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Shahid Malik, MP for Dewsbury, wrote in the FT last week about the challenges the British Muslim community now face after the London bombings. Click here to read it. His article got an overwhelming response and below he answers a selection of readers’ questions on the issue.
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Despite repeated calls from Muslims asking for the deportation of radical Islamist Sheik Omar Bakri Mohammed, nothing has happened. Why is this? (Salam Tanweer)
On three occasions on Radio 4 I have gone ‘head-to-head’ with Sheikh Omar Bakri - the first being on September 12 2002 when he was seen as glorifying the Twin Towers atrocity in New York at the Finsbury Park Mosque. I told him clearly at the end of the interview that Britain was a multi-cultural and multi-faith society and that if he didn’t like it he ought to leave the country. I also made clear to him that he did not represent the views of mainstream Muslims.
I also attacked Radio 4 for giving extremists such as Bakri airtime and for fuelling Islamaphobia by constantly using him and his hooked arm extremist Muslim caricature, Abu Hamza on air thus depriving a voice to the other 99.99% of the British Muslim community.
Of course, it is because Britain is such a decent society that he has not yet been deported for fear that he may be executed - many of us are currently seriously re-considering this stance!
Why have you been so quick to condemn the blasts in London yet you have not condemned the massacres that have taken place in the illegal war in Iraq under the name of your party/government? (Asad Ali)
You ask why I have been so quick to condemn the London bombings - I find this a most curious question - surely any decent person of whatever religious faith and those without would wish to condemn such an horrific atrocity as quickly as they could?
Your line of questioning makes you sound as if you’re acting as some sort of tacit apologist for the bombings, especially when you yourself are silent in condemning the London bombings.
You also suggest that I have not condemned other ‘massacres’ as you put it. The fact is that I was opposed to the war in Iraq, I have often criticised Israel and fought for human rights in Kashmir and Chechnya but that didn’t lead me to think that the carnage of innocent people was the way forward. In any decent modern democracy such as Britain, frustrations with foreign policy can only be dealt with through debate, discourse and our democratic structure and all that those entail - violence and the butchering of innocents has no place in this country.
Why have you apostatised from Islam and become the mouth-piece of Tony Blair. Do you hate Muslims this much? (Abou Luqman)
Far from hating Muslims I love them and all my fellow Britons. However, what I do hate are the actions of those who would manipulate faith in an attempt to justify horrific acts.
It is those that have carried out the vile terrorist atrocity in London that have apostatised from Islam, and indeed all those who seek to justify or excuse or act as an apologist for these terrorist acts.
How do you think British society can channel the energy and drive (some may call it anger) of all young men, of which Muslim young men form a subgroup, where the output includes a cohesion across different creeds and “communities”? (Peter Newman)
You ask how young men can channel their energy and drive (or indeed, anger) into something more constructive. Those of us in leadership roles must make it clear to our young people that in a modern democracy the way we express these feelings is by discourse, debate and through our democratic institutions i.e. we need to drag them into the political mainstream and make them realise that the only way to change the policies of a government that you do not agree with is through democratic channels.
The government recognises that political disengagement is a problem, as shown in the decreasing turnout in recent elections. Voter apathy is an acute problem amongst young people, which is why we’ve introduced citizenship classes in our schools. There has also been some good work on community cohesion, in the wake of the 2001 disturbances in Burnley, Bradford and Oldham, looking at how we can bring segregated communities together. But of course, more needs to be done - in particular, within the Muslim community, bridging the generation gap between older and younger, British-born Muslims - and this is something the government’s new taskforce will be looking at.
Above al, we need to recognise the commonality that we share; that the things we have in common, the things which unite us, are greater than our differences. Bringing peace to our communities will be an uphill battle until we do.
How far can we override human rights to achieve the end we all seek, and is it one of those few occasions where the end justifies the means? (Simon Ludden)
One fundamental human right is the right not to be blown up by a bomb on your way to work. We have to accept - and we do accept, in so many aspects of life - that sometimes the collective good is more important than individual liberty. For example, the Incitement to Racial and Religious Hatred Bill currently going through Parliament will curb the activities of those who seek to stir up hatred and incite others to violence, but has been criticised by some as a restriction on the right to freedom of speech.
But I believe extremists from all sides, regardless of their race and faith, should be held accountable for the venom they spout – and for the hateful acts they sometimes provoke as a result. This may restrict some people’s right to freedom of speech, but if we can avoid a repetition of what happened on 7th July by doing so, this has to be a price worth paying.
Muslims need to do more than condemn terror, they need to reveal it. Give up the hate preachers and give up sons and daughters when they espouse such hate. Muslims should do it now, and be seen to be doing it with a sense of British duty, before a British McCarthy can garner enough support to force more drastic measures. Don’t you agree? (Matthew Hennessey)
I have already said that Muslims cannot simply condemn the bombings, they must now confront the element within our community - tiny though it may be - which supports such evil, whether in words or in deeds. Before July 7th, we knew that there were certain individuals who were speaking in extremist terms, but we never in our worst nightmares believed that this would manifest itself in the killing of innocent people in the London tube and bus bombings. Certainly, I would urge everyone within the Muslim community to co-operate with the ongoing work of the police and security services. If anyone is aware of any information that could lead to such an atrocity again, they have a duty to report whatever they know to the authorities. I think most people within the Muslim community have expressed similar views.
Fundamentalist Christian groups exist which have extreme views similar to those defended by fundamentalist Muslims, but why do only Muslims bomb and kill innocent people? (Rod Veleda)
Muslims are not the only group to ‘bomb and kill innocent people.’ Might I remind you that in 1995 a young American Christian man killed 168 innocent fellow Americans in the Oklahoma bombing. His name was Timothy McVeigh. In 1993, 77 members of the Branch Davidian Christian sect perished in the Waco siege, including at least 20 innocent children. And many atrocities have been committed by Christian groups over the years; for example, in the 1982 massacre in Sabra and Shatila, up to 3000 people were killed by the Lebanese Christian Phalangist militia.
A few years ago the nail bomber, David Copeland - although not a practising Christian as far as I know - planted bombs in Brixton, Bethnal Green and Soho, killing 3 people and injuring 80. The one thing we can be clear of is that, just as Timothy McVeigh and David Copeland do not represent ordinary white or Christian people, neither should the Muslim extremists be seen as being in any way representative of the wider Muslim community.