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Issue 233, Friday 26 September 2008 - 26 Ramadan 1423
A fairness agenda for all policies
The British Government is often accused of failing to listen. This has been a concern of Muslims as well as many sectors of society, including trade unionists, campaign groups and even from some of its own backbench MPs. But when an insightful and candid analysis is made by a junior minister as in the case of Assistant Whip, Sadiq Khan, it is hoped that his recommendations for the Government to change some of its policies towards Muslims do not go unheeded.
In a pamphlet for the Fabian Society, Khan urges the Government to reconnect with the country’s two million Muslim community and forge a ‘fairness’ agenda. (see p1) The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) said that his analysis, based on a one year research project, was “courageous” and his recommendations require “positive action” from all sides. “Khan’s experience, intellect and standing can be trusted to voice the legitimate expectations of the political establishment from Muslims as citizens and of Muslims for fair and equal treatment,” MCB secretary general Abdul Bari said.
While calling on the Government to change its agenda on Muslims and “go beyond a narrow approach to security, by forging a progressive response on inequality,” the 95-page pamphlet also puts the onus on the community to take more responsibility for their own lives. There can be no issue with that, but we would ask why focusing on domestic problems should be at the expense of overlooking the Iraq war or the plight of Kashmir. And why has he fallen into the trap of singling out Muslims to condemn honour killings, forced marriages and even female genital mutilations, which cannot be justified wherever they are carried out and certainly have no roots in Islam. And his argument that Muslims should do more to help community development and use sadaqah money for the wider community too without acknowledging the huge amount of contribution of British Muslim individuals and charities doing just that is not fair. Muslim charities are also contributing hugely in the international arena to the non-Muslims too – following hurricane in Katrina in the US, the Peru earthquake, Mexico floods, events in Burma, Mozambique, Cambodia, Philippines and many other countries. They are working with Oxfam, Christian Aid, Comic Relief, Catholic Agency for International Development as well as many other non-Muslim charities.
One more concern in what is otherwise a rigorous analysis, is whether it was necessary to drift into making cheap party shots even though it was written for a Labour-affiliated institution. But that said there were many pluses, including the stringent criticism of the Government’s “revolving door” policy towards Muslim groups that was always destined to fail. The call for the introduction of positive duty in the legislative framework for elimination of discrimination on grounds of religion in the areas of the provision of goods, facilities and services, was also particularly noteworthy.
A large section of Khan’s assessment is on foreign policy and how opaque is its decision-making is. He argues for a democratisation of foreign policy, saying that all citizens, whatever their faith or ethnicity, should feel confident of having a say and a stake in Britain’s global role. There can be no objection to his call that the country’s diversity should play a much more important role in its formulation. However, like the Government, his claim is that foreign policy is a recruiting ground for terrorism and extremism, which cannot be condoned. But this cannot deflect from the issue that many of the policies are not just immoral but deceptive and are themselves the root cause for radicalization. It has been a welcome development that the Government has changed much of its rhetoric but in reality, there should be no need to seek to “win the hearts and minds” of Muslims as the policies themselves should stand up to scrutiny. As in the title of his pamphlet, foreign policy should also be based upon “fairness not favour.”
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