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Birmingham 'Plot': Don't Deter Muslims From Entering Public Life, Warns Sadiq Khan

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SADIQ KHAN
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The manner in which ministers and the media have reacted to accusations of a so-called Islamist plot to take over schools in Birmingham is putting off British Muslims from entering public life, Labour's shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan has warned.

In an interview with The Huffington Post UK, to be published later this week, Khan said society as a whole would suffer if the coverage of the story "deters people coming forward" to serve their communities.

Khan is likely to be appointed the UK's first Muslim Lord Chancellor should Labour win the next general election next May. "I have spent the past 20 years of my life going to different diverse communities and I say get involved in civil society, get involved in mainstream politics, become a governor of your local school, become a member of the PTA," he told HuffPost UK.

"If the impression is left that somehow you becoming involved in your school.. you're accused of entryism or infiltration, then you become risk averse. You say, 'you know what, I can't be bothered'."

Khan said David Cameron and the coalition government needed to be "careful" in its handling of the accusations against schools at the centre of the 'extremism' row in Birmingham.

"The message it leaves is really one I hope the current government doesn't regret. Because we'll be left picking up the pieces," he said.

Khan did not comment on the substance of the allegations, and the interview was conducted before Ofsted's Monday announcement that three Birmingham schools at the centre of the controversy would be placed in special measures.

The allegations of Islamist extremism in Birmingham schools have sparked four separate investigations including by the Department for Education (DfE) and Birmingham City Council

Earlier this year an undated and unsigned letter, now widely believed to be a hoax, was leaked to the media setting out a five-point plan, dubbed 'Operation Trojan Horse', for hard-line Muslims to seize control of schools by installing friendly governors and forcing out uncooperative headteachers.

In a statement on Monday morning, Park View Educational Trust vice-chair David Hughes rejected Ofsted's findings and said the schools "do not tolerate or promote extremism".

"We have made a major commitment to raising all students' awareness of extremism. People who know and have worked with our schools are appalled at the way we have been misrepresented," he said.

In the interview with HuffPost UK, Khan also warned that Islamophobia "is a big issue" in Britain and that other minorities do not suffer the same level of abuse or hatred. "There's no other country I'd rather live in," he said. "But you hear stories too often about a woman wearing hijab [being abused] on a bus or a child on the receiving end of Islamophobia."

He added: "That sort of hatred and animus isn't being done against ethnic minorities who aren't visible Muslims."

Education secretary Michael Gove was forced to apologise to Cameron over the weekend after a damaging feud with home secretary Theresa May, whose closest aide Fiona Cunningham had to resign following a bitter round of briefings and counter-briefings about efforts to combat extremism.

Gove had criticised Home Office counter-extremism chief Charles Farr for only focusing on terrorism, rather than the 'non-violent' extremism which the education secretary believes acts as a conveyor belt to violence and terror.

Khan, however, told HuffPost UK that "the evidence [for a conveyor belt to extremism] is not necessarily there", explaining: "You've got to be quite careful equating how somebody dresses, what somebody eats, how long someone's beard is, with how extreme they are."

Mehdi Hasan's full interview with shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan MP will be published on HuffPost UK later this week

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