Muslim leaders blame Blair's war on Iraq for growing alienation

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Britain's Muslim leaders appealed for calm yesterday amid fears that the arrests of eight terror suspects in London and the Home Counties could trigger anti-Islamic feeling.

Britain's Muslim leaders appealed for calm yesterday amid fears that the arrests of eight terror suspects in London and the Home Counties could trigger anti-Islamic feeling.

Iqbal Sacranie, the secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, blamed sections of the media for stoking Islamophobia.

In a letter sent to Britain's Imams and other Muslim community leaders, he wrote: "There is no need, however, to be daunted or intimidated by any Islamophobic propaganda and we should continue with our daily lives - normally and in accordance with the tenets of Islam."

Mr Sacranie said many previous cases had attracted prominent media attention only for the individuals to be released without charge.

"The impact of such ordeals on the persons concerned and their families is unbearable. We urge against hasty pronouncements of guilt," he wrote.

Dr Ghayasuddin Siddiqui, leader of the Muslim Parliament of Great Britain, said British Muslims were paying the price of Tony Blair's failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. He said the Blair government had turned on Islamic fundamentalism because it could not justify the war on Iraq. He warned: "If this is a war against extremism and fundamentalism, then the policies they have adopted are not working."

Commenting on the arrests, he added: "This is nothing new, the only thing that has changed is the name of the chemical. Last year it was ricin and chemical gas - today it's ammonium nitrate. But it's the same old story: Muslims have been arrested."

He said the only way Mr Blair could justify the war was to "keep on creating this scare of fundamentalism in this country by saying, 'They are dangerous people if we don't get them they will get you'."

Mr Sacranie said many Muslims felt alienated. "People from Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities in this country live in areas where they have the worst levels of unemployment and housing. And this creates frustration and vulnerability."

Dr Siddiqui said the indiscriminate arrest and detention of young Asian men over past five years had helped to "alienate, marginalise and criminalise" Muslim communities.

"There does not seem to be any connection between the number of Muslims who have been stopped and searched and the numbers of people who have been charged or convicted. The community has simply lost confidence that this is a government that cares about the wellbeing of the Muslim community."

Dr Siddiqui said he and his fellow Muslim leaders had tried to persuade Muslim communities that they had nothing to fear from the authorities. "We have been telling young Muslims that as long as they are law-abiding nothing will happen to them. But people are coming back and saying, 'I was arrested and I did nothing wrong'. Every day more and more young people are losing confidence in the system and in the rule of law."

Jaffer Clarke, the joint deputy leader of the Muslim Parliament of Great Britain, said that Islamophobia had been exacerbated by the police referring to the "overall majority" of Muslims being law abiding. This, said Mr Clarke, raised a specific innuendo "about the Muslim community that hadn't been there before".

He added: "The police tried to reassure the Muslim community but they indicated that the Muslims were Islamic extremists responsible for the explosives without any forensic or other evidence. We thought the comment was pre-emptory."

He said some young Muslim men had become "anti-western and anti-American". He said: "One of the reasons for this is the tacit support of Israel against the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza and the continued suspicion that nothing is being done to stop the appropriation of the territory of the Zionist entity and that the road-map is no longer viable."

He added: "But having said all this we have been dragging our hearts to try to know why our young people are turning to extremism."