COMMENT &DEBATE: The Bad News: British Muslims Have Been Let Down, and Extremism Is the Result ; Religion and Free Speech

By Khan, Humera | The Independent on Sunday (London, England), February 12, 2006 | Go to article overview
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COMMENT &DEBATE: The Bad News: British Muslims Have Been Let Down, and Extremism Is the Result ; Religion and Free Speech


Khan, Humera, The Independent on Sunday (London, England)


The fat was, the demonstrations, the anger, the pain, the bewilderment, the bigotry, the senseless deaths. The fallout from the publication of the cartoons in a Danish newspaper creates a feeling of dj vu. We have been here before - and each time, it seems, bigots dominate the public debate and the discourse heads not towards as anemiddle way but towards radical polemics.

But while the arguments presented by the media in the recent saga remain the same, the talk on the streets is radically different. Many people - Muslims and non-Muslims - seem fed up with the ugly media circus that has surrounded this con-troversy. Since appearing on Newsnight last week, I have had dozens of strangers come up to me and express solidarity. Some question the sanity of those who published the cartoons' others shake their heads in disbelief at how the world has gone mad.

I have tried hard not to overreact to the calculated provocation caused by the cartoons' publication. Burning flags and embassies, and carrying offensive placards, is definitely not the Islamic way of responding. My overriding concern is how to move beyond the quagmire we find ourselves in. The starting point must be to hear what is behind angry Muslim voices, to try to understand what is making some Muslims so thin skinned and vitriolic.

The vast majority of those Muslims who migrated to Britain were peaceful people wishing not to get in trouble with the establishment. They came, brought their families, and worked hard to improve their conditions.

Within one and a half generations the situation has changed completely, with an alarming number of children and grand-children of these early settlers feeling alienated and marginalised and ready to jump to any cause that lifts their self-esteem. Added to these people are more recent arrivals of those who have fled their countries because of wars and conflicts often rooted in Western foreign policies.

The cause of the shift from model citizens to angry and frustrated troublemakers is rooted in the limitations of legislation to ensure equality. To recognise discrimination based on race but to ignore that based on religion - and the fact that many suffered both - was to plant the seeds of Muslim discontent.

Muslims, as a faith-based community, fell outside the safety net, thereby losing the opportunity to benefit effectively from what society had to offer and from protection under the law. This experience was not helped by the fact that the champions of equal opportunities were often vehemently anti-religious and refused to concede that not all social needs are race based.

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