Peter Hain, the minister for Europe, caused uproar yesterday after claiming that the "isolationist" tendencies of some British Muslims might encourage extremists to attack them.
He was criticised by leading Muslims for offering a "simplistic" view of their problems and giving legitimacy to far-right groups.
Speaking in the wake of the murder of Pim Fortuyn, the right-wing Dutch politician who criticised Muslims as illiberal, Mr Hain told The Sunday Times: "Islam is now a much bigger factor than racial tension and we are going to need to resolve that together, not by targeting Muslims as Fortuyn was doing, but sending a clear message that British Muslims are welcome here and enrich our culture, but also that they must be part of our culture.
"Muslim immigrants can be very isolationist in their own behaviour and their own customs. That, in the end, is going to create real difficulties and is likely to be ripe for exploitation by extremists, whether it is followers of bin Laden on the one hand or racists on the other. It just takes two to integrate, and we need to work with the Muslim community."
But Lord Ahmed, a Muslim Labour peer, said: "There are real problems in our community that are very important but we should not be too simplistic about those problems.
"When senior people like Peter Hain start making statements like that, it legitimises extreme people when very senior people in Government are saying these things. Peter Hain is not a racist. He is my friend, but I don't think he understands the problems of the Muslim community."
Dr Ghayasuddin Siddiqui, the leader of the self-styled "Muslim parliament" in Britain, said the remarks were divisive. "It is very sad. As a political activist, Peter Hain should know better."
Simon Hughes, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, added: "Identifying Muslims as the group most guilty of separatism in the UK, as the minister for Europe has done, is simplistic and dangerous. There are many national, racial and faith communities where lack of good English and different religious traditions keep them away from too much of mainstream British culture and participation.
"The tendency to isolationism is also much more common in certain age groups whatever their faith, and in several communities amongst women rather than men. Until we establish religious equality in this country we cannot expect equality of political participation."
Mr Hain, a veteran anti-apartheid campaigner, defended his comments on the BBC's Breakfast with Frost programme yesterday, saying: "We have to work much harder to integrate Muslims in particular with the rest of society. We welcome the contribution the Muslim community makes to our culture, they enrich our culture, they are welcome here.
"There is a tendency among a minority to isolate themselves and that leaves them vulnerable to either exploitation by either bin Laden-type individuals or targeting by racists and Nazis on the other, and that's where we need to work together to confront this problem."
Mr Hain also called on Iain Duncan Smith to sack a Tory councillor who posted an article entitled There's nothing wrong with racism on his website. The article, by Geoffrey Sampson, a Sussex University professor who sits on Wealden council in East Sussex, argued there was "overwhelming" scientific evidence that the races differed in average intelli-gence levels.
Mr Hain said: "I think Iain Duncan Smith should expel him from the party, and anybody like him, because there are many in the Conservative ranks who clearly are racists and proud to be so."Reuse content