Leading article: Not at the dinner table

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The Independent Online

Islamophobia is not just rife but socially acceptable in Britain today. Indeed it "passes the dinner-table test" of being seen as normal and uncontroversial in polite society. So Baroness Warsi, the first Muslim to sit in the Cabinet, was to warn last night.

Her speech has surprised and riled many, not least her fellows in the Conservative Party. What she says is true, which is what so irritates her critics. Prejudice against Britain's Asian community does not, since 9/11, attract the social stigma that prejudice against other religious and racial groups rightly brings.

Studying the language the media uses about Muslims is revealing. The actions or demands of Islamic extremists are routinely reported with generalised headlines proclaiming that Muslims demand x or do y – as though it were all Muslims. Or commentators speak of the "challenge of Islamisation"– as if Britain is in some way threatened by the birthrate of the Muslim population rather than by a handful of criminal extremists.

Muslims are implicitly considered the enemy within. They are not. We all need to be more conscious of our hidden patterns of thinking. Otherwise we will unwittingly fuel misunderstanding and intolerance.