Caught between the British bigots and our crazy mullahs

`We're torn between hating the racist stereotypes, and anxiety about what is happening to our own'
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The Independent Culture
NADIM, A soulful second-year university student and friend of one of the young Muslim men currently in prison in the Yemen, writes a moving letter that ends: "Being a Muslim means never sleeping peacefully. One part has to listen to see who is going to attack you next. Another part is always worrying about the damage we do to ourselves. And then there is the shame about Saddam, or Taliban and all those crazy mullahs."

How right he is, how right. We lack ease. Unlike many other visible groups, too many British Muslims are disconsolate, angry and unsettled. They are grappling with conflicts between value systems, the old and the young, men and women, tradition and modernity, religion and secularism, their own allegiances. There is enormous frustration growing over the sanctions against Iraq, and a terrible sense of guilt that as Western Muslims they are culpable in some way.

Fifty years after they first arrived, too many British Muslims appear to be in this country but yet not of it. They are constantly and mercilessly scrutinised, and condemned with impunity. Just this week William Rees- Mogg, one of that gang of "gentlemen" bigots, (others included the recently deceased Alan Clark), wrote in The Times that Muslims in Europe are supposedly having too many babies and that "young, unemployed and disaffected Muslims are a threat... to the West".

Research by the Policy Studies Institute shows that Muslims in certain areas are being failed by the education system and face seriously high levels of discrimination, a situation made worse by the fact that at the moment we have no laws against religious discrimination. And in the last few weeks these feelings have been heightened by a cluster of unrelated but highly emotive events, which have gone mostly unnoticed by the press.

First, after decades of silence and inaction by successive governments (mainly to placate traditional male Asian leaders who could deliver block votes to wannabe or wannastay MPs), this Government took up the thorny issue of forced marriages and the rights of young Asian women. And although these marriages occur in other groups, too, the change of direction has been resisted most strongly by some Muslim groups, who claim that it is an attack on their culture and a way of reintroducing racist immigration controls by stealth.

Extraordinarily, the Government has the support of the Muslim Parliament, which was once headed by the fiery and much feared late Kalim Siddique, but which today has courageously embraced the principles of basic human rights. Their leader, Dr Ghayasuddin Siddique, announced last month that forced marriages were sinful and illegal under Islamic law and that sex within such marriages should therefore be considered as rape. Children born of these relationships were illegitimate.

Outsiders would find it hard to comprehend how provoked some Muslims feel over these developments. As someone who has written extensively in The Independent about this abuse, and who wholly supports such government intervention, I have felt the flames of the fury that has been set alight. In the last two weeks, several sinister "messages" have been communicated to campaigners against forced marriages, a development that I have found both frightening and revealing.

With this issue still simmering, we had the furore over the Home Office appointment of a religious adviser to help Muslims in prison. Again, the media coverage, which implied quite unfairly that our prisons were bursting with Muslim criminals, helped to increase tensions that are already high. It silenced the important debates some of us wanted to have about the undoubted rise in crime among British Muslims, especially those who have been born here. The offences concerned include violence, pimping, fraud and drug-dealing.

Those involved in crime are young men with no qualifications and a terrible sense of failure because nobody respects them. Once, the simple fact of being male ensured automatic status. In the changing world, even in these conservative communities, that respect is no longer forthcoming. So it is being "earned" by means of crime and violence.

Every time we get such situations, all Muslims are torn between hating the racist stereotypes that erupt in the media, which we feel bound to attack, and feeling a huge anxiety about what is happening to our own.

Then we had the scandal of a perfectly respectable imam, Shafiq Ur Rehman, who came to take up his post in an Oldham mosque and who now faces deportation because the Home Office claims that he is a member of a Kashmiri terrorist group and has been recruiting young British Muslims to join his cause. Rehman claims that this is "punishment" because he refused to work with MI5, which asked him to spy on British Muslims. A tribunal has overruled the Home Office decision, but the Muslim community is furious that a cleric has been treated with such disrespect.

Finally, on Sunday the Royal Albert Hall cancelled a booking for a rally that had been made by the extremist Muslim group Al-Muhajiroun and their leader Sheikh Omar Bakri Muhammed, who has recently "declared war against insurance policies" and is looking forward to the day when he presides over Sharia law in our courts. He and his followers are on jihad alert. The rally had been publicised so cleverly that many of the young people who had decided to attend it had no clue that it was organised by people who have fanatical fantasies of setting up Islamic states in the West. Poor, troubled Nadim was one of those who turned up, looking for divine solutions for his deep insomnia, only to be turned away. For him this amounted to an unforgivable slight, another indication that Muslims had no rights in this country. Muslims who know better are just relieved that the rally was stopped before it caused us even greater damage.

I have found these weeks seriously draining and difficult. So much of what has happened is to do with confronting the corruption within our own lives, without losing sight of overwhelming prejudices against us. In the end you disappoint or infuriate all sides. As Edward Said writes, it is an unenviable position to "speak for two diametrically opposed constituencies", to use the disparate halves of oneself to "work with and against each other", to see that in fact you belong to both sides of the Imperial divide, and that it is only by using that duality that you can really make a difference.

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