Muslim leaders and imams were yesterday urged by ministers to do more to tackle extremism in "the battle of hearts and minds" against Islamic terrorism.
Amid claims from sections of the Muslim community that the government had failed to address their grievances, Ruth Kelly, the Communities and Local Government Secretary, warned they must step up their plans to counter damage done by extremist messages circulating in their communities.
Ms Kelly made clear after meetings in Whitehall with various Muslim groups that she wanted to hear how the government could help the Muslim community address its problems, but was equally adamant they must do more to get their own house in order.
"There is a battle of hearts and minds to be won within the Muslim community, working with the Muslim community to take on the terrorist and extremist elements that are sometimes found within it, not just in the Muslim community, but elsewhere as well.
"Yes, the Muslim community has got to do more, yes we as government have got more to do."
Ms Kelly acknowledged the government had to explain more what it had been doing, for example, to help the Muslim community in Kosovo, and how the Prime Minister had been involved in developing the Middle East peace process, but told the representatives she did not accept that British foreign policy should be dictated by a small group of people.
She said: "What I do accept is there is a lot of anger and frustration in the community that needs to be properly expressed and vented through the democratic process."
A spokesman for the Ramadan Foundation, furious that they had not been invited to the meeting, blamed Muslim extremism on the government's double standards on foreign policy, but other Muslim leaders were more conciliatiory.
Haras Rafiq, of the Sufi Muslim Council, called for more government help to root out extremism, but admitted that the UK's Muslim community must acknowledge there was a problem with extremism. "It's like being an alcoholic - we need to stand up and and have an open and honest debate."
Dr Syed Aziz Pasha, secretary general of the Union of Muslim Organisations of the UK and Ireland, pleaded the Muslim community should not be condemned because of the actions of a few. He added: "They should understand our problems, then we will understand their problems."
Mohammed Sarwar, Glasgow Central MP, will fly to London today to meet Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, along with other Muslim MPs.
Mr Sarwar, a leading figure in Scotland's Muslim community, said the government should hold a full inquiry into the July 7 bombings, adding: "Unless we know about the disease, we shall not be able to find a cure."
British Muslim leaders call for more government support to tackle extremism
Tuesday, August 15, 2006
LONDON (AP) - British Muslim leaders met Monday with senior British officials, and called for more support to tackle Islamic extremism.
Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott and Communities Secretary Ruth Kelly met about 30 religious representatives, and officials said there had been frank exchanges of views during three hours of talks.
"There is a battle of hearts and minds to be won within the Muslim community, working with the Muslim community to take on the terrorist and extremist elements that are sometimes found within it, not just in the Muslim community, but elsewhere as well," Kelly said following the meeting.
She said there had been "sharp and challenging exchanges" and acknowledged more needed to be done to develop channels for young British Muslims to vent their frustrations at government policy.
Legislators and religious leaders have frequently identified Britain's military involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq as a key factor in radicalizing young British Muslims.
However, in an official report into the London transport network bombings last July, which killed 52 commuters and the four bombers, the government acknowledged only that perceived Western injustices against the Islamic world had been a contributory factor.
"I come across on a day-by-day basis people who have significant anger and significant frustration at the position that's held by the British government," said Hamza Vayani, a 23-year-old Muslim from the Youth Voice organization, who attended the talks. "These are mainstream individuals who perceive and feel a sense of injustice."
Home Office officials said privately there was a sense of shock when it was revealed that three of the four suspects behind last year's London bombings had been born in Britain.
Kelly said measures to combat extremism drawn up in the aftermath of the July attack and pioneered in central England and east London would likely be rolled out across Britain.
Her office said it hoped to stage more community forums which bring together young Muslims and moderate Islamic clerics to discuss issues of extremism.
Mentoring schemes for young people, which would see them offered advice from Muslims considered to be positive role models, will also be extended, a spokesman for Kelly's Department for Communities and Local Government said on customary condition of anonymity.
"Clearly there is a need for far greater government focus in terms of time, attention and resources," said Asim Siddiqui, chairman of the City Circle network - a London-based organization of Muslim professionals - who took part in the talks.