Muslims made to feel like an enemy within by Islamophobic attitudes, report concludes

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Hardening prejudice against Islam is creating a disaffected underclass of young Muslim "time-bombs" likely to explode into violence, the Government was warned yesterday.

Hardening prejudice against Islam is creating a disaffected underclass of young Muslim "time-bombs" likely to explode into violence, the Government was warned yesterday.

The forecast of race riots followed a major investigation into "Islamophobia", which concluded that British Muslims felt outsiders in their own country after the 11 September terrorist atrocities.

A series of senior figures in the Muslim community told the Commission on British Muslims and Islamophobia think-tank of the aggression and hostility they regularly encountered.

The commission concluded that some communities perceived themselves as ghettoised, leaving them vulnerable to the influence of extremists. It demanded urgent action to tackle discrimination against Muslims and criticised race relations organisations for acting too slowly on the problem.

It said Muslims did not feel accepted into British society, adding: "On the contrary, they are seen as 'an enemy within' or 'a fifth column' and they feel that they are under constant siege. This is bad for society as well as for Muslims themselves. Moreover, time-bombs are being primed that are likely to explode in the future."

Both Muslim and non-Muslim commentators have pointed out that a young generation of British Muslims is developing that feels increasingly disaffected, alienated and bitter.

"It's in the interests of non-Muslims as well as Muslims, therefore, that Islamophobia should be rigorously challenged, reduced and dispelled. The time to act is now, not some time in the future."

Dr Richard Stone, chair of the commission and a former adviser to the Stephen Lawrence inquiry, said "huge divisions" were developing within British society. "I am very concerned about angry young Muslims who are not getting the sort of education my own kids have had," he said.

"What do they do when extremists come to them and say 'we have the answer'? They are not Islamic terrorists, they are just terrorists. They hijack Islam for political purposes and it is very dangerous. If we ignore the special advantages that young Muslim people have got to offer then we are whipping up an angry underclass that we are going to regret."

In the report, the Labour Muslim peer Baroness Uddin is quoted as saying the war in Iraq had set back efforts to improve race relations. "After 11 September the Prime Minister made a real effort to communicate to the world that ordinary Muslims were not the target of the effort to tackle terrorism," she said. "But actions spoke louder than words and the attacks on Iraq have taken us back decades. Each of us is constantly being asked to apologise for the acts of terror that befall the world. To make matters worse there is not a day that we do not have to face comments so ignorant that even Enoch Powell would not have made them."

Ahmed Versi, editor of the Muslim News, told the Commission of cases where mosques had been firebombed, or covered with paint and graffiti; and the journalist Fuad Nahdi warned that many young Muslims were "informed more by rage than the message of peace within traditional Islam".

The Muslim Council of Britain accused the Government of having done little to improve life for British Muslims since the commission's first report in 1997: "We strongly feel the Government has done little to discharge its responsibilities under international law to protect its Muslim citizens and residents from discrimination, vilification, harassment, and deprivation," it said.

Iqbal Sacranie, the council's secretary general, cited a 41 per cent increase in stop and search operations against Muslims. He said: "We have been witnessing a relentless increase in hostility towards Islam."

The commission's recommendations included making it mandatory for all public bodies to have a positive duty to prevent discrimination on religious grounds. It also backed the setting up of a commission on religion in public life.

'There is an atmosphere of hostility and it seems to be getting worse'

Fadi Itani, 34, is the executive director of the Muslim Welfare House in Finsbury Park, north London

"I was making my way towards a restaurant to meet a friend in the West End shortly after the Madrid bombing and a driver stopped and asked me if I had a bomb in my briefcase.

"I suppose he thought it was some kind of joke but I was very upset by this. It showed that out of all the people in the street, I really stood out to him as some one different.

"This is how many Muslims are starting to feel, when they get on a train or a bus or walk down the street. It's the way people sometimes look at you.

"There is an atmosphere of hostility and it seems to be getting worse.

"The BNP and the far right make lots of comments such as 'get them out' and 'shut down the mosques' but there is still no legal system to deal with Muslim complaints about this.

"We are working with the Metropolitan Police to acknowledge and record that an incident can be defined as 'religious'. It always seems to become a 'race' issue. There is a general feeling that people are hostile towards Muslims.

"But when you are faced with this, it can actually strengthen your beliefs and make you feel stronger in yourself.

"My 10-year-old son was talking about a non-Muslim friend recently and when asked how he felt about this, he replied, 'I think my friend needs to learn more about Islam to understand it'.

"This is a very positive attitude and makes me more hopeful. These are challenging times but we have a duty to explain things and not hide away."

'Why judge Muslims by the actions of extremists?'

Bashir Ebrahim-Khan is the Deputy Director of The Muslim Cultural Heritage Centre

"I used to work in Regent's Park Mosque in the area of community inter-faith relations.

"Bit by bit we were able to improve relations between communities but since 9/11 it is as if someone pressed the wrong button on a tape recorder and erased all the good work. Despite what Muslim organisations say, the Government and sections of the media refuse to acknowledge a positive view of Islam and continue to associate it with terrorism. Tony Blair and Mr Bush say we should not judge Americans by the actions of a few soldiers. Why then do we judge all Muslims by the actions of a few extremists?

"If the Government wants this attitude to apply to them then it should apply to Muslims as well."

'We have to question how long we can stay in Britain'

Shaista Aziz, 28, journalist, from Oxford

"Muslims have been ghettoised for a long time, but since 11 September there has been a real change in the way we are viewed in this country.

"This report sums the situation up, because the liberals are saying this community is under siege but at the same time they are using the imagery of time bombs, as if people think we are about to blow them up on trains.

"The prejudice has always been there but people have always been polite in that traditional way that British people keep their views to themselves. After 11 September people seem to go around saying whatever they want to say to people who look different.

"Middle-class educated people like me feel we now have to question how long we can stay here because we do not feel comfortable living here any more."

'The media is responsible for rise in racial hatred'

Ihtisham Hibadullah, 33, of the Muslim Association of Britain, London

"The anti-war protests had brought a lot of people together and showed that a lot of people have open minds and are in favour of integration. But some of the media interest showed that there is still a lot of institutionalised Islamophobia.

"The radio stations in London in particular clearly had agendas when they were speaking to me. They wanted to demonise the Muslim community and would always refer to 9/11, using it as an excuse for their attitudes. I believe it is the media that are responsible for increasing hate crime since 9/11 within the Muslim community.

"If the authorities don't tackle these right-wing elements of the media then they will be responsible for pushing race relations backwards."