Ismail Patel: British Muslims are bewildered and scared

It is easy for a Muslim in 2004 to relate to the pain of the Jews in early 20th-century Britain
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The Independent Online

The arrest of 13 suspects on terrorist charges on Tuesday highlights the precarious position in which the majority of British Muslims find themselves. The wider Muslim community is struggling to integrate into mainstream British life, but the public spotlight always seems to shine on the extremists. The result is a dangerous upsurge in Islamophobia.

British Muslims today find themselves caught between a rock and a hard place. They are told to integrate, but when they do, via active political participation, they are informed that the "Muslim vote" poses a threat to democracy. Labour's flirtation with Muslims during elections is disingenuous. Sometimes the Prime Minister can be heard praising the Koran to win support from Muslims, but he is also happy to unleash his crusader-like Home Secretary, David Blunkett, when he feels the need to appeal to popular prejudices.

Mr Blunkett has gone to great lengths to convince us that the root cause of social disharmony is the failure of immigrants - a euphemism for Muslims - to accept "British ways" and demonstrate their "Englishness". British and English seem to be interchangeable in this context - much to the annoyance of Scottish and Welsh Muslims and non-Muslims.

The efforts made by British Muslims to integrate always appear to fall short of Mr Blunkett's "citizenship requirements". What is more, any moves Muslims make towards integration provokes the ire of the neo-fascist element in society. There have been numerous manifestations of this in the media, in this country and America.

The director of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organisations, Malcolm Hoenlein, in an interview with an Israeli newspaper, expressed sentiments that are echoed by our home-grown right-wingers. "Europe is the current Muslim battlefield, but America is their ultimate goal," claimed Mr Hoenlein. Writing in The Sunday Telegraph, someone going under the name of Will Cummins clearly thinks along the same lines. Mr Cummins warned us recently about "Muslim foreigners who have forced themselves on us", and was extremely distressed at the political engagement of the Muslim community in last month's Leicester South by-election.

In 2002, after another Blunkett rap on the knuckles for Muslims, the BNP announced that the Home Secretary's "attempt to steal the BNP's clothes will help us win seats!" They went on to quote him, to their own advantage, in election leaflets. Mr Blunkett's rhetoric about Muslims engaging in forced marriages is directly related to Cummins' claim that "all Muslims, like all dogs, share certain characteristics". In Washington, Jackie Mason, a talk show host on the nation's largest radio network, called "the whole Muslim religion" a "murderous organisation" that teaches "hate, terrorism and murder".

This onslaught from both the political left and right has left many Muslims in this country bewildered and scared. This is reflected in America where a recent poll showed that 60 per cent of Muslims in the US live in fear for the future of their children.

This is where the paradox arises. Go back 100 years and look at the disgusting abuse and hateful rhetoric heaped upon the Jewish community. It is easy for a Muslim in 2004 to relate to the pain of the Jews in early 20th-century Britain. Seeking to escape the pogroms of eastern Europe, the Jews were lambasted by the British media. Mirroring what is being said about Muslims today, the Jews were accused of being parasitic, a threat to the British way of life and a danger to the nation's security. As the East London Advertiser put it in May 1889: "People of any other nation, after being in England for only a short time, assimilate themselves with the native race, and, by and by, lose nearly all of their foreign trace. But the Jews never do. A Jew is always a Jew."

Despite such hatred, the Jewish community today boasts the Leader of the Opposition and nearly 50 Jewish MPs in Parliament. They have influence across society at all levels, and no one today would dare to repeat the race libels that persisted into the Thirties in newspapers such as the Daily Mail. If the Muslims are moving towards similar integration - and all indications are that they are, slowly but surely - then they need to take a leaf out of British Jews' history.

Last week, a front-page article in The Times was headlined "Islamic colleges in Britain linked to terrorists", and sought to "enlighten" readers about two of the most prestigious Islamic academic institutes in Britain. Despite the outrageous claim in the headline, there was no credible proof or evidence of such links. It was malevolent mud-slinging at its worst. But what it illustrates is that success by Muslims in any field - even academia - is feared.

Muslims do not need to engage in a jihad in foreign fields. There is a battle at home for the hearts and minds of the people of this country, which we are proud to call home. The jihad is for Muslims to be accepted as equals. No more, no less.

The writer is the chairman of a Leicester-based human rights organisation