Deborah Orr: These ham-fisted appeals for help sound more like a reproach than a rallying cry

If you're a Muslim and call yourself a decent citizen, goes the message, then you ought to be trying harder
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The Independent Online

Ruth Kelly, Communities Secretary, has asked Muslims to take efforts to root out extremists to a "new level", in much the same way as John Reid, Home Secretary, asked Muslims a few weeks ago to be "herdsmen" to their children. Further, the Government has asked police and local authorities to draw up a map of potential "hotspots" where radicalism could be flourishing. Then there's the idea that universities should keep an eye on "Asian-looking students", which is another version of the Asian-profiling scheme floated in the wake of the airport security debacle.

On the face of it - apart from Reid's strange choice of a word inferring that Waltham Forest in East London is some sort of prelapsarian, goat-grazing, Bedouin paradise - these seem like sensible requests. Except that there are more than a few problems with this approach. Paul Mackney, of the University and College Lecturers' Union, has leapt in to suggest that the student-watching is "a kind of anti-Islamic McCarthyism". It's not quite that, but it is still a troubling approach.

First, and most obviously, such appeals suggest that Muslims in general bear more responsibility for the actions of people who plot terror in the name of Islam than non-Muslims. All the ministers are really saying, in their ham-fisted way, when they exhort "the Muslim community" to "put its house in order" is that Muslims largely live in particular communities, are in a good position to observe what's going on, and should keep their eyes open. But this has all been said so many times already, even though it barely needed saying at all, that it's now sounding more like a reproach than a rallying cry. If you're a Muslim and call yourself a decent citizen, goes the message, then you really ought to be trying a bit harder.

(Or maybe the ministers simply know more than the rest of us, and are struggling with the secret knowledge that the dozens of terrorist outrages they claim to have averted over the last five years, and the 8,000 terrorist sympathisers they claim to be investigating, have been intercepted without any help from any Muslims at all. In which case, they're being more than ham-fisted in continuing to demand help in a way that clearly elicits no results.)

Likewise, and more disturbingly, attempts to encourage professional groups, whether they be airport officials or university lecturers, to single out Asians for special attention, again places blame on Muslims, and also suggests that with this blame comes a duty to bear with dignity a level of inconvenience and compliance not demanded of other Britons. Those with nothing to hide, the implication is, should accept that their race and religion alone is enough to justify scrutiny and that if they are good citizens they should accept this. Again, this places too much of a burden of guilt on a group for the actions of a tiny minority of individuals within it.

Second, and more controversially, rather in the way that sympathy over 9/11 was thrown away on a global scale due to responses that were both disproportionate and illogical, the trust of many Muslims has been thrown away for similar reasons on a national level after 7/7. The panicked execution of Jean Charles de Menezes was awful enough. But no indication has ever been given of what "high-quality intelligence" made the police decide that 250 police officers had to be deployed in raiding the home of Mohammed Abdul Kahar, who was shot in the arm, and his brother Abul Koyair. The fact that neither evidence of a "huge chemical bomb", nor any other signs of terrorist activity were found, led the police eventually to issue an apology for the "harm, hurt and disruption" caused to the local community. The apology does not change the fact that one is less confident about going to the police about one's niggling suspicions of a neighbour, when one might set off such a dramatic chain of events.

Conversely, some people have complained that their tip-offs were not taken sufficiently seriously. It is admitted, for example, that Mohammed Sidique Khan, leader of the 7/7 attacks, was known to the police and intelligence agencies, but that they did not have the manpower to keep him under surveillance. Obviously, these services have priorities and will sometimes make mistakes. But harrying a section of the population when suspicions are not being taken as seriously as they might anyway, adds to the feeling that some of it, at least, is grand-standing or finger-pointing.

Third, and most invidious, is the way in which these very problems feed into the sense of Muslim victimhood that political Islam wishes to promote. Muhammad Abdul Bari, head of the Muslim Council of Britain, is said to have accused Kelly and other ministers of "only being prepared to work with Muslims who supported Labour's foreign policy". The Council itself maintains open, if not cordial, relations with the Government, and has sympathies with the Muslim Brotherhood and Jamaat-I-Islami - radical groups who believe in the creation of Muslim states and the establishment of Sharia Law (as documented by Martin Bright of the New Statesman).

So the Government is not so very fastidious in these matters. The idea is absurd, as are many of the deliberately divisive ideas floated by those who call themselves "Muslim leaders", yet do not represent the opinions of the majority of Muslims. But the technique, of tying absolutely everything to a foreign policy that is portrayed as "war on Islam", is so wonderfully successful that it is always in the interests of mischief-makers to give it a go.

In building a case for a "war on Islam", political extremists will seize any morsel of so-called evidence they can. Muslims, for example, are among the most socially excluded groups in Britain - though I'd personally identify children in care as the most socially excluded group of all. Yet any attempts to suggest that any aspect of that social exclusion - a propensity for seeking out brides who don't speak English, and liking it that way, or an unwillingness to send girls to university where they might be exposed to decadent Western ways, or wrapping oneself in swathes of black - might be self-generated, brings forth cries of Islamophobia.

And the more the "rest of us" are told how Islamophobic we are, the more chippy we all become about the so-called divide between us, just in the way that the "Muslim community" feels targeted too. Then, those who wish to believe it, become certain that Britain is Islamophobic, and on and on it goes. It is not difficult to see how young Muslims become radicalised in Britain, and it is not difficult to see how any debate can be used to stir the toxic soup. But it's not difficult either to see that the Government is not going to make progress in its attempts to thrust collective responsibility for the agendas of political Islam on to all Muslims, and that it really ought to give it a rest now.

d.orr@independent.co.uk

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