LONDON – David Cameron has said it was right for Eric Pickles to write a letter to Muslim leaders in which he asked them to â€œexplain and demonstrate how faith in Islam can be part of British identityâ€.
In a letter sent to more than 1,000 Islamic leaders (pdf), Pickles stressed that he was proud of the way Muslims in Britain had responded to the Paris terror attacks, but said there was more work to do in rooting out extremists and preventing young people from being radicalised.
In the letter, co-signed by the Muslim peer and communities minister Lord Ahmad, Pickles said radicalism â€œcannot be solved from Whitehall aloneâ€ and stressed that everyone had a responsibility to fight extremism.
The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) raised objections to their community being singled out. But Cameron said the letter clearly showed that Pickles was saying â€œBritish Muslims make a great contribution to our country and that what is happening in relation to extremist terror has nothing to do with the true religion of Islam and is being perverted by a minority that is being radicalisedâ€.
â€œEveryone needs to help with dealing with this problem of radicalisation and anyone frankly reading this letter and who has a problem with it, I think really has a problem. I think it is the most reasonable, sensible, moderate letter that Eric could possibly have written.
â€œAll of us have a responsibility to try and confront this radicalisation, and make sure we stop young people being drawn into this poisonous, fanatical death cult that a very small minority of people have created.â€
In the letter Pickles wrote: â€œYou, 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.â€
Harun Khan, deputy secretary general of the MCB, said: â€œIs Mr Pickles seriously suggesting, as do members of the far right, that Muslims and Islam are inherently apart from British society?â€
He said he was writing back to Pickles to demand an explanation for the apparent assumptions made.
The letter continued: â€œWe 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.
â€œWe 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.
â€œWe 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.
â€œLet 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.â€
The letter said: â€œBritish values are Muslim valuesâ€, and the country would be diminished without Islam and its â€œmessage of peace and unityâ€.
â€œEvery 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.â€
Ahmad said the MCBâ€™s response was disappointing, adding that perhaps Khan was not clear about what the letter said.
â€œThe letter could not have been more explicitâ€ that the government regarded Muslims as part of British society, Ahmad said, adding it was designed to reassure the Muslim community. He insisted the best way to deal with the language of hate was education and a coming together.
â€œThis was about reassurance, it was about recognising, as [the home secretary] Theresa May said only yesterday, that a Britain without Muslims, a Britain without Jews, Hindus, would not be the Britain we want to see,â€ he said on BBC Radio 4â€™s Today programme on Monday.
Lord Sacks, the former chief rabbi, said he could understand the reason Muslim leaders might be asking why the government was putting the blame on the community when radicalised Islam was a global phenomenon transmitted by the internet and social media.
He said he was sure the letter was well intentioned, but it â€œsuggested the Muslim community within Britain contained its own radicals, and the truth is that Islamism, like all modern global political movements, is actually a global phenomenon transmitted by the internet and transmitted by social media, so I would be surprised if the Muslim community did not say: â€˜You are asking of us something that is not actually under our control.â€™â€
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.
Explaining how much had been done to integrate Jewish society in the UK through teaching in seminaries, he said: â€œI donâ€™t think that has been done with other ethnic minority communities. Radicalised imams have in the past been preaching a message of hate.â€
He admitted that the fear of attacks in the Jewish community was â€œat an all-time high so far as my lifetime is concerned. At the same time the most recent survey shows the overwhelming number of Jews here feel safe and Britain remains one of the most tolerant societies on Earth.â€
He insisted the Jewish community was well prepared and things were under control.
News of the letter emerged as the Metropolitan police announced that it had increased security around its buildings and bolstered the number of firearms officers available.
May also promised to increase the governmentâ€™s efforts to tackle the terrorist threat and a â€œchillingâ€ rise in antisemitism. – The Guardian