Terror cartoon plunges Blunkett into race row

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Muslim leaders accused a Home Office terrorism document of being "deeply offensive" about their religion yesterday, plunging David Blunkett into a new race row.

Muslim leaders accused a Home Office terrorism document of being "deeply offensive" about their religion yesterday, plunging David Blunkett into a new race row.

The document - exclusively obtained by The Independent on Sunday - "plays into the hands" of white racists and Islamic extremists by portraying all Muslims wearing beards and traditional headgear as terrorists, they said.

Mr Blunkett should withdraw the "offensive material" - a cartoon in an official presentation by a top Home Office counter-terrorism expert , they said. The cartoon will boost the cause of Muslim militants who argue that parts of the Government suffer from "institutionalised Islamophobia", they said.

The row, the latest involving ministers and senior officials, could not come at a worse time for the Home Secretary, who is pressing for a new offence of inciting religious hatred to be written into British law. It follows his announcement last week that leaflets preparing the public for terrorist attacks are soon to be distributed to every home in the country.

The cartoon depicts a bearded and stereotypically dressed Arab instructing apparently gormless colleagues in suicide bombing. It formed part of a slide presentation given by Graham Lippiatt, a senior official in the Home Office's terrorism and protection unit, addressing the threat of chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear attacks.

It was presented at a seminar for emergency planners, police officers, firefighters and National Health Service officials in Wakefield on 11 November last year. It was one of nine in a campaign code-named Exercise Counter Balance. Ironically, every other slide in the presentation carried the Home Office logo with the slogan: "Building a safe, just and tolerant society."

Iqbal Sacranie, secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, yesterday called the cartoon "deeply offensive and silly" and said it profiled all people "wearing a beard and a cap as potential bomb-makers".

He added that it "plays into the hands of those people who have been saying that there is institutionalised Islamophobia present in some sections of government departments" and "works against the whole objective of community cohesion that is at the heart of the Government's agenda".

He called on the Home Office to withdraw "this offensive and silly material".

Anas Altikriti, spokesman for the Muslim Association of Britain, said that the image contained in the cartoon was "appalling, outrageous and untrue", and "stigmatises the Arab and Muslim communities". Such images "stir up extremism on all sides" and "drive a wedge between communities", he added.

He described it as the latest of "a long list of blunders committed by the Government and its ministers". He cited a call by the Foreign Office minister Denis MacShane last November on leaders of British Muslims to "make a choice" between "the British way, based on dialogue and non-violent protests", and "the way of the terrorists".

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