MEND deconstruct to Eric Pickles’ letter to UK mosques

MEND (Muslim Engagement & Development) deconstruct Eric Pickles’ letter telling mosque leaders to tackle extremism and adopt British values.

The Daily Telegraph front page today covers the letter issued by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, MP Eric Pickles, and the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State in CLG, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, calling on mosque leaders to “demonstrate the true nature of British Islam today”.

The letter, which has been sent to around 1000 mosques in the UK urges mosque leaders to play their part in showing the “strong community-based leadership” necessary to supplement Whitehall efforts on “integration and radicalisation”.

The letter, addressing mosque leaders, states:

“We must show our young people, who may be targeted, that extremists have nothing to offer them. We must show them that there are other ways to express disagreement: that their right to do so is dependent on the very freedoms that extremists seek to destroy. We must show them the multitude of statements of condemnation from British Muslims; show them these men of hate have no place in our mosques or any place of worship, and that they do not speak for Muslims in Britain or anywhere in the world.

“You have a precious opportunity, and an important responsibility: in explaining and demonstrating how faith in Islam can be part of British identity. We believe together we have an opportunity to demonstrate the true nature of British Islam today. There is a need to lay out more clearly than ever before what being a British Muslim means today: proud of your faith and proud of your country.”

The letter is a remarkable intervention into the private affairs of civil society actors; mosque and Islamic centres are private institutions governed by law not the whims or diktat of government departments. Not since the extraordinary act of former Community Secretary, Hazel Blears, who tried to force the Muslim Council of Britain into sacking its deputy secretary general in 2009, have mosques been subjected to this sort of government interference in their affairs.

The letter speaks of ‘British values being Muslim values” though how many Muslims will regard the Government’s silence over the civilian death toll in Gaza and its failure tocountenance the word “disproportionate” in relation to Israel’s heavy bombardment of the region, as reflective of what they understand from Islamic teachings on social justice is open to question.

Nor is the claim that “there are other ways to express disagreement” likely to engender much sympathy when the Government is trying to railroad parliament into adopting legislationthat will, among other things, force universities to operate ‘extremist speakers’ policy’ with the Home Secretary in charge of determining what constitutes an ‘extremist speakers’ policy’.

Much like the Government’s Taskforce on Tackling Radicalisation and its definition of Islamist extremism as a “distorted interpretation of Islam”, the letter presumes, again, that it is the business of Government to interfere in matters of private religion. The letter states, “We believe together we have an opportunity to demonstrate the true nature of British Islam today.”

The Communities and Local Government select committee in its inquiry into Prevent stated in its 2009 report:

“There is a sense that Government has sought to engineer a ‘moderate’ form of Islam, promoting and funding only those groups which conform to this model. We do not think it is the job of Government to intervene in theological matters…”

The only people who can “demonstrate the true nature of British Islam today” are Muslims, those who belong to the faith community and those whose lives shape its contours.

The letter goes on to cite the good interventions by Government to support Muslim communities, such as meeting police chiefs to ensure “they are providing the support that mosques need”. And a meeting with the Anti-Muslim Hatred Working Group though how useful that body has been in recent years has been faithfully disclosed by a former member.

It is instructive that the Communities Secretary did not write to 1000 mosque leaders after retaliatory attacks following the murder of Drummer Lee Rigby. At the time, an arson attack had partially razed a mosque and Islamic centre in Muswell Hill, London to the ground; an Islamic learning centre in Chistlehurst had been targeted in an arson attack causing staff and students to be evacuated; a mosque in Grimsby had petrol bombs thrown at it; a mosque in Milton Keynes had petrol bombs thrown on its roof; an Islamic centre in Harlowwas targeted in an arson attack; an Islamic centre in Dorset was attacked; graffiti painted onto the walls of an Islamic centre in Kirkcaldy said ‘All Muslims will perish’. The list goes on.

Pickles, in a letter to the MCB outlined what his department had done in the wake of all these attacks mentioning the ‘immediate statement’ issued by Baroness Warsi and his own statement “praising the calm and measured response of people in the West Midlands”. Nothing though about a letter to all the mosques in the country assuring them of the Government’s resolve to tackle Islamophobia. Nor a letter to all Leaders of Local Authorities reminding them of their statutory obligations to local communities in tackling Islamophobic graffiti.

One of the Coalition’s major shifts in policy toward Muslim communities upon coming to power in 2010 was to separate counter-terrorism and security policy from integration policy. It would seem from this letter by the Communities Secretary that the Government has not only reversed its position but adopted the worst of its predecessor’s mistakes.

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