THE BLOG
02/02/2016 06:18 GMT | Updated 01/02/2017 05:12 GMT

Much Ado About Muslims

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Muslims have been in the news a lot lately, in fact for a minority community they receive a lot of coverage. We have heard the Prime Minister bemoaning the lack of English-speaking amongst some Muslim mothers, saying that this can be a factor in driving young Muslims to extremism, leading to them leaving the country to join Daesh.

Next he tells organisations that if they institute a ban on the Islamic face veil he will support them, even though there are no current laws against wearing niqab (the most common form of the veil, though still a minority choice). Alongside this, supplementary schools, the majority of which are madrassahs, face being required to register with OFSTED, as the Prime Minister announced, again, that this would also help to deal with extremism by enabling the authorities to act.

It could not be any clearer that Muslims are regarded as a problem by government - a problem that grabs headlines and many column inches. More than one study has shown that the majority of media coverage of Muslims is negative. At my local dialogue group a week ago a Muslim friend told us that he saw attitudes to Muslims getting worse in society until they reach a tipping point, a point of crisis that would force a more positive engagement with Muslim communities or lead to something much worse. This is where unwelcome media coverage and widespread ignorance leads us.

My problem with public pronouncements by senior politicians is that they do not take any care over what they are saying, or responsibility for its negative consequences - politicians can accuse the Muslim community freely, so anyone else can.

It is no surprise, very sadly, that Muslims, including my friends, are harassed on public transport, shouted at on the street, have headscarves ripped off or are violently attacked. In the aftermath of the murder of Lee Rigby, in which two people were involved, Muslims and mosques were targeted. Muslims, and not just extremists, are being viewed through a lens of security and terrorism.

If there was real concern with a tiny minority of extremists within a particular community (alongside concern for extremists of all kinds throughout society) then more positive conversations with the mainstream could take place, and they should. Government and politicians are not opening up these conversations, nor are they listening to British Muslims, apart from some notable exceptions, across party boundaries. Good, honest government should be about governing, not scapegoating for political advantage and certainly not aping the old colonial approach of 'divide and rule'. It means recognising that we are all British together, Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, a wide range of worldviews and ethnicities. It's time Muslims and Islam were welcomed, not vilified, being Muslim is now a normal part of modern diverse Britain, not a cause for alarm.

Yet there is also something extreme about worrying us all about extremists, when will anyone recognise that our society gives a ready platform to those who cry 'Wolf!', getting us bothered about Muslims when we don't need to be? There is only so long one can accuse others of extremism before one becomes part of the problem, contributing to and encouraging all kinds of negative behaviour, displaying and creating extremism at the same time.

There is a better way, it involves listening, dialogue, consultation, partnership, relationship-building and working for a better society, there is no other way. Many Muslim organisations are involved in dialogue, reconciliation and community building, as is the Christian Muslim Forum and other inter faith bodies. They need strong support from everyone who is interested in a society more comfortable with itself and where 'us' includes Muslims.

David Cameron often calls Britain a Christian country and I echo the words of many others who have challenged him - Jesus told us to love our neighbours, it was at the heart of his message. It is a strong message in Islam too. There is no get out, we cannot say Muslims are not our neighbours. Better to take Jesus' advice now than wake up, too late, to Martin Niemoller's warning:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out--

Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out--

Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out--

Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me--and there was no one left to speak for me.