One Minister Who Understands the Problem: Ruth Kelly's Wake-Up Call about Islamism to Britain's Muslims and British Society at Large Is Far More Important Than Jack Straw's Opportunism over the Veil

Article excerpt

When, in last May's reshuffle, Tony Blair appointed Ruth Kelly to deal with Islamism, I was sceptical, I admit. I felt the issue of how to integrate Britain's many different Muslim communities into wider society was too important to be dealt with by her newly created Department for Communities and Local Government. I called it a "minor department of state" that would not be equal to the task. I also questioned the wisdom of putting a devout Catholic in charge of Muslim cohesion.

I have been forced to reconsider. Kelly's recent statements show a sea change in government policy, driven by her determination to tackle the ideology of radical Islam head-on. Her speech on 11 October to groups representing British Muslims was a wake-up call not just to them, but to Britain at large. "This is a shared problem. It is a shared battle for the kind of society we want to be and the values that we all hold dear," she said.

Significantly, the Muslim Council of Britain, the UK's controversial umbrella body that claims to represent Islam in this country, was not invited, and Kelly has called on the organisation to show its capacity for genuine leadership. The MCB will receive no more state funding, she says, until it can show that it shares the common values of a democratic society: freedom of speech, equality of opportunity, tolerance, and respect for the rule of law. The MCB's boycott of Holocaust Memorial Day, its dismissal of certain Muslim minority groups and the ambiguous attitude of its leaders to suicide bombing will no longer, it seems, be tolerated in Whitehall.

Kelly has made a bold decision to take the ideological battle to radical Islam. Although it has been subsumed in the debate over the veil, her intervention is far more significant than Jack Straw's opportunistic intervention on the issue of the niqab, which should convince no one of his commitment to liberal values. No other cabinet minister has faced up to these radicals, least of all Straw. As home secretary and then at the Foreign Office, he did more than anyone to bring the MCB into the heart of government, while turning a blind eye to the Islamist ideology that drove its leadership.

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Downing Street has become increasingly concerned about moves within the Foreign Office to engage with representatives of Islamism abroad, such as Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, as we revealed in the NS in February. On the domestic front, the Prime Minister wanted to tackle the problem of Muslim integration by wresting control of this area from the Home Office. …