The bombers will try again, and when it happens, many in the Muslim community fear a backlash
Published: 08 November 2006
Over recent weeks, the issue of racial and religious identity has burst into the open and suddenly everyone from politicians to media commentators has something to say about it. But once an issue of this sensitivity reaches the theatre of party politics it often risks being swamped by rhetoric. So, as a Muslim immigrant and enthusiast for integration, let me attempt to bring some perspective to this debate.
First, immigration has both enriched and impoverished our lives. For those coming to Britain determined to succeed, this country is a land of great potential. For all the talk of glass ceilings and a vestigial class structure, in reality Britain has a benign business environment and equal opportunities for all. Multiculturalism has worked in the sense that it has brought out the best in many of the millions who, like me, were given chances to succeed, for which we are grateful.
Yet while we celebrated our success, the dangerous seeds of Islamic extremism were being sown. Right under our noses our children were being brainwashed by a hateful ideology against the tenets of Islam. Radical preachers have set out to groom young people in a way which was deliberate and effective. The irony is that many of the parents of those being targeted by the hate-mongers originally came here to escape the sort of oppressive political system which fanatics want to impose on us.
Immigration has also impoverished our lives in the sense that it has placed tremendous strains on the country’s infrastructure. This is hardly surprising: in the past year alone, and counting only those who register in official statistics, the number of net immigrants was equivalent to the population of Newcastle. Despite so many people wanting to come to Britain, people who are already here increasingly wish to move abroad. Recent polls cite the tax system in particular as one of the key reasons people are considering emigrating. Governments around the world need to realise they compete in a global market, so they should encourage tax regimes sufficiently attractive to retain those who generate wealth.
I fear Britain is falling behind in the international tax stakes. If left unchecked, we risk losing the cream of our professional talent while sucking into the country more people than our infrastructure can take, some of whom doubtless falling under the influence of radical preachers.
This is a monster of our own making. The Government has been warned many times over recent years that urgent action is required to stop youngsters being derailed into radicalism. To be sure, David Blunkett as Home Secretary tightened the rules allowing imams into the UK. But there is ample evidence that many preachers are still promoting extremism.
The Government is taking welcome steps to clamp down on extremism, and not before time. This is not scaremongering: the bombers will try again, and when that happens, many in the Muslim community fear a backlash. The problem is this risks the radicalisation of yet more young Muslims. And so the spiral worsens.
John Reid understands from personal experience that extremists have a limited desire to engage in constructive dialogue. He says the Government will not be browbeaten by bullies and has promised legislation in the Queen’s Speech.
The Government believes a terrorist strike is inevitable some day. Given the broader consequences of such an attack, the Government needs to be more heavy-handed and, if necessary, resist protests from the left and the human rights lobby. Such groups do not speak for the decent, hard-working majority in the Muslim community who just want to get on with their lives without threat of terrorist violence or association with it. Failing to root out extremism and silence fanatical preachers has served only to diminish the authority of the law and the liberty of law-abiding citizens.
Over the specific issue of religious symbolism, we have lost sight of what’s important. To Muslims, what’s important is a woman’s modesty, which does not require protecting from a class of infants. Balanced against this is the need for consideration by wearers of the full veil to be given to those from different cultural backgrounds – such as indigenous Brits, for whom visual contact is considered important to communicate properly.
Perhaps we should also take a steer from the requirement that women who perform the part of the Hajj which takes them to the Ka’bah (the holiest site in Islam) are explicitly required to remove their veil. Veil wearing is not a universal injunction in Islam, although I strongly defend a woman’s right to wear a head covering as a mark of her faith.
John Reid and Ruth Kelly say they wish to stand shoulder to shoulder with the Muslim community in facing down extremists. Muslims will certainly wish to play their part, especially Muslim parents, who must do more to stop the indoctrination of the young by vetting the values and messages of preachers. But as a community, we do not possess the policy levers under the Government’s control to stop the inflammatory rhetoric of some preachers, arrest those who abuse Britain’s freedom of speech by calling for the murder of our politicians, and reverse the view that this great country is a soft touch for troublemakers seeking an illegal refuge. Government must now put its money where its mouth is.
Sir Gulam Noon MBE is a businessman and chairman of the Noon Foundation charitable body