The Muslim Council of Britain today
expressed the concern felt in many British Muslim communities following the
Government’s proposals for countering extremism in the wake of the tragic
murder of Drummer Lee Rigby in May this year. This act was condemned forcefully
and unreservedly by British Muslims.
In introducing the proposals, the Prime
Minister is reported to have said: "there are just too many people who
have been radicalised in Islamic centres, who have been in contact with
extremist preachers, who have accessed radicalising information on the internet
and haven't been sufficiently challenged". This narrative will only add
fuel to an already charged Islamophobic atmosphere.
In spite of the odd references to other
forms of extremism, the proposals and the words of the PM clearly single out
Muslim communities and institutions, with an unsubstantiated assertion that
extremists are radicalised at Islamic centres.
Many are concerned that these proposals continue to view British Muslims
through the prism of security, rather than as fully fledged members of British
This weekend, the Muslim Council of
Britain’s scheduled National Council meeting will discuss these proposals. And
the MCB will invite the Government to present its case to the community. We do
hope they will accept the invitation.
In the meantime, the Secretary General of
the Muslim Council of Britain issued the following interim statement:
“We agree that those who call for the murder
of innocent civilians, as we saw in Woolwich earlier this year, and in other
atrocities around the world, are indeed presenting a distorted interpretation
of Islam. That is the red line that the vast majority in our community would
have no problem in endorsing.
We are concerned, however, as to who will be
the judge of what a 'distorted interpretation of Islam' really is. At what point does opposition to a war based
on one's faith or values becomes an act or ideology of extremism? There are
still muddled notions of what extremism really is.
Over the years, vested interest groups have
campaigned against speakers who may be conservative, or whose words were
ill-advised, but they are certainly not supporters or promoters of terrorism. Many
in our community are concerned that the Government’s proposals have been
influenced by these questionable elements.
While exceptional events linked to Islam and
Muslims as problems draw enormous attention and forcible and concerted action,
little is done and even less willed to be done to combat Islamophobia, of word
or deed, to tackle social exclusion, or to actively promote civic inclusion.
Moreover, the idea of the state or police
arbitrating theological 'distortion' is especially worrying. We are a diverse Muslim community, it would
be inadvisable for the government to promote state-sponsored sectarianism.
Following the tragic murder of Drummer Lee
Rigby in May, the Muslim community was united in its condemnation and disgust
at this action. They were joined by fellow Britons who stood firm in solidarity
with each other. As I noted in a speech in June: “We look at Woolwich and are
struck by the ways that ordinary people responded to this shocking event in
extraordinary ways. The lessons from Woolwich lie less in acknowledgement of
impending existential threats to our way of life, than in the demonstration of
the resilience of our society.
No amount of investment in counter-terrorism
alone will prevent another attack, but investment in the strengthening of the
resilience and capacity of our communities across the whole of our society –
through the promotion of civic engagement, social cohesion, capacity building,
voice, dignity and stake-holding, through the strengthening of our democracy
and through democratic practice and social justice will go a long way towards
making the values we all defend a reality for all. Investing in the resilience
and capacity of our communities is the surest guarantee that we can stand up
for who we are and what we believe in; that we can articulate our grievances
without being accused of disloyalty and face up to those who seek to undermine
our contribution to this society.”