The EDL and Islamic extremists are two different problems - but the solution is the same

The root cause that separates people in any society is ignorance leading to fear of unknown. We must use the knowledge of local communities at a national level

Click to follow
The Independent Online

In the early hours of 9 June, firefighters were called to the Darul Uloom boarding school in Chislehurst in south-east London almost 130 pupils and staff were evacuated. It was the second suspicious fire within a week in a building used mainly by Muslims

The murder of Lee Rigby on 22 May has brought to a head two major political and social challenges of our time, challenges that need to be tackled by both government and citizens, with resolve and wisdom. One is the utter criminality cloaked in the guise of politics or religion by a few deranged individuals on the periphery of the Muslim community who are putting the whole community on the dock. The second is the violent response from far right activists combined with a divisive narrative from some columnists that poisons ordinary people’s mind against the Muslim community. Both are dangerous and they feed on each other.

Lee Rigby’s killers were known to be linked with the extremist group (Al-Muhajiroun) that was banned a few years ago. The group re-emerges in variant forms with the same message of hate and, as far as I am aware, mosques and Islamic centres up and down the country are no-go areas for this group. The Muslim community has ostracised them, but sadly some of our national media provide them with a disproportionate amount of publicity, probably in search of a sensational news story.

On the other hand, the far right group, the English Defence League that emerged in 2009 had organised a series of violent protests against mosques across the country. Thankfully, they have also been ostracised by the mainstream society and the political establishment.

In order to defeat this twin menace we need to be careful of our words and language; they matter, especially if they come from senior public figures. Our former prime minister, Tony Blair who has a strong ideological view on Muslim issues (“There is a problem within Islam...”) has recently made a "brave assault on Muslim Extremism after Woolwich attack", for instance. This has the potential to further undermine the positive work done by the Muslim community and also give ammunition to the far right. Tony Blair took us to a disastrous war against the will of majority British people in 2003 and moreover, according to Prof John Esposito from Georgetown University in Washington, he has misread Muslim terrorism.

The root cause that separates people in any society is ignorance leading to fear of unknown. The local communities across the country generally get on well with one another, due to the fact that there is less ignorance of each others lives and more public interaction in their daily life. They are served by the local police, religious or community centres and other civic organisations.

But, nationally and regionally, we very much need to find creative ways to bring our diverse people together. Pragmatic political decisions by our politicians, more constructive input from our media and judicious commentary from powerful individuals are what we need today to spread the message of realistic hope and allay the fear of the other; we all have a duty to dispel myths surrounding other communities. This needs a clear strategy and inclusive approach by people in authority - political and civil, Muslims and non-Muslims, religious and non-religious.

Downplaying the seriousness of violent extremism or retaliatory anti-Muslim prejudice by any will be a grave mistake.

Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari is former Secretary General of Muslim Council of Britain (2006-10). He is an educationalist, writer and freelance parenting consultant (