New Tory, Old Tory?

30 Jan 2007

The Muslim Council of Britain is deeply disappointed by the recent remarks about multiculturalism, Muslims and mainstream Muslim organizations made by the Conservative leader, David Cameron, and his Policy Review group.

The report by the party’s policy group will raise questions about its ability to promote cohesion and integration between the diverse communities that make up Britain today. Its ill-informed attack on mainstream grass-roots organisations, and almost complete ignorance of the work they have been doing with Government and statutory bodies to promote better community relations and greater participation in mainstream political life, will do little to help the party’s image in minority communities.

In 1989 a Conservative Home Office Minister was instructing Muslims to do more to obtain “a clear understanding of British democratic processes, of its laws [and] the system of Government…” and that they should ensure their children had a “fluent command of English”. In 2007, the red herring of Shariah law is being used to suggest a continuing conflict or tension between the practice of faith and participation in society.

David Cameron’s association of multiculturalism with the emotive theme of ‘uncontrolled immigration’ is equally unhelpful. There are enough laws in place to regulate immigration and illegal immigration should be addressed by increasing competencies at border controls. Moreover, the number of legal immigrants from EU countries is twice the number from non-EU countries. The damage is however done by linking faith identities with visions of a ‘swamped’ Britain.

The MCB supports the multicultural project because it promotes a vision of Britain as a multi-faith, pluralistic society. It works for the common good of society as a whole, engaging with a variety of institutions ranging from the Ministry of Defence and the Association of Chief Police Officers, to the Trade Union movement and the British Library.

Mr Cameron places at par the BNP and those Muslims who seek a Shariah state in Britain. The MCB finds this equivalence unreal given the participation of one in mainstream British political life, and the latter’s restriction to the outer fringes of Muslim conversation. Furthermore, the MCB, in representing over 400 mosques and Muslim community bodies, had never lobbied for special rights and privileges – only for parity in the application of the law and equal respect. Surely, as citizens of this country British Muslims are entitled to equal rights and opportunities, as are all members of our society, regardless of race, colour or faith.

The MCB will comment in detail on both the party leader’s speech in Birmingham on Monday and the interim report, ‘Uniting the Country’, by the Conservative Party Group on National and International Security on National Cohesion, in due course. For now, the politest comment we can make is that David Cameron’s choice of advisors seem to be motivated by the rabid, though discredited, form of neo-conservatism emanating from the other side of the Atlantic and their alarmist ‘Eurabia’ thesis.

“The MCB has regularly advocated to the community that with rights comes responsibilities. It has been unremitting in its active condemnation of extremism with a plea to British Muslims to fulfil their Islamic obligations and reach out to fellow Britons”, said Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari, Secretary General of the MCB.

The MCB, with its democratic decision-making process, is determined to continue playing its part, unilaterally if necessary, in helping to build a fully cohesive and integrated society; equal and inclusive of all citizens.

We urge Mr Cameron to widen his consultation beyond those who show little understanding of the work done by Muslim organisations and give those who disagree with the policy groups’ findings a fair opportunity to have their case heard.

[ENDS]

Notes to Editors:
The MCB has recently issued a briefing paper to its affiliates ‘Our stand on Multiculturalism, Citizenship, Extremism & Expectations from the Commission on Integration and Cohesion’. The paper can be downloaded at:
http://www.mcb.org.uk/downloads/MCB%20ReDoc%20Briefing%20Paper%20PRINTRUN.pdf

      [ENDS]