David Blunkett provoked renewed indignation from the Muslim community last night when he warned that extremist imams were increasing the terrorism threat by preying upon impressionable youngsters.
“We have to understand what is happening in a world where young men and women can be enjoined by their religious leaders to take their own lives and others as suicide bombers,” he said.
The Home Secretary said the involvement of two British Muslims in a suicide attack in Israel this year demonstrated that “we are not completely untouched”.
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Apart from the two in Israel, in recent years Britain has supplied Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, who masterminded the kidnap and murder of Daniel Pearl, an American journalist, in Pakistan. Originally from east London, he attended a British public school before dropping out of the LSE.
Richard Reid, born in London, tried to carry out a suicide attack on a Paris to Miami flight in December 2001 but was overpowered by passengers. There are seven British Muslims held by the Americans in Guantanamo Bay after being captured in Afghanistan.
Mr Blunkett said tension between religion and nationality was a worrying trend. Second-generation British Muslims were more likely than their parents to feel a need to choose between feeling British and their faith.
However Inayat Bunglawala, spokesman for the Muslim Council, said: “We are quite dismayed to see him, yet again, singling out the British Muslim community for denigration.
“His remarks about Muslim youth, while they are sure to gain him plaudits amongst the far Right, are off the mark and show him to be poorly briefed.
“In comparison with their parents’ generation, Muslim youths today are far more confident in their identity and better integrated into our country’s life.
“They are also more willing to speak out against policies they disagree with. We should be encouraging them with strategies geared towards inclusiveness and not engaging in a crude post-September 11 version of ‘Paki-bashing’.”
In his speech at York University, Mr Blunkett also emphasised the importance of ensuring that Muslim imams preaching in British mosques should speak English.
“It is crucial that those who have this key role in shaping the world view of our young people should be in a position to help them to relate to the world in which they live rather than turning them away from it.
“There is a real risk that, instead of religion helping to build civic society and a sense of belonging among those who might otherwise become alienated, religion could actually increase that alienation.”
Ministers of religion, including Muslim imams, are allowed permit-free employment in Britain.
Earlier this year, a think-tank said religious leaders who preached hatred of Western values should be barred from British mosques. The Civitas organisation called for an immediate reform of immigration rules “to prevent a further influx of Islamist ideologues”.