British hostility to Muslims ‘could trigger riots’

Hostility towards Islam permeates every part of British society and will spark race riots unless urgent action is taken to integrate Muslim youths into society, according to a devastating report.

The Commission on British Muslims and Islamophobia (CBMI), which is chaired by a key government adviser to the Stephen Lawrence inquiry, warns that more and more Muslims feel excluded from society and simmering tensions, especially in northern English towns, are in danger of boiling over.

Members of the commission interviewed scores of British Muslims for their report, which will be published this week and will conclude that Britain is ‘institutionally Islamophobic’.

It emerged last night that the government is considering new laws to stop radical muslim clerics coming from overseas to preach in Britain. According to reports in a Sunday newspaper imams will have to pass a ‘civic engagement test’ which will include an English language exam and questions on British culture. Public funds will be provided for the training of home-grown clerics in order to halt the influx of militant preachers from the Middle East.

The report produces a raft of evidence suggesting that since the 11 September attacks there has been a sharp rise in attacks on followers of Islam and their mosques and a rise in anti-Muslim sentiment across a range of UK institutions. Ahmed Versi, editor of the Muslim News, who gave evidence, said: ‘We have reported cases of mosques being firebombed, paint being thrown at mosques, mosques being covered in graffiti, threats made, women being spat upon, eggs being thrown. It is the visible symbols of Islam that are being attacked.’

Dr Richard Stone, chair of the commission and an adviser to Sir William Macpherson’s inquiry into the murder of Stephen Lawrence, warns in a foreword to the report that: ‘There is now renewed talk of a clash of civilisations, a new global cold war, and mounting concern that the already fragile foothold gained by Muslim communities in Britain is threatened by ignorance and intolerance.’

The report suggests the situation in Iraq has had a negative impact on religious tolerance in British society. It quotes from an interview with Labour peer Baroness Uddin, who comments that: ‘The perception that our government is pandering to the neoconservatives of America has given rise to the belief that all Muslims are implicated in the aggression. Each of us is constantly being asked to apologise for acts of terror that befall the world.’

Sadiq Khan, chair of the Muslim Council of Britain’s legal affairs committee, told the commission, which was launched by Jack Straw in 1997, that recent changes in the law had also played a part.

‘Laws such as the Terrorism Act 2000 and the Anti-Terrorism Crime Security Act 2001 have helped to create a climate of fear,’ he said. ‘They have led to the internment in the UK of Muslim men, respectable charities having their funds seized, and charities suffering because Muslims are reluctant to donate for fear of being accused of funding “terrorists”.’

More than 35,000 Muslims were stopped and searched last year, with fewer than 50 charged. Three years ago only around 2,000 Muslims were stopped and searched.

Asian peer Lord Ahmed, a leading critic of Muslim extremism, told The Observer he had twice been stopped and searched in recent months at Heathrow airport.’

Statistics also show a sharp rise in the number of Muslims jailed. In 2001 there were 6,095 in UK prisons compared with 731 in 1991. Muslims comprise 9 per cent of the prison population but only 3 per cent of the population as whole.

‘Islamophobia in Britain has become institutionalised. If we don’t take positive action to embrace the young Muslim men in this country, we are going to have an urgent problem,’ Stone said. ‘We’re going to have real anger and riots with young Muslims pitched against the police.’

The report is critical of the media’s treatment of Islam, especially its coverage of Abu Hamza, the radical cleric who was arrested last Thursday.

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The Observer, UK
May 30, 2004
Jamie Doward and Gaby Hinsliff

Religion News Blog posted this on Monday May 31, 2004.
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