Briefing Paper for discussion on Muslim Delegation’s meeting with Home Office Minister Ms Angela Eagle

15 July 2001

Fault lines in Community Relations

A delegation of Muslim community leaders met the Home Office Minister Ms Angela Eagle this afternoon in order to raise with her their serious concerns over the dangerous fault lines that have shown up in recent weeks in community relations in Britain as manifested by the outbreak of disturbances in Northern England.

The most blatant example of rash and mindless police behaviour, if not, let us assume, an act of deliberate racism, was the senseless and brutal beating up of none else than the Labour Party National Executive member Shahid Malik – and in front of the rolling TV cameras. Everyone watched Shahid Malik telling the police to hold back, ‘it’s OK’, he was saying to them after having restrained a group of angry youth behind him. He was instead pounced upon by the police and hit ferociously, thrown upon the ground and handcuffed. This one incident did raise a few important questions, the delegation told the minister.

Didn’t the police in Burnley know who Shahid Malik was, instead of mistaking him for one of the ‘thugs’? If they did not know Shahid Malik nor even his father, Rafique Malik, the deputy mayor of the town, then it says a great deal about the police’s own relationship with the local community. However, even if they happened not to know who the gentleman was, couldn’t they see that here was a friendly citizen trying to save a clash between the police and the youth? Moreover they chose to use brute and excessive force against him.

What was more worrying still was the cool and indifferent aftermath to the beating up of a national politician belonging to the ruling Labour Party, the delegation said to the minister. The police, the CRE, the Home Office, the party colleagues and the party leader said nothing really useful. They all failed to realise the message the Shahid Malik incident had sent to the Pakistani and Bangladeshi community at large: if that could happen, and with impunity, to a national political figure from among them what chance had the ordinary member of community in face of a powerful and indifferent establishment.

The Shahid Malik case was highly significant, said the delegation, in that it served to etch a powerful and poignant image over the mind of the community on what it meant to be a Pakistani or Bangladeshi in Britain. There is little doubt that this one single incident has had a profound effect on the angry behaviour of the youth in Bradford and elsewhere.

Somehow, the delegation felt, there was an attempt to deflect from the seriousness of a large problem of social and economic inequities and to focus instead on mindless violence in Bradford, but again without looking into the conduct of the police.

Some of the old racist and anti-Muslim characters have appeared on the scene trying to blame the victim and offering crass solutions – like imposing rules on Muslims about whom to marry and whom not to marry, and picking on Muslim schools in the name of integration and removing segregation as if these measures were going to solve old and endemic problems of neglect and deprivation. Ironically many of these vulnerable young men among the Asian youth have been busy ‘integrating’ with their counterparts in the white community and even trying to compete with them for their patch in the anti-social sub-culture.

Muslims support integration into the mainstream of national aspirations but not racist or Islamophobic policies which bring about disintegration. They do not at all want or enjoy the segregation which has been imposed upon them by the history of immigration and subsequent failure to include them as equal citizens. However, the Muslim delegation made it clear that it rejected all subtle attempts to tamper with multiculturalism and replace it with some racist construct of mono-culturalism which will not succeed and only fuel social strife.

First and foremost the local communities in Bradford, Leeds, Burnley and Oldham need a restoration of faith in the leadership and a fact-finding visit by both the Prime Minister Tony Blair and Home Secretary David Blunkett. This would do a great deal towards healing the wounds of the community. One cannot neglect, much less condemn an entire community for the sake of a few so-called ‘thugs’ given the fact that the ‘thugs’ were none else but were a kind of ‘stolen’ children, products of the very iniquities and deprivation that we all say we want to remove.

In the immediate context, we need to reform the state of police and community relations. The disturbances have shown a great deficit in police-community relations. However, the problem being large and multidimensional, besides local internal inquiries, the Muslim community leaders demanded the setting up of a high powered Commission of Inquiry, something like Scarman plus Macpherson 2.The enquiry should examine the failures and shortcomings of policies and look into the causes that have been breeding social tension and conflict; it should recommend measures and policies in order to stop the slide towards social exclusion and create a genuinely equal and inclusive multicultural society.

The MCB delegation noted the outstanding anomaly in the British rights law: that while it is unlawful to abuse someone on the basis of his race, religious abuse and religious discrimination are not unlawful and that is why it was possible for the BNP to go on the radio and direct their hatred against Muslims. The MCB delegation reiterated their long-standing demand to outlaw both religious discrimination and incitement to religious hatred. It’s has become all the more urgent, they told Angela Eagle. Muslims view the rise of the ugly face of Islamophobia as a sinister development indeed. In due time the Muslim community intends to follow up its concerns with the Home Secretary as well as the Prime Minister.

Summary of other recommendations made to the Minister:

  • ┬áThe importance of faith communities and their leaders to establish better links with local authorities and other faith communities
  • There is a need for closer co-operation between Mosques and Islamic Centres to make better use of their facilities through the establishment of Consultative Committees
  • To encourage Mosques and Islamic Centres to make better use of their facilities in order to provide social and recreational activities for the youth
  • Mosques and Islamic Centres can assist immensely in combating drug abuse and criminal behaviour through the proper allocation of resources
  • Review of current attitudes and practices of segregation in education and housing which spreads Islamophobia
  • Need for increased vigilance and co-operation between relevant authorities (government, local authorities, police and faith community leaders) to prevent spreading of violence to other sensitive areas such as Tower Hamlets, Euston etc.