07 Sep 2007
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs wrote to the The Muslim Council of Britain to consult on the FCO’s future priorities. Below is MCB’s response to this consultation.
The Rt Hon. Mr David Milliband MP
The Secretary of State for Foreign and
Foreign & Commonwealth Office
King Charles Street
7th September 2007
Dear Secretary of State
Thank you very much for your letter of 14th August in which you sought our views on how foreign policy should be formulated and what the United Kingdom’s international priorities should be.
I would first like to commend you for your initiative and your willingness to consult with the wider community. As you stated so clearly in your speech at Chatham House `our prosperity relies on a more open Britain’. We see your invitation to become stakeholders in the formation of our foreign policy an example of this spirit of openness.
The various focus groups and discussions which The Muslim Council of Britain has had with young Muslims up and down the country invariably have one item on top of their list of concerns their country’s foreign policy and their helplessness in influencing its direction. You will find the Muslim community at one with your statement at Chatham House, `Our security relies on tackling instability and injustice at home and abroad’.
Our response addresses three issues:
Seek a United Global Effort
Muslims in Britain are an asset in the promotion of British interests overseas. We need to consider how Muslims in Britain can be in the frontline, promoting our country’s national interests. British Muslims could assist in improving relations between Britain and other nations around the globe, particularly those that have large Muslim populations. British Muslim academics and businessmen with their profound understanding of both cultures can reach out to parts not easily accessible.
Institutionally, in Britain we have done this already through the promotion of Islamic finance, which has the potential of attracting billions of dollars to the London financial market. Britain will be very much in the popular imagination across the world between now and the 2012 Olympic Games and there are important opportunities to bring in capital flows and investment from the Muslim world.
Better Cooperation across Government Departments
Government departments including prominent politicians must prioritise and help in furthering Muslim integration. There is a real need for British Muslims to be involved in all government departments. The Foreign Office is no different. A collective stake in the formulation of our foreign policy is a concern that extends to matters of integration and cohesion.
Moreover, our foreign policy discourse must transcend the Whitehall and Westminster bubble.
The Government needs to do more in engaging with established and emerging academics/scholars in Islam and encourage younger Muslims from around Britain to enter broader academic and policy fields. This would allow for enriching policy input and joint efforts in developing strategy for building stronger and cohesive communities. There are some British Muslims who work in policy related activities but have little or no connections in the public arena and are dispersed around the country. There is need for the Government to work with organisations that have links with such scholars and encourage them to take leading roles in academic and university life.
Sustainable Development and the Environment
We have also sought the opinions of our affiliates whose grassroots and specialist perspectives contribute to the MCB’s work. In addition to what has already been said, they also add some very interesting advice.
The Tower Hamlets Council of Mosques articulated the views of many correspondents who urged the government to consider sustainable development and poverty reduction as an urgent priority. Azan Community Services in Birmingham suggested that the government’s cross-departmental ‘Every Child Matters’ initiative should also encompass the Foreign Office. Together with the DFID, this should be considered as a concerted global programme.
And finally, the Islamic Foundation for Ecology & Environmental Sciences considered that environmental protection initiatives allied to sustainability and poverty reduction would enhance the standing of the UK Government in the Muslim world. Given their work on environmental initiatives in the Muslim world, you may wish to call on their help.
I wish you well in the outcome of this consultation and I look forward to a foreign policy in which we can all buy in to.
Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari MBE