The scapegoating of the Muslim community has become the stock in trade of politicians, the Conservatives recently accusing the Muslim Council of Britain of separatist tendencies, and New Labour all too frequently indulging in the same kind of refrain - notably during the most disgraceful period of its domestic rule last autumn, when cabinet ministers were falling over themselves to make disparaging remarks about the Muslim community.
The argument typically starts from the global terrorist threat and ends up by suggesting the Muslim community nurtures and sustains such a terrorist mentality by its failure to integrate. Jack Straw squirmed about the veil, Ruth Kelly inveighed against imams, Alan Johnson proposed that faith schools admit up to 25% not of the same faith (patently directed against the Muslim community), and John Reid warned a Muslim audience of "fanatics looking to groom and brainwash [your] children ... for suicide bombing". Amid this panic-inducing rhetoric, there was little acknowledgment that Muslims suffer more discrimination than any other section of society, no recognition that every attack on their community can only intensify that prejudice. Imagine what it feels like to be a Muslim, stalked by a constant sense of distrust and suspicion? As a society we may condemn racism, but when it comes to Muslims, it seems to be somehow acceptable, from the cabinet downwards.
And what is to blame for this failure to integrate? Prejudice, perhaps? Discrimination? Racism? No, according to David Cameron, Ruth Kelly and many others, the cause would appear to be multiculturalism. Pause for a moment and spot the slippage in the argument. It is no longer only about Muslims but all our ethnic minorities. For enshrined in the principle of multiculturalism is the idea that the white community does not insist on the assimilation of ethnic minorities but recognises the importance of pluralism. It is not about separatism but a respect for difference - from colour and dress to customs and religion. The attack on multiculturalism is the thin end of the racism wedge. It seeks to narrow the acceptable boundaries of difference at a time when Britain is becoming ever more diverse and heterogeneous.
None of this is to deny the importance of finding ways of integrating the Muslim community. It is hardly surprising, though, that many young Muslims feel alienated. They face worse discrimination in education and employment than any other ethnic minority, Anglo-American policy in the Middle East has had the effect of demonising the Muslim world, and the Muslim community here finds itself the victim of a barrage of hostile propaganda. A major assault on discrimination involving the government, the media and the Muslim community is long overdue. But while British foreign policy so profoundly discriminates against the Muslim world, and New Labour remains in denial about the connection between domestic Muslim attitudes and its foreign policy, there seems little prospect of making a new start. [Link]
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