The Home Secretary proposes a series of measures that are designed more to address the anxieties people have against Muslims and their religious life, rather than the scourge of terrorism itself. Mrs. May cites supposed extremism in schools in Birmingham, but disregards findings of MPs last week who said that bar one exception, there was ‘no evidence of extremism or radicalisation’. Similarly, talk of extremism in Tower Hamlets and the dangers of Shari’a courts need to be borne out of real facts, not rumours set by misinformed journalists.
The evidence shows that extremism and radicalisation takes place outside of mosques, and often online, as we have outlined in our work on radicalisation. Proposals of mosque closure orders therefore, are misguided at best, divisive at worst. The institutions of all religions, including the so-called Shari’a courts, Muslim supplementary schools and Jewish Beth Din courts, can and should have a positive role to play in a plural society. However, if any such institution is seen to be opposed to “British values”, then the same litmus test must be applied across the board.
Extremism needs to be tackled head on and properly. This policy cannot be set and held hostage to the hateful rhetoric of some of those who lobby our politicians furiously. All of these measures need to be applied across the board, and not only target Muslim communities.
At this difficult time, we need to deny the strategy of extremists by uniting communities. After the attacks in Paris, for example, the Muslim Council of Britain organised an interfaith solidarity summit and launched the #VisitMyMosque open day. Muslim groups across the country have similarly continued their ongoing outreach work to build stronger bonds between communities here in Britain.
Any attempt to improve community cohesion and tackle real concerns within some sections of the Muslim community is likely to prove ineffective and runs the risk of being counter-productive unless the government re-builds trust, engages with the community, and deals with the alienation caused by government policy.
The proposals by the Home Secretary also do not seem to include a strategy to address the fact that almost 40% of people in the UK would support a policy to reduce the number of Muslims in Britain, according to a YouGOV poll. It is worrying that nothing is being done to address the disturbing attitude of a large number of people who appear to have little respect for minorities – one of the core British values laid out in Mrs. May’s comments.
Dr. Shafi, Secretary General of the MCB, said:
“We urge the government to tackle all forms of extremism in a consistent way. In view of the seriousness of the crisis we face, it is about time the government works hand-in-hand with mainstream Muslim organisations to tackle the growth in Islamophobia and far-right extremism that Mrs. May acknowledges.”
Over 50 British mosques have been attacked in the past two years, hundreds of British Muslims have been the victim of hate crime from far-right extremists (including the murder of Mohammed Saleem) and Islamophobia has been stoked by a range of stories that have little or nothing to do with Islam (e.g. child grooming, animal welfare and the Trojan Horse hoax). Bar the proposal to require police forces to record anti-Muslim crimes as a separate category, which we very much welcome, there has been little focus from the government in tackling this growing threat to the cohesiveness of our society.