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19.01.15

Muslim Council objects to Pickles letter, says ministers are like ‘far right’

The Muslim Council of Britain has compared the government to the “far right” after a letter sent by Eric Pickles to Muslim leaders seemed to suggested that they were “inherently apart from British society”.

In his letter, the communities secretary asked them to “explain and demonstrate how faith in Islam can be part of British identity”.

Pickles wrote that he was proud of the way Muslims in Britain had responded to the Paris terror attacks, but added that there was “more work to do” in rooting out extremists and preventing young people being radicalised.

The letter, co-signed with communities minister and Muslim peer Lord Ahmad, asked the imams to make more effort in showing how Islamic values could be integrated with “British values”.

Harun Khan, deputy secretary general of the council, said: “Is Mr Pickles seriously suggesting, as do members of the far right, that Muslims and Islam are inherently apart from British society?”

Khan added: “We will be writing to Mr Eric Pickles to ask that he clarifies his request to Muslims to ‘explain and demonstrate how faith in Islam can be part of British identity’."

Pickles wrote: “You, as faith leaders, are in a unique position in our society. You have a precious opportunity, and an important responsibility, in explaining and demonstrating how faith in Islam can be part of British identity.

“We believe together we have an opportunity to demonstrate the true nature of British Islam today. There is a need to lay out more clearly than ever before what being a British Muslim means today: proud of your faith and proud of your country. We know that acts of extremism are not representative of Islam, but we need to show what is.

“We must show our young people, who may be targeted, that extremists have nothing to offer them. We must show them that there are other ways to express disagreement, that their right to do so is dependent on the very freedoms that extremists seek to destroy.

“We must show them the multitude of statements of condemnation from British Muslims, show them these men of hate have no place in our mosques or any place of worship, and that they do not speak for Muslims in Britain or anywhere in the world.

“Let us assure you that the government will do all we can to defeat the voices of division, but ultimately the challenges of integration and radicalisation cannot be solved from Whitehall alone. Strong community-based leadership at a local level is needed.”

Lord Ahmad, who co-signed the letter, told BBC Radio 4 today that he was “disappointed” with the Muslim Council’s response.

He said: “Within the letter there's an explicit paragraph which says British values are Muslim values. All Muslims should be non-violent, Islam is a religion of peace. Perhaps he wasn't clear in what the letter said. It is about reassurance."

The letter continued: “You, as faith leaders, are in a unique position in our society. You have a precious opportunity, and an important responsibility: in explaining and demonstrating how faith in Islam can be part of British identity. We believe together we have an opportunity to demonstrate the true nature of British Islam today. There is a need to lay out more clearly than ever before what being a British Muslim means today: proud of your faith and proud of your country. We know that acts of extremism are not representative of Islam; but we need to show what is.

“British values are Muslim values. Like all faiths, Islam and its message of peace and unity makes our country a better and stronger place, and Britain would be diminished without its strong Muslim communities. Every day, mosques and other faith institutions across the country are providing help for those in need, and acting as a centre for our communities. It is these positive contributions that are the true messages of faith and it is these contributions that need to be promoted.”

Lord Sacks, the former Chief Rabbi, said he sympathised with the concerns of the Muslim community about the letter.

He told the Today programme on BBC Radio 4: "That letter suggested that the Muslim community within Britain can contain its own radicals. The truth is that Islamism like all modern political movements is a global phenomenon transmitted by the Internet, transmitted by social media. I would not be surprised if the Muslim community did not say ‘you're asking of us something that is not actually under our control’.”

But he said he did not believe the Muslim community had done enough to ensure the teaching in its schools and mosques emphasised the need to integrate with British society in the same way as the Jewish community had in the 19th century.

(Image source: DVIDSHUB)

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