Muslims hit back over terror letter

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles is facing a storm of criticism after urging Muslim leaders to do more to root out extremism and prevent young people becoming radicalised in the wake of the Paris terror attacks.

The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) said Muslims should not have to go out of their way prove to loyalty to Britain and rejected suggestions that they were somehow "inherently apart from British society" while the Ramadhan Foundation said his comments were "patronising and factually incorrect".

David Cameron strongly defended Mr Pickles' remarks – made in a letter sent to mosques in England – saying they were "reasonable, sensible and moderate" and that anyone who took issue with them had a problem.

But there was support for the MCB from some other faith leaders, with the former chief rabbi Lord Sacks saying that he understood the frustrations of Muslims at being held responsible for dealing with a problem that was beyond their control.

In a letter to Mr Pickles, MCB secretary general Dr Shuja Shafi said that while he accepted the Communities Secretary had made his comments in good faith, they "could have been worded differently".

"We do take issue with the implication that extremism takes place at mosques, and that Muslims have not done enough to challenge the terrorism that took place in our name," he wrote.

"This is why we responded to the media, and an assertion in some quarters, that you were somehow endorsing the idea that Muslims and Islam are inherently apart from British society. We reject such notions.

"We also reject suggestions that Muslims must go out of their way to prove their loyalty to this country of ours. That is why we applaud your response, and that of our Home Secretary, when Mr Nigel Farage suggested that multiculturalism was to blame for terrorism and that there was a fifth column in this country."

Dr Shuja said that since the attacks by Islamist extremists in Paris earlier this month, Muslim communities around Britain had redoubled their efforts to defy the radicals and to call for peace and calm.

"It is critically important that all of us; politicians, civil society, and faith leaders stand together in unity and defy the terrorists who wish to divide us," he wrote.

Ramadhan Foundation chief executive Mohammed Shafiq said Mr Pickles' remarks were typical of a Government which only looked at Muslims "through the prism of terrorism and security".

"For the record, Muslim leaders, imams and organisations have been engaged in work to expose the terrorist ideology and promote the Islamic teachings against terrorism since 9/11," he said.

"We do not need to be patronised by a Government that claims it wants to give young Muslims an alternative to the extremist narrative and then refuses to discuss foreign policy."

In his letter, jointly written with Communities Minister Lord Ahmad, Mr Pickles said that he was "proud" of the way that Muslims in Britain had responded to events in Paris, but added there was "more work to do".

Speaking at an event in Ipswich, the Prime Minister said that Mr Pickles had been "absolutely right" to write the letter and to make the point that everyone had a duty to fight extremism.

"Anyone, frankly, reading this letter, who has a problem with it, I think really has a problem. I think it is the most reasonable, sensible, moderate letter that Eric could possibly have written.

"Frankly, all of us have a responsibility to try to confront this radicalisation and make sure that we stop young people being drawn into this poisonous fanatical death cult that a very small minority of people have created."

However there was sympathy for the MCB from Lord Sacks, who said the "problem" with Mr Pickles' letter was that it suggested that the Muslim community in Britain could "contain its own radicals".

"The truth is that Islamism, like all modern global political movements, is actually a global phenomenon – transmitted by the internet, transmitted by social media – and so I would not be surprised if the Muslim community didn't say 'You're asking of us something that is not under our control'," he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

His comments were echoed by Conservative MEP Sajjad Karim who said that while the letter was largely constructive, there were "shortcomings" in its drafting.

"It is rather unfortunate that an underlying message – which I don't think it was the intention to convey, but certainly has been put out – is that we are looking to try and put a responsibility on a section of our community that it is impossible for them to fulfil, and equally we are in many ways holding that section of our community responsible for matters that actually are well beyond their control," he told BBC Radio 4's The World at One.


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