Robert Verkaik: Case exposes Britain's multicultural tensions

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The Independent Online

Claims by an experienced policeman that he has been victimised in his work because of his children's religion will fuel growing concern about the treatment of all Muslim officers who are serving in the Metropolitan Police.

It follows the case of another Muslim firearms officer who, at the height of the conflict in southern Lebanon, was excused from guarding the Israeli embassy in Kensington Palace Gardens, because of a possible conflict of interest over his family links with Lebanon. Many will say that those cases can be used to support the view that the Metropolitan Police remains racist.

But those cases open up a much wider debate about the underlying tensions in the role of Muslims who hold public office, particularly when their jobs have implications for public safety.

The overall context may be counter-terrorism but the debate touches all walks of life. Last week, London Underground's decision to allow the son of jailed Islamic cleric Abu Hamza to work on the tube system drew criticism from many quarters.

Mohammed Kamel Mostafa, 25, who was jailed for three years in Yemen in 1999 for plotting a bombing campaign, worked for a sub-contractor of the network's maintenance company Tube Lines.

London Mayor, Ken Livingstone, said at the time that no one should be held responsible for the actions of their parents, but he added that the failure to pick up on Mr Mostafa's convictions in Yemen needed to be investigated properly.

Mr Livingstone's words were contrasted somewhat to those of the shadow home secretary, David Davis, who said that anyone convicted of terrorism should not be allowed access to our public transport infrastructure.

The case of a Muslim teaching assistant has helped to widen the public debate further so that all Muslim workers employed in the public sector find their roles under closer scrutiny.

Last week, a leading Muslim scholar went further and said the debate on women wearing veils highlighted a growing "global polarisation" between the West and the Islamic world.

Tariq Ramadan, a visiting professor at Oxford University told an inter-faith conference in London yesterday that the debate sparked by Jack Straw, who said the veil hampered integration, was part of a global phenomenon in which a "them versus us" attitude was being fostered between Muslims and non-Muslims. He warned: "To nurture this polarisation is the easiest way for politicians when we don't have social policy. The most dangerous thing is the normalisation of this discourse."

But it is at the heart of our security organisations, whose priority is to protect regardless of the political fallout, where these issues are brought into the sharpest relief.

There is already a growing perception among the Muslim community that the police forces are targeting Asians first and asking questions later.

The fiasco at Forest Gate, where one Muslim man was shot after a bungled anti-terrorism operation and the damage done to community relations, is not regarded as a one-off incident. Some senior officers in the Met remain unrepentant, arguing that they can't afford to think twice when investigating matters of urgent public safety.

It is the same kind of defence that is being used to justify racial profiling for airline passengers at Britain's airports.

Nevertheless, suspicions that the Met has failed to come to terms with an inherent prejudice was highlighted earlier this year when a discussion paper commissioned by the Met's Directorate of Professional Standards, suggested that Asian officers, and in particular Pakistani Muslim officers, were "under greater pressure from the family, the extended family ... and their community against that of their white colleagues to engage in activity that might lead to misconduct or criminality."

In response, the Metropolitan Police said that the purpose of the report was to seek to understand how social and familial pressures affect officers' work.