Shamim Chowdhury: Forest Gate has only helped the extremists

The only apology from the police so far has been for the disruption caused by the raid
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The Independent Online

Last Friday's dawn raid by police at the east London home of Abul Kahar Kalam and his younger brother, Abul Koyair, in the search for a suspected cyanide bomb has so far served little purpose except to remind us just how flawed our security services are and how vulnerable the Muslim community remains.

An entire week has passed since 250 police officers burst into the house in Forest Gate, resulting in the shooting of Kalam and the detention of the two brothers at London's Paddington Green police station. No trace of chemical weapons has been discovered and police have yet to produce an iota of evidence to implicate the men in any terrorist plot. Yet permission has been granted to detain Kalam and Koyair until at least tomorrow.

That the heavy-handed actions of security services are sometimes based on questionable intelligence is in itself not revelatory; the death of the innocent Brazilian, Jean Charles de Menezes in Stockwell last July and the intelligence that led our Government to attack Iraq is ample proof. But it is inevitable that this latest turn of events will only increase tensions and further damage relations between the Muslim community and the police.

While most reasonable Muslims reject calls from the likes of the Respect Coalition to cease co-operation with the police, even those who previously felt accepted by mainstream society are bound to experience at least a sense of frustration, if not alienation, both at the actions of the police and their apparent dismissal by the Government. There is an abiding feeling that if this can happen to two ordinary boys with no history of criminality, it can happen to anyone.

The statistics support this fear. It is well documented that since the post-9/11 anti-terror laws came into existence, of the 1,000-odd arrests that have been made, only around 20 people have been convicted. Naturally, the vast disparity in these numbers will be questioned, and in the aftermath of events such as last Friday's, it is only reasonable to conclude that these laws have proven tantamount to giving the security services carte-blanche to do as they please.

Further, by expressing earlier this week his "101 per cent" support for the actions of the police and M15 without a single word of appeasement or comfort to the Muslim community, Tony Blair has in effect sanctioned the brutality of the security services. The consequence of this is that police can act unilaterally in the knowledge that they can get away with it.

A further fallout is that once again those like the misguided, self-proclaimed preacher Anjem Choudhury - who plans to lead a demonstration outside Forest Gate police station today - are given a platform on the media to further their own twisted agenda, one which the vast majority of Muslims reject.

For too long the terror-threat debate has been hijacked by these extremists, which has resulted, to a large extent, in the silencing of the voices of rational, peace-loving Muslims, who, while maintaining the moral values that Islam teaches, cherish all the freedoms afforded to us by a pluralist, free society.

It is crucial to remind the mainstream at this point that the most ardent opponents of those few radicals who espouse terror are Muslims themselves, and this is reinforced by the fact that Kalam and Koyair's lawyers have said their clients are eager to answer police questions and are opposed to terror.

While no one is denying the existence of the threat of terrorism on certain levels - the July 2005 bombings are proof of that - to suggest that extremists will succeed in their vision of an Islamic state, whatever that means, throughout Europe is to believe that Nick Griffin will become Britain's next prime minister.

The only apology from the police so far has been to the residents of Forest Gate for the disruption caused on the morning of the raid. If it transpires - which is seems more and more likely - that this was simply another bungled shooting, the police and MI5 will have yet again proved themselves to be untrustworthy and incompetent on matters of public security, and by doing so have advanced the cause of extremists on all sides.

Kalam and Koyair will have been made scapegoats, giving rise to the question of how long before the next act of aggression on an innocent Muslim takes place and what the cost will be to individual lives and to entire communities.

Unless there is a major overhaul in the practices of intelligence services and the police, where transparency and accountability is paramount, and a change of attitude in the Government, our society is set to become even more polarised than it already is.