The latest proposals by the Blair Government to resolve the problems of extremism by encouraging integration into British society are flawed and disingenuous. Not only are they predicated on a wrong understanding of the sources of extremism - repeating Prime Minister Tony Blair's view that Muslims have no legitimate grievances against the West - but also are not ultimately geared to promoting and enhancing civic-mindedness among Muslims.
Citizenship is an important institution that forms the basis of community and occupies a place at the heart of democracy. New Labour has claimed that large sections of the Muslim community have failed to embrace this normative ideal of rights, responsibilities, social values and a stake in society.
Muslims, say Communities Secretary Ruth Kelly and others, have willingly isolated themselves from the rest of British society and so created an atmosphere ripe for disaffection.
Out of this segregation, the Government says complaints against the West have been forged. Preachers of hate have instilled in impressionable young minds a deep-seated hostility for Britain, occasionally seizing on what the Government euphemistically calls "tensions in the Middle East" to bolster their scripturally-based arguments on the inevitability and appeal of conflict between peoples.
Apart from the obvious assumption here that Muslim youth are little short of imbeciles, with no independent capability of reasoning and ripe for exploitation by preachers (to whom we are expected to believe they stand in servile relationship to), there is a lot else that is erroneous in this analysis.
First, and most importantly, it is not true that Britain's Muslims have eschewed participation in the political process in favour of hermetical insularity and apathy.
This certainly was the case with much of the first generation of Muslim immigrants into Britain. For them, taking part in public affairs was difficult, with painful memories of how often political involvement in their countries of origin led to sudden tragedy. This was compounded by settling into a new country where racism was legally sanctioned, and a lack of fluency in English.
For the elders, citizenship meant little more than the mere possession of a prized passport and the paying of taxes.
Younger Muslims, however, don’t posses this baggage, and many have become energetic players in the political process. They have begun to see the normative rather than merely bureaucratic conception of what it means to be a good British citizen. The extent of this interest was revealed by the recent Pew survey of global attitudes.
In spite of the actions of New Labour, whose participation in foreign crusades and targeting of the domestic Muslim community have led to the dissatisfaction that we have heard and seen so much of, Muslims have taken a lead role in civil society groups and institutions.
Muslims have helped establish, and participated in, voluntary organisations, anti-imperialist associations such as the Stop the War coalition, media monitoring and pressure groups like the Muslim Public Affairs Committee, and charitable bodies which help the needy at home and abroad.
A salient manifestation of the growing influence of Muslims was the removal of Jack Straw as Foreign Secretary. It has been said that Blair's decision to replace him was the result of pressure from American policymakers who were concerned that Straw was increasingly susceptible to Muslim opinion in his constituency. This was demonstrated by a successful campaign from local Muslims to stop him from enjoying a photo opportunity with US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice in a mosque.
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