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Ministers and Muslims at odds on tackling terror


By Jimmy Burns

Financial Times:

Ministers' hopes of building a political consensus in the aftermath of the London bombings are floundering amid signs that the government and the Muslim community are divided on how to deal with the threat of terrorism.

A Muslim taskforce set up by the government two months ago is expected to recommend today a special advisory group for the training of imams, citizenship and English classes for all Muslim schoolchildren, greater representation of the views of Muslim women, and more job opportunities for Muslim youth as a way of tackling issues of integration.

But it will also be critical of media stereotyping of Muslims as terrorists and make clear its belief that the issue of extremism among British Muslims is linked to the government's conduct of foreign policy, including the war in Iraq.

Similar views have been conveyed to Hazel Blears and Paul Goggins, the Home Office ministers, who have been touring Muslim communities in the past month and holding public meetings.

"Strong feelings were expressed about foreign policy, including Iraq. It was a running theme," said one Home Office official.

Shahid Malik, Labour MP and Muslim taskforce member, said that the Muslim community was positively engaged in tackling the roots of extremism but the onus was now on the government to listen to its proposals.

The importance being attached to foreign policy is a setback for Tony Blair, who has adopted an increasingly uncompromising line on extremism while trying to persuade Muslim leaders that the root causes of the London attacks lay in warped versions of Islam rather than political causes such as the war in Iraq.

Labour peer Lord Ahmed, another leading member of the Muslim taskforce, warned that any attempt by the government to reduce radicalism in the community would fail unless it agreed to a wide-ranging public in-quiry into the London bombings headed by an independent judge.

"The inquiry would need to include an examination of the extent to which the government's foreign policy has radicalised Muslim youth. Without such an inquiry, the government is not going to win the confidence of the Muslim community," Lord Ahmed told the FT.

Charles Clarke, home secretary, yesterday wrote to Muslim leaders asking them to support the prime minister's plan for an inter-faith advisory commission on integration and cohesion, chaired by a minister. The commission would address the question of how to engender an increased sense of Britishness that is inclusive of all communities.

Its terms of reference would also include how to push the public policy along in a way that "tackles inequalities which can trap people into segregated lives".

According to Whitehall insiders, ministers led by Mr Blair are strongly opposed to the idea of an independent inquiry, fearing that could open up a political and legal can of worms.

Ahmed Versi, editor of Muslim News, said a public inquiry along the lines being demanded by Lord Ahmed was "the key to confidence building" in the Muslim community, without which extremism would not be tackled.

According to Mr Versi, e-mails and chat rooms involving young British Muslims over the past few weeks show there remains a refusal to believe the police over events on July 7. "The sense of conspiracy ranges from a suspicion that CCTV footage was doctored to a broader questioning as to whether those identified by the police as bombers were really responsible," he said.

A survey yesterday suggested that one in 10 Muslim youths would not inform the police if they discovered a fellow Muslim was planning an attack. The survey, conducted by the Federation of Student Islamic Societies, was described as extremely worrying by Bill Rammell, higher education minister.

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