A few years ago during a brief discourse over a cup of coffee in my house with one of the most prominent Indian film directors, Mr Mahesh Bhatt, on the subject of the British Muslim community, he asked me how do I feel as a British Muslim in Britain after the 9/11 and7/7 terrorist attacks in New York and London? After a pause I said: “In the sixties and seventies I was a black young man, in the eighties I was an Asian, in the nineties I became to be known as a Muslim and in the beginning of the 21st century, I am a terrorist.”
Sadly this perception of Muslims residing in Europe and America has become so strong that it is frequently used as a popular propaganda weapon against the whole Muslim community to denigrate and demonise it. Some politicians and sections of the media have harboured and spread it to increase their rating and popularity. Even the moderate and liberal Muslims who attempt to defend themselves against the evils of terrorism, are silenced with the popular slogan “you are all the bloody same.” Hence, Muslim bashing has become a vogue in the western world. Donald Trump, the hopeful presidential candidate for America has recently vouched for the ban on Muslims’ entry to the USA. Also during many of his rallies, he has continued to ridicule the entire Muslim community and some of his staunch supporters at his rallies have chanted and shouted that, ‘every Muslim is a Satan and we don’t want them in America.’
In Britain, our very own Prime Minister Mr David Cameron, last month [January 2016] announced in Leeds that those Muslim women who can’t speak English will be helped by the government to learn the language. This initiative was welcomed by the community across the board. They appreciated the benefits that could accrue from this scheme, particularly for promoting social interaction and increased autonomy of Muslim females. However, Mr Cameron also delivered a warning that there could be great risk in some of these women to turn to extremism and terrorism if they fail to learn the language and if they fail to pass the language test, they will be deported to their countries of origin.
This part of Mr Cameron’s announcement is not only bereft of his political prudence and judgement and his naivety of ground realities, but it is manifestation of his true inner feelings about the Muslim community. His belief in the link between the inability to speak English language and extremism is incredible. It is a well-known fact that all those apprehended and convicted of their involvement in radicalisation and terrorism to date are all born, bred and educated in the UK. The cruellest irony here of his double talk is the depiction of Muslims as a negative and dangerous entity of British society.
His government’s policy of targeting a particular community for learning the language could be legally challenged.
The most important areas in which social interaction and cohesion can be promoted are our schools, neighbourhoods and work places. All successive governments have criminally failed to pay any serious heed to address this question. Almost all schools in the inner areas of our cities and towns with preponderance of Muslim population are ghettoised. Hardly any white face in these schools are visible. The situation in terms of neighbourhoods and work places is no different from schools. For the government, it seems to be an easy escape to offer cosmetics and yet gain national and international publicity. This is political hypocrisy at its height!
Unfortunately, the government and its leaders are too engrossed in playing power games and to outbid each other on restricting immigration and potential domestic ‘unrest’. They don’t realise that by diverting people’s attention from real issues of poverty and social injustice, they are engaging their minds in an unhelpful polarisation, the consequences of which could not be beneficial for society as a whole.
To single out the Muslims and casting on them constant aspersions and to demand that they should police their homes, neighbourhoods and communities for potential extremists and terrorists, is indicative of not trusting their loyalty as British citizens. Additionally, this kind of approach can entrench their feelings of victimisation. A community that already is beleaguered and under surveillance by our educational institutions, local authorities, police and other security agencies, can no longer afford any more pressures and demands.
To push them to a position of guilt is akin to drive them to the precipice. We have to be seriously mindful of the spill overs of such a policy.
The Muslim community is faced with many challenges. The biggest challenge is for its religious and political leaders to encourage mainstreaming and integrating with the indigenous communities.
No one denies that there is a tiny minority of Muslim youth who pose potential danger to our security and we must counter them without any reservations and extend our full cooperation to our security forces. The dangerous radicalism of a few young Muslim has finally become a frightening reality. But this should not mean that we punish the entire community.
The rising tides of extremism and terrorism are a deadly combination of historical wrongs and the havoc wreaked by hastily cooked up wars. Without addressing the source and the underlying causes of this ever growing evil of radicalism and terrorism, you cannot bring peace to the world. Mr Cameron should seriously consider to pursue a noble role of a peace maker and leave a legacy of which Britons can be proud of, rather than attempting to win political scores by abandoning the “core British values.”
The author is the former Lord Mayor of Bradford, Mohammed Ajeeb, CBE