muslims but the country as a whole. Her official endorsement of the Sufi Muslim Council of Britain, an organisation whose heads are known to be closely linked to the neocons in Washington, is a poor attempt to self-select a Muslim leadership that does not do much criticising of government. In due course, the Sufi council will prove another failing point of the Labour government in its ailing pursuit of a way out of a self-inflicted quagmire. The Muslim Council of Britain’s letter to Ms Kelly was a response that most Muslims, even those that do not normally stand in the same trench as the MCB, would largely agree with and welcome.

And here is what the government and the anti-Muslim corps are not paying attention to: the more the pressure mounted against Muslims in Britain, the more unified they become and the more efficient they are at reaching to farther corners of British society than they already have. What seems to have gotten on the nerves of the anti-Muslim brigade is that British Muslims have been actively engaged in expanding, increasing and promoting the levels of social integration and cohesion throughout society, in real terms and not just in vote-grabbing cliches and talk-shows.

Forget the niqab, or speaking to children at home in their native Urdu, Gujarati or Arabic, the anti-war movement, the campaigns against racism, fascism and discrimination and the endeavours to promote human rights and charitable causes all have Muslims at the fore of their respective efforts. If government officials want to see real integration, it would serve them well to cast a glimpse at the next demonstration, public meeting or campaign to further humanitarian causes of all sorts. They will for sure witness the refreshing sight of a Muslim woman in hijab next to a Catholic priest, next to a socialist, next to a Jewish campaigner for peace. That is real cohesion and true integration.

The recent increasing pressures upon the Muslim community will only lead to the reinforcement of that coalition but on probably broader and ever more inclusive terms. It remains true that the overwhelming majority of British people see through the smokescreens, the lies, the hatred, the prejudice and the abusive and offensive rhetoric, and that is why Britain stands out from among its counterpart nations.

Muslims aren’t pursuing, nor have they ever pursued, seclusion, isolation or segregation from others. They certainly have never pursued special or "preferential" treatment for government or anyone else. On the contrary; the contribution of Muslims towards all sections of British life including business, media, sport, art, industry, education, health and social work is an endeavour to be held in high regard.

Britain ought to be proud of its Muslims who have enjoyed the opportunity to outdo their brethren in most if not all western countries. It also ought to be proud that its Muslim communities have grabbed that opportunity offered to them and have become an integral part of Britain, its past, present and most definitely its future, without having to concede on what is important to them in terms of faith, belief, work ethics and family values.

The fight for Britain, the multi-faith, multi-ethnic and multicultural society that is built upon the ideals of justice, freedom, equality and human rights is a fight that will have British Muslims at its very heart.

Those misguided few who think that our country and the struggle for those ideals would be better served with Muslims - living by their ideals and principles - standing passively on the sidelines, are not only wrong, they’d better think again.

· Anas Altikriti- Anas Altikriti is an international speaker and lecturer.

 


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