Muslim leaders were urged by the Government yesterday to redouble efforts to counter "extremists" in their community whose hardline teachings inflame racial tension. The Home Office called for a drive to give all Britons, whatever their colour, a "sense of pride" in the country and enable them to identify with its national symbols, such as the Union flag.
A paper from the department yesterday insisted that progress had been achieved on promoting racial equality, but it conceded that Britain still faced "significant challenges" in achieving it. The document admitted that the "huge investment" in the poorest areas had done little to improve the prosperity of the ethnic minorities.
David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, regards the creation of a comprehensive "community cohesion and racial equality" strategy as a priority for the Home Office. The department said racism could not be rooted out by legislation, and had to be bolstered by "a sense of people belonging to Britain and to each other".
It said Britain needed to "ensure our national symbols, like the Union flag and the flags of the four nations, are not the tools of extremists, but visibly demonstrate our unity, as we saw through the golden jubilee celebrations".
Acknowledging the rise of political and religious extremism across Europe, the Home Office said Britain needed to "break out of the cycle" of ignorance and prejudice that fractures communities. In what may be seen as a provocative move, it singled out senior Muslims as it called for community leaders and the media to tackle the "myths and misrepresentation" that damage social cohesion.
"Religious extremists who wrongly argue for support for acts of terrorism in the name of Islam present the same threat to British Muslim communities as they do to others, compounded by the fact that they propagate false perceptions about the values and beliefs of Islam.
"We need to explicitly recognise that political and religious extremists do not speak on behalf of the communities they purport to represent and to work with those communities to counter the false perceptions that extremists promote."
The Home Office said Britain's racial and religious mixture - 8 per cent of the population describe themselves as from an ethnic minority - was a "source of rich cultural interactions". But it added: "In other areas, segregation has led to fear and conflict, which has been exacerbated by political extremists who capitalise on insecurities to promote their own narrow objectives." It said ensuring all people had a similar chance in life was an important way of combating racial segregation and admitted the Government's record in that area was patchy.
"We have seen a huge investment in regeneration programmes in disadvantaged communities in recent years, targeting those most in need. Yet the scale of disadvantage experienced by black and minority ethnic communities appears to have changed little." The Home Office said regeneration initiatives had failed to "engage effectively" with minority communities. It called for programmes to combat prejudice at an early age through community projects that bring young people together in youth and sports clubs, and said a new strategy for integrating refugees, who often had no family support or even a basic knowledge of English, would be unveiled in the summer.
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