David Cameron was forced yesterday to defend his controversial claim that multiculturalism can foster Islamic extremism, after attacks from Muslim groups and Labour MPs. The shadow Justice secretary Sadiq Khan accused Mr Cameron of "writing propaganda for the English Defence League", while Muslim groups said he was attempting to "rip communities apart".
In an interview the Prime Minister – said by a Downing Street source to be "livid" about the attacks on his speech – stood by his philosophy. "You have to confront the extremism itself," he said."You have to say to the people in Birmingham Central Mosque, or wherever, who are saying 9/11 is a Jewish conspiracy, that that is not an acceptable attitude to have.
"We don't tolerate racism in our society carried out by white people; we shouldn't tolerate extremism carried out by other people.
"It certainly means changing the practice, changing the groups you fund, the people you engage . . .the people you let into the country. It needs a whole new way of thinking."
Mr Camero's comments were made on the same day as the anti-Muslim EDL held a big demonstration in Luton, prompting accusations that he was playing into the hands of the far-right. Stephen Lennon, the EDL leader, reportedly said of Mr Cameron: "He's now saying what we're saying. He knows his base."
Mohammed Shafiq, chief executive of the Ramadhan Foundation, a Muslim youth group, accused the Prime Minister of trying to "score cheap political points" in a way that would "rip communities apart". He said: "Singling out Muslims as he has done feeds the hysteria and paranoia about Islam and Muslims. Multi-culturalism is about understanding each others' faiths and cultures whil.rbeing proud of our British citizenship.
"It would help if politicians stopped pandering to the agenda of the BNP and the fascist EDL."
William Hague , the Foreign Secretary, rejected suggestions that Mr Cameron's speech was ill-timed. "This is a Prime Minister giving a speech about the future of our country – that doesn't have to be rescheduled because some people have chosen to walk down a street that particular day," he told the BBC's Andrew Marr Show. "This is a speech that will endure over the months and years, long after people have forgotten what was going on on that particular Saturday afternoon."
Trevor Phillips, chair of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, said Mr Cameron "may have made life a bit more difficult for himself" by combining the issues of terrorism and integration in one speech.
But he added the Prime Minister was right to say it was not the role of Government to tell people to embrace multiculturalism. "People don't choose not to integrate mostly. . .if they don't mix, it's because they don't have the choice," he said. Discrimination and economic cuts could also isolate communities.