Prime Minister David Cameron has announced a Task Force on Extremism. Farooq Murad, the Muslim Council of Britain’s Secretary General, issued the following statement in response:
“This has been a challenging week for all of us. The killers of Drummer Lee Rigby attempted to sow division amongst Britons through the propaganda of their deed. Yet in large numbers, British Muslims stood up and declared loudly and clearly that this murder was not in our name.
It was natural for the Muslim Council of Britain to reflect that sentiment. It has always condemned terrorism and extremism in the strongest possible terms, and it will continue to do so.
Extremism is fostered on the margins of our society. All of us – government, civil society and religious institutions – have tried to stand firm against this.
Earlier this month, the Muslim Council of Britain spoke out against Anjem Choudhury responsible for stoking sectarian tension on the streets of Britain.
In a subsequent community forum with the Metropolitan police co-organised by the MCB, many participants expressed exasperation that such an individual and his extremism is given a platform and airtime. This is extremism that is tolerated and given airtime.
After Woolwich, we understand the Prime Minister needs an effective strategy in the face of such a horrific instance of extremism. In doing so, we hope wisdom prevails as we reflect on the response of these past few days and the missed opportunities of previous years.
We must be vigilant and ensure we do not inadvertently give into the demands of all extremists: making our society less free, divided and suspicious of each other. Lessons from the past indicate that policies and measures taken in haste can exacerbate extremism.
We acknowledge that there is a difficult conversation to be had about extremism and the role of our mosques and religious institutions. We have been here before. But a muddled discussion about what constitutes extremism over, say, social conservatism, or disagreement of foreign policy, will not assist us in our end goal: the prevention of future attacks.
This will be a thorny issue in a country that possesses one of the most diverse Muslim community’s in the Western world. As a democratic, cross-sectarian umbrella body, that challenge is not lost on us. We call on all those concerned to establish the creative space necessary for this discussion to take place.
We need leadership to foster greater civic and political engagement, ensuring young people are equal stakeholders in British public life. The challenge of civic apathy affects us all.
In the past 48 hours we have witnessed an upsurge in anti-Muslim hatred with targeted attacks on mosques and the Muslim individuals, not to mention the torrent of hateful abuse on social media. Attitudes against Muslims have hardened. Any Task Force must examine extremism from all quarters.
The last few days have taught us good lessons in other ways too: we have broadened our partnerships and solidarity. In our view, the biggest repudiation to extremism came in the expression of solidarity across all parts of our society: this was symbolised so poignantly when His Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury acknowledged the condemnation of the Woolwich murder with my colleague Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra, MCB’s Assistant Secretary General on Friday.
Finally, as objectives of the new strategy are yet to emerge, it would be premature for us to second-guess what our government will be doing. We only outline here our broad hopes and fears based on the feedback from our affiliates – a cross section of British Muslim civil society.
Details of this murder and the motivation of the assailants are still emerging. Questions will no doubt be asked about how these individuals arrived at their most destructive point and why; worries will be expressed about how they slipped through the net of the security services while within their radar.
While tackling extremism requires the participation of all of us, at the end of the day, it is the job of the police authorities to protect us, as the public has no power of enforcement.
We need evidence-based strategies to ensure such violence does not return to the streets of the United Kingdom.”