Britain should not 'pin blame on others'

As Britain looks at a further tightening of anti-terror laws in the wake of the July 7 London attacks, it has been openly suggested that the government would do well to investigate the failure or success of integrating Muslims into British society.

Pakistan’s ambassador to the United Nations, Munir Akram, caused a stir when he said in a BBC interview that Britain, instead of shifting blame for the attacks to his country, should examine whether the attacks were not a “British internal problem”.

In an interview picked up by The Guardian on Monday, Akram named Britain’s policies towards the “Middle East and the Islamic world” among the reasons for the attacks.

“It is important not to pin blame on somebody else when the problem lies internally,” he Akram.

His outspoken remarks have angered the British government, coming on top of a think-tank report suggesting that British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s close alliance with the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan has made Britain a vulnerable target for terrorism.

The ambassador also referred to the three British-born Pakistani men who blew themselves up in the London train and bus bombings, and who all visited Pakistan last year.

“They were born in Britain, bred there, lived there, were by all accounts British lads. What motivated British lads to do this? It is not because their blood was from Pakistan. Whatever angst they had was a result of living in Britain.

“You have to look at ...
what you are doing to the Muslim community and why the Muslim community is not integrating in British society,” Akram added.

The British Foreign Office in London has kept silent on the issue. But Hilary Benn, the MP for Leeds, the perpetrators’ home city, rejected the idea that the bombers had not been fully integrated into society.

One of them, Sidique Khan, had been a popular primary-school teacher in the Besston suburb of Leeds, Benn pointed out.

However, academics and analysts have said that questions must now be asked whether Britain’s 1,5-million-strong Muslim community has been integrated and whether British-style multiculturalism is succeeding or failing.

They point to “three big crises” that have heightened tensions between Muslims and non-Muslims: the affair over Salman Rushdie’s book The Satanic Verses in the late 1980s; the attacks in the US on September 11 2001; and, most poignantly, the London train and bus bombings.

“The Rushdie affair, in many ways, was a turning point,” said Roger Hardy, the BBC’s Islamic affairs analyst.

Until copies of Rushdie’s controversial novel were burnt in the streets of cities such as Leeds and Bradford, most Britons had scarcely been aware of the new Muslim communities taking root in northern industrial towns.

But the affair had shown up the “yawning gulf” between Muslims who believed the novel slandered their faith and its prophet and a liberal intelligentsia outraged at the idea of banning, let alone burning, a book.

“It triggered the first serious debate about a community which was little known or understood,” said Hardy.

Large-scale Muslim immigration to Britain occurred after World War II, when people from Pakistan, Bangladesh and India provided cheap labour for the textile industry in northern England.

Initially, they were mostly unaccompanied men intent on earning money and then returning home. But in the 1970s, they began to bring their wives and children to join them.

By the time of the Rushdie affair, they were starting to think of themselves as British Muslims rather than Muslim immigrants, said Hardy.

Events including the Palestinian intifada, the Gulf War of 1991 and the plight of Muslims in the former Yugoslavia had further radicalised Moslem opinion, especially among the young.

At the same time, many young British Muslims experienced a mix of inner-city problems such as crime, drugs, unemployment and prejudice.

“Many felt prejudice was directed at their religion as well as their skin colour,” said Hardy.

Muslim parents, teachers and community leaders are now under pressure to examine whether they have done enough to acknowledge and tackle the threat of extremism.

British politicians, meanwhile, are being called on to do more than just to review domestic security.

“They are being forced to think again about the mix of liberal policies pursued by successive governments since the 1960s—collectively known as multiculturalism,” Hardy says.

“Multiculturalism was designed to bring different communities together, but its critics argue it has only served to keep them apart,” he added.—Sapa-DPA

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