Cameron defends Pickles extremism letter to Muslims

Eric Pickles has written to mosques in England urging them to do more to root out extremists. Picture: PA
Eric Pickles has written to mosques in England urging them to do more to root out extremists. Picture: PA
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DAVID Cameron has defended a letter urging senior Muslims to explain how Islam “can be part of British identity”, amid criticism from leaders.

The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) criticised some aspects of the letter, including the “implication that extremism takes place at mosques”.

They said the MCB wanted Eric Pickles, the Communities Secretary who co-wrote the letter, to explain if, like “members of the far right”, he was suggesting that Islam is inherently apart from British society.

However, David Cameron yesterday insisted the letter was “reasonable, sensible and moderate”. He said everyone had a responsibility to prevent radicalisation towards a “poisonous fanatical death cult”.

In the letter sent to more than 1,000 Islamic leaders, Mr Pickles and communities minister Lord Ahmad stressed they were “proud” of the way Muslims in Britain had responded to the Paris terror attacks but added there was “more work to do”.

The letter said: “You, as faith leaders, are in a unique position. You have a precious opportunity, and an important responsibility, in explaining and demonstrating how faith in Islam can be part of British identity.

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“We believe together we have an opportunity to demonstrate the true nature of British Islam today. There is a need to lay out more clearly than ever before what being a British Muslim means today: proud of your faith and proud of your country. We know that acts of extremism are not representative of Islam, but we need to show what is.”

The letter sparked an angry reply from the MCB, the representative body for the nation’s 2.7 million Muslims.

The deputy secretary-general of the MCB, Harun Khan, said: “We will be writing to Mr Eric Pickles to ask that he clarifies his request to Muslims to ‘explain and demonstrate how faith in Islam can be part of British identity’. Is Mr Pickles seriously suggesting, as do members of the far right, that Muslims and Islam are inherently apart from British society?”

Any suggestion that the British government was advocating a position adopted by the far right was batted away by the Prime Minister who said: “I think it is absolutely right to write this letter, to say that we all have a responsibility to fight extremism.

“Anyone who reads this letter will see that what he is saying is that British Muslims make a great contribution to our country, that what is happening in terms of extremist terror has nothing to do with the true religion of Islam.

“It’s being perverted by a minority who have been radicalised. But everyone needs to help with dealing with this problem of radicalisation.

“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.”

Yesterday Lord Ahmad who signed the letter with Mr Pickles, said the response from the MCB was “disappointing” and “missed the point”.

He said: “It explicitly states that British values are Muslim values. This letter is laying out that the government is engaging with all communities, saying we need to tackle extremism and to work together to make sure we eradicate this evil from our society.”

Mohammed Shafiq, chief executive of the Ramadhan Foundation, said he was “dismayed” by the letter, which was “typical of the government only looking at Muslims through the prism of terrorism and security”.

He said: “We do not need a patronising letter from ministers to tell us to campaign against terrorism, promote values and do more against extremism when all the evidence points to Muslims organisations doing just that.”

But Haras Rafiq, of the Quilliam Foundation think tank, which studies extremism, said he was disappointed by the negative reaction of some Muslims. He said: “Whether we like it or not, there are some mosques, some imams, who are preaching hate.”

Yesterday former Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks stepped into the row and said that while he believed that the letter was “well-intentioned”, he did, however, understand that Muslim leaders were frustrated at being held responsible for something that they could not control.

He said: “The truth is that Islamism, like all modern global political movements, is actually a global phenomenon – transmitted by the internet, transmitted by social media.”

Yesterday the Muslim Council for Scotland said that no mosque in Scotland had received the letter and that they did not wish to comment on an English issue.

The Scottish Government said: “Following the horrific events in Paris, the justice secretary has written to the Muslim Council of Scotland to reiterate that the Scottish Government and the people of Scotland stand shoulder to shoulder with the Muslim community in condemning the attacks that shocked us all.

“He made clear that Scotland’s diversity is a strength.”

The response

These are extracts from the letter sent by Dr Shuja Shafi, Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain, to Communities Secretary Eric Pickles.

“It is critically important all of us; politicians, civil society, and faith leaders stand together in unity and defy the terrorists who wish to divide us. These last ten days have been one of sorrow and heightened tensions following the attacks in Paris. It is one where Muslims from all backgrounds have stood united in condemnation at these horrific crimes.

We reject suggestions Muslims must go out of their way to prove their loyalty to this country of ours.

We have spoken out strongly against Islamophobia and anti-semitism on numerous occasions.

This week Muslims have experienced heightened tension when Mosques and Muslim institutions have been attacked and sent hate mail.

As evidenced by the media, what you say matters too. That is why we feel your letter to Muslims, at this critical time, could have been worded differently.

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