Muslims are loyal citizens

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The Independent Online
It is open season on Muslims once more. Baroness Thatcher was yesterday warning in an apocalyptic speech about the dangers of "radical Islam". And Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, announced that the Government may tighten up laws to enable a clampdown on British Muslims alleged to be supporting the Palestinian extremists of Hamas.

As soon as a conflict arises involving Muslims anywhere in the world, however remote, British Muslims are named as the financiers, if not the master plotters. But the suggestion that the Muslims of Britain could supply funds for military activities in the Middle East, the Caucasus, the Balkans and South Asia is laughable.

We are one of the poorest communities here and almost all our mosques, schools and welfare organisations are financed by our wealthy coreligionists in the oil-producing countries. The little spare cash that the British Muslims donate for outsiders is always marked for social and medical relief. Mr Howard acknowledged as much yesterday when he admitted that there was no evidence of money going from this country to Hamas.

The campaign to treat Muslim charities as suspicious will almost certainly strain the relationship between Muslims and Jews in this country and it will also heighten Muslim feelings of alienation.

I can well understand the anxieties of some Jewish leaders here about funds being supplied to sponsor the activities of the military wing of Hamas. But there is no evidence that this wing of Hamas has any active supporters in Britain. A national newspaper yesterday reported that a self-styled distinguished Muslim scholar said many Muslim organisations in Britain are collecting funds and recruiting British personnel for Hamas. This item of "news" was given considerable prominence. Yet there was no evidence to support any of his claims.

Why is a small, vociferous minority more newsworthy than the majority of mainstream Muslims? These extremists arrogate themselves the right to speak for all Muslims, but they do not speak for the vast majority. Nor is there evidence that their fiery statements lead to violence; on the contrary, it is common for members of such groups to mature rapidly out of it and rejoin the mainstream.

Such people are a tiny minority. The danger is that if all Muslims are tarred with the same brush of condemnation, then moderate Muslims will be hampered in their capacity to mitigate the excesses of such extremism - and to mediate between such people and the mainstream community in a way that secular or Christian authorities would find more difficult. We are loyal citizens of Great Britain. Please treat us that way.

The author is principal of the Muslim College, London.