We do not doubt that Prime Minister, David Cameron, had good intentions when he spoke at the annual security conference in Munich, Germany, about British Muslims. However, he has been heavily criticised because of what he said, where he said and when he said it. His speech was praised by extreme right wing groups including the new leader of France’s extreme right National Front, Marine Le Pen, for endorsing her party’s views. She told the Financial Times that it was “indisputable” that Cameron was taking his party closer to the traditional positions held by the National Front following his speech in Munich. “It is exactly this type of statement that has barred us from public life for 30 years,” Le Penn said. He was also praised by the BNP and the English Defence League (EDL).
Cameron chose the world’s most famous security conference that takes place annually in Munich to deliver his first speech on radicalism. “Europe needs to wake up to what is happening in our own countries” about Muslim communities to defeat terrorism, he warned. Le Pen said it was “obvious” that the far right was on the rise in Europe, winning votes in countries such as Switzerland, Italy, Hungary, Austria and even Sweden. “I sense an evolution at European level, even in classic governments. I can only congratulate him (Cameron),” she said.
The question must be asked why the Prime Minister delivered such a speech to an audience much less successful than Britain in integrating ethnic minorities, rather than ringing praise for the accomplishments and benefits of our multicultural, multifaith society. He did not say even a word about the enormous contributions British Muslims are making to the society, their participation in civil society, politics and in building communities. By suggesting that Britain should be less tolerant towards Muslims, his speech was more reminiscent of former Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher’s provocative 1978 statement that Britain was “being swamped by alien cultures”.
The clear message from the Prime Minister was that he would no longer pursue differently ethnic minority and race policies to our European counterparts, including German Chancellor, Angela Merkel. Instead of praising the success and richness of multicultural society in the UK, he turned the clock back decades to indicate support for Merkel’s German Christian Democrat party’s idea that security and cohesion are brought about not through integration and pluralism, but through monoculturalism and assimilation.
His speech not only dangerously reverted back to a regurgitation of Tony Blair’s views at his worst but also his whole basic argument that “so many young Muslims” are drawn to extremism due to “a question of identity” is flawed and disproved by numerous studies and polls. Research published by Lancaster University in August 2009 found that young Muslims feel much more integrated with British culture than their European counterparts. Other surveys have also confirmed that Muslims are more likely to identify with Britain and have confidence in its institutions than the UK population as a whole. According to a survey by BBC Asian Network in 2007, more Muslims felt British than Hindus (64% to 46%). In the same year a report Gallop poll published in April, concluded that Muslims are more likely to identify with Britain and have confidence in its institutions than the population as a whole. Nearly three quarters of the Muslims said they felt loyal to the UK compared with 45% of non-Muslims and 82% said they respected other religions compared to 54% of non-Muslims.
Similarly to claim that the doctrine of state multiculturalism has “encouraged different cultures to live separate lives, apart from each other and the mainstream” is more the position in other European countries than in the UK. If the concentration of Muslims in particular areas is a problem, it is also for the Jews and for many nationalities from the Irish to the Chinese and not forgetting the white communities.
Conservative Party Chair, Sayeeda Warsi, warned last month against attempts to categorise Muslims as either “moderate” or “extremist” saying it fosters growing prejudice. She also said that Islamophobia “now crossed the threshold of middle-class respectability.” It is the last socially acceptable form of bigotry, often dressed up in the clothes of liberalism. Cameron took up the issue, saying it was “important to stress that terrorism is not linked exclusively to any one religion or ethnic group.” But then he contradicted himself saying that threat comes “overwhelmingly from young men who follow a completely perverse and warped interpretation of Islam and who are prepared to blow themselves up and kill their fellow citizens.” To get to the root of the problem, he believes “we need to be absolutely clear on where the origins of these terrorist attacks lie – and that is the existence of an ideology, Islamist extremism.”
The Prime Minister clarified that “Islamist extremism is a political ideology,” and had nothing to do with religion. “It’s vital we make this distinction between the religion and the political ideology…We need to be clear: Islamist extremism and Islam are not the same thing,” he also said, further confusing why he was insistent on still labelling and demonising Muslims, instead of using such terms as al-Qa’ida terrorists or extremists. However, after spending two days with a Muslim family in Birmingham in 2007, Cameron said, “Many Muslims I’ve talked to about these issues are deeply offended by the use of the word ‘Islamic’ or ‘Islamist’ to describe the terrorist threat we face today.” So why the change? For an ordinary person he/she would understand that it is the religion of Islam which is the root of extremism and terrorism. They don’t understand the nuances of Islam/Islamism. They would conclude that it is Islam which is the problem.
The problem is that ‘Islamist extremism’ implies that Islam is causing the extremism, ie, it is a causal factor not a descriptive word. Basque separatists for example means that it is because of the Basque region that they are advocating separatism
What is driving some young Muslims to radicalisation is politics. The former head of MI5, Eliza Manningham-Buller, told the Chilcot Inquiry last July: “Our involvement in Iraq radicalised, for want of a better word, a whole generation of young people – not a whole generation, a few among a generation – who saw our involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan as being an attack upon Islam.” That is, politics is a cause of terrorism and non multiculturalism or Islam.
Cameron’s focus was only on Muslims, ignoring the fact that most terrorist attacks in Europe are committed by non-Muslims. European Police Office (Europol) said that Muslims only carried out one out of the 498 terrorist attacks committed in the European Union in 2006.
Even in Britain, virtually all bombing attacks in the last few years have again arisen in connection with the Northern Ireland peace process. So why is the ‘war on terrorism’ now being extended to virtual thought crimes to “find people who may reject violence, but who accept various parts of the extremist world-view including real hostility towards western democracy and liberal values?” What about the student anarchists or left-wing socialists? Given the violence and subsequent threats by some of the students, should all students be vetted for their thoughts too?
It is about time that we move on from seeing Muslims only through the prism of terrorism and extremism.
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