Yasmin Alibhai-Brown: Muslims are a much-munderstood community

Most politicians have no intimate relationships with Muslim individuals or families
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The Independent Online

Gordon Brown says the Conservatives do not understand the "scale of the threat we face". He has announced a "national security budget" to fund even more draconian measures against Muslim traitors within the realm and also intends to win their "hearts and minds". Can he see how these connect? What do they know of us Muslims, who only terror know?

Intractable conflicts tend to incapacitate judgements. The urge takes over to reduce the enemy to a single entity. But the simplified version generates petulant responses to labyrinthine problems and is a poor and dangerous guide for political action. It also allows politicians to frighten the population into surrendering their rights and accepting violently uncivilised state responses, internally and abroad.

Most people in politics, the civil service, the judiciaryand other national establishments have no authentic, intimate relationships with Muslim individuals or families. They have never supped with us, been on vacation with our families, talked and argued into the night with our intellectuals, or sought anything more than utilitarian contact, when urgency requires it. The prominent and powerful do, however, nurture some cultural suppliers to provide them with fast "truths" which they can use to make opinions and policies. What a joke this is. Except it is not funny.

At a book launch that I attended last week, a stranger walked up with a big smile on his face and said: "Welcome on board. What're we going to do about Muslims then? All scum, the lot of them." My riposte was brief and he vanished. Made me think though. Did the other guests in that room share this generic distaste for all Muslims? Did they believe Muslims are all either active or passive terrorists who hate the West?

Some obviously do. The leading jihadis are tightly organised and spread murderous hatred of all things western. Using the many ignoble episodes in British history and religious passion, they get into the very hearts and minds Gordon Brown now wants to enter. But even with these converts to militancy, there are variations - and, like it or not, some legitimate grievances.

Last week was a good week for the recruiters to fanaticism. Israel "accidentally" blasted 19 Palestinian civilians - mothers and their babies included - and our government said nothing, but they did warn Muslims not to spread anti-West propaganda, a warning to lay off any condemnation of their deadly silent acceptance of these murders.

Those who wanted the war in Iraq have also become inadvertent propagandists for terrorist cells in Britain. I have never understood why suicide bombers are more heinous than our soldiers who rip up civilians with cluster bombs used from a distance so you cannot see the havoc. Contrition and apologies for these acts would disarm Islamicist mobilisers of their best weapons. But the British state, as we know, never says sorry.

I am in Bradford today to debate a new report funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. An in-depth study of a group of British-Pakistani men in that city illustrates the complexity of their lives and their sense of grievance and dislocation as they try and survive these times. One interviewer asks when our leaders will "apologise for all the people that are being killed in Iraq?" The same man, though, is worried about jihadis - "they're just brainwashing these young lads, just young lads, some have just left school".

The report examines the intersection of ethnicity with masculinity and how this affects these men. It attends to individual psychologies. The discourse over terrorism never engages with these inner mental and emotional states of bombers, and so cannot intervene to stop the pull of fanaticism.

There are Muslims who are going through a disorientating moral panic over modernity and its values - a panic many other Britons may share, but they do not have siren mullahs at their doorsteps. There is no sign anyone is attempting intelligent responses to Muslims in flight from the social disorder they perceive. Family dynamics are often dire as identities and expectations clash. These dysfunctional families need counselling, not religious doctrine which is what they get.

Muslims remain among the least-educated and least-upwardly mobile citizens in the country. Large numbers of the most disenfranchised are stuck in areas with few prospects. Cultural factors combine with discrimination to keep them there. Decent education and job opportunities could lift these Britons who have lost faith in themselves and the future.

New Labour's strategy to combat terrorism is ignorance parading as machismo. The leadership understands British Muslims less than it does the people of Iraq. And see what happened there.