Only institutions wishing to promote faith-based identity politics could object to Pickles’ letter

Asking mosques for support is an act of solidarity, not division


Communities Secretary Eric Pickles has been criticised after it emerged that he had written to 1,100 British imams, urging them to redouble efforts to prevent young Britons being radicalised.

In his letter, Pickles stated that it is important to ‘demonstrate the true nature of British Islam’. Therefore, imams 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’. Further, Pickles stated that imams have an ‘important responsibility: in explaining and demonstrating how faith in Islam can be part of British identity’.

Pickles emphasised that ‘acts of extremism are not representative of Islam’, but called on faith leaders to show what Islam does represent.

Even though Pickles stressed that he was ‘proud’ of how Muslims in Britain responded after the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris, he believed there was ‘more work to do’ to stamp out extremism.

This is not the first time that he has expressed his support for the Muslim population in Britain. However, it is the first time that he has directly urged imams to stand up against extremism.

Members of the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) have responded with objections to these letters, comparing the government to the far right. It was claimed that by writing these letters Pickles has implied that Muslim values are inherently separate from British values. Coming at a time of deepening mistrust between communities in Britain, it is evident that these letters may have the effect of fostering feelings of resentment from some Muslims, who feel that they are being unjustly blamed for the actions of minority extremists.

This is not the first time that the government has asked mosques to better engage in their role to encourage the integration of Islamic values into British society. The previous government initiated the Citizenship Education (ICE) project which sought to help young Muslims in 300 madrassas and 100 independent Muslim faith schools explore their religion.

Another project, carried out by the Young Muslims Advisory Group (YMAG), was designed to help Muslims find solutions to a range of challenges, including extremism, discrimination and civic partnership.

So why the uproar now?

We have had problems in the past in mosques that have hosted extremist preachers such as Abu Hamza taking control at Finsbury Park. With the debate now focusing on social media recruitment to terrorism, it is almost as if some people feel that mosques are doing enough already or, indeed, that all is well in all of our mosques.

But the problem has not disappeared. Last week’s Panorama, ‘After Paris – The Battle for British Islam’, highlighted the fact that hate preachers are still active in some mosques even today, where they seek to give an interpretation of Islam that creates a ‘them and us’ situation. This, according to one former prominent jihadist, is the first stage of radicalisation for foreign fighters.

As the presenter, John Ware wrote in The Independent

“The programme showed how Salafi Wahhabism is wreathed in anti-westernism, contempt for parliamentary democracy, reactionary attitudes to gender equality and gay rights, and disdain for other faiths.

“Through its UK-based adherents, this puritanical strain of Islam has taken on a life of its own here with a proliferation of Islamic teaching institutions, activist groups and Islamic satellite channels. It “takes young Muslims to the front door of violent extremists” said Sara Khan.”

Panorama paid particular attention to preachers such as Haitham al-Haddad, Murtaza Khan and Abu Usamah at-Thahabi, who are regular fixtures in mosques throughout the UK. There are others that were not mentioned, who are regularly given platforms to peddle ideas that, at best, can be described as dichotomous to British values and, at worst, a form of non-violent extremism that lays the foundations for the theological justifications of all Islamist-motivated terrorism. Some mosques and institutions have been regularly inviting people that preach exactly the kind of hate that Pickles is talking about in his letter.

To be sure, most Muslims recognise and appreciate the support from non-Muslims when anti-Muslim hatred is spouted by bigots. We have seen examples of this all over the world in initiatives like #illridewithyou. Indeed, there has been much support for combating this type of hatred – just has there has been for other types of xenophobia such as racism.

But the minute that our mosques are asked for support, the apologia brigade swings into action to complain that Muslims are being isolated or targeted to apologise for the terrorist acts of a few. Surely, they must realise that, at times like these, we need solidarity and not apologia if we are going to combat this cancer within our society?

It is only unreasonable people and institutions that wish to promote their own version of faith-based identity politics that would have an issue with this letter.

It is clear that Pickles wrote these letters to offer support and a credible strategy for mosques to deal with the problem of extremists who would wish to take advantage of their institutions. Moreover, what with the Charlie Hebdo shootings and the knock-on effect that law enforcement agencies are under increased pressure to maintain security, we must, as a community and society, ensure that more energy should be focused on undermining the ideology which extremists promote to create this division within our societies. This letter, although long overdue, is a start.

Haras Rafiq is the managing director of Quilliam. Follow him on Twitter

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30 Responses to “Only institutions wishing to promote faith-based identity politics could object to Pickles’ letter”

  1. ForeignRedTory


  2. Gary Scott

    I heard, third hand, that the group were asked to respond to the letter but had only been given a quote from the letter which, out of context, was inflammatory. They responded in kind and the papers got the story they wanted. There is actually no, or little, disagreement. It is a non-story. It is of the type only seen in The Daily Mail..

  3. Guest

    There’s a sharp difference between working against extremism and working with a government which is hostile to them.

    You might blindly trust the government’s goodwill, I don’t. And frankly, extremism isn’t only religious – I see the government frequently preaching hate both against immigrants and in terms of austerity economics.

  4. swat

    Why the uproar. Indeed.
    The time has come to Register all Mosques and all Religious places of worship. Licence them; and if they are breaking the Law, then close them down.

  5. JohnRich

    The Pickles letter was perfectly reasonable unless you were an islamic extremist.

  6. damon

    A government frequently preaching hate against immigrants you say?
    Where is that then? In your imagination I’d say. Which group of immigrants or community have they preached hate about? Do you mean illegal immigrants? Well they’re not proper immigrants.
    Some of the stuff about immigrants and benefits might be done for the media but it’s hardly hate.
    I agree with the main article here. Very good.

  7. Guest

    Ah yes, unless you’re an Islamic Extremist, like many Jews, you’ll be happy to work with a government hostile to you. Right.

  8. Guest

    Ah yes. no freedom of worship allowed, like your beloved totalitarian societies. Next up, yellow stars…

  9. Guest

    No surprise you make excuses for the Government, as you call statements on their own website, and try and say that some people should be seen as lesser, with less rights, as they’re not “proper”, and it’s fine to hate them.

    Then the next group, then the next…

    The “for the media” nonsense…nope, it’s what they say, and it’s hate. Your hate, evidently, against the poor and non-White British…

  10. Guest

    “Work with the government and accept their abuse, or be abused”.


  11. damon

    Leon Wolfeson, why do you only call yourself ”Guest” here?
    It’s funny the way you write on here. Everyone who disagrees with you is a hateful rightwinger in your view.

    You never explained which immigrants the govermnet preached about negatively.
    Is it the Somalian community perhaps? Or the Polish? You have to be a bit more specific.
    Or maybe you mean its hateful to say you want to slow down future immigration. To get the figures down from the hundreds of tousands into tens of thousands.
    If you think that’s preaching hate, just say so.

    But if that’s what you do mean then I think your a bit nuts.
    As for me hating non white British, you just make stuff up.
    The most wonderful people on the earth that I’ve had the pleasure of visiting in their country, are Sri Lankans. Far nicer people than the British (generally speaking of course).

  12. steroflex

    Muslims see themselves as separate from the rest of the world. They are not expected to make friends or mix with people not of the faith. The Prophet himself and certainly the first four rightly guided Caliphs were warriors and very proud of it.
    Islam is a desert religion which is for desert warriors. Paradise, the reward of women and the respect of your fellows are all part of being a person of faith.
    Even getting Muslims to meet Christians or politicians is, therefore, difficult. They are right. They are in touch with the truth. People who talk about gay people, about godlessness, about everyone being equal are suspect even before they are met.
    Please do not assume that Muslims are CofE really underneath. That is not only condescending, it is also dangerously wrong.

  13. steroflex

    Leon Wolfson is the funniest act of all. I just love being called a rich tory millionaire! He always goes for the man not the ball. What a comedian.

  14. JohnRich

    Excellent point. It is an utterly alien culture when compared to western secular liberal values.

  15. damon

    He’s not much of an advert for the left and anti-racism.
    You come on a site like this hoping for some interesting people to be commenting on it, and what you get is the likes of Leon. But he’s actually quite typical of the stupid left (as opposed to the more grown up left).
    I think people like him are actually racist in a way, because they expect things of white people that they wouldn’t expect of people in non European majority countries.

    You don’t expect that African and Asian countries would get the idea of mass immigration of peoples from a different part of the world. Because of course it might cause problems if there was.
    Chinese going to Africa for example. Or Indians in the past. They might get used to it after some time, but if there are any big changes in numbers, its almost bound to cause problems somewhere.

    Trinidad has people of African and Indian origin and that diversity makes the island what it is. But new immigration from the Indian Subcontinent to Trinidad might upset the balance they have also.
    There have been racial problems there in the past.
    I’m pretty much a supporter of immigration and diversity myself, but I just don’t pretend that there aren’t issues that follow from it. Why is there an Operation Trident for example?
    It has its roots in immigration to the UK.

  16. Boofie

    Bahaha what a ridiculous strawman. A mosque that offers terror speech or marriages to children should be shut down. Religion is not just a right – it’s a responsability.

  17. Guest

    No, what’s dangerous is fanatics like you who attack all Muslims, projecting your separatism and gate onto them.

    You might not be able to get on with Muslims, but that’s because of your bigotry, not because of the Muslims in question. France separates it’s Muslim community, with the result of extremism and violence.

  18. Guest

    They’re far closer to it than you or Islamists, whose intolerance is simply aimed at different targets,

  19. Guest

    And you should be shut down for your preaching hate,

    Not every Muslim, as swat demanded, or everyone who dislikes Muslims, just those like you who accuse others of your totalitarian goals.

  20. Guest

    LordBlagger, you don’t have balls in the first place. You love being what you are, of course, as you call not blindly trusting the government “comedy” now (for the peons, of course).

  21. Guest

    No, LordBlagger, you personally are a hateful right winger. Nobody else, just you, I don’t do your collectivist sterotyping.

    Your demands to smash trade and close the border continue, as you want only your rich to be able to travel, as you specifically exclude one type of people from your blind hate, wow!

  22. Guest

    Keep blaming the Other for everything, lashing at immigrants, than lying and saying you “support” the people you blame. You are the one causing problems, attacking the Britain you hate because we don’t exclude the Other.

    Of course you demand I share your racism and bigotry, making up nonsense to try and conceal your hate, as you demand borders be nailed shut and decry trade.

    No surprise you use your politically correct “THE LEFT R IDIOTS” spew, good social darwinism from you of course, as you claim your far right views are leftist and “grown up” – your paternalistic totalitarian views show themselves clearly, you’re a far right thug.

  23. Guest

    And let’s no forget, you defend this government’s hate preaching, and hence strongly support benefit cuts and austerity, especially that aimed “at immigrants” but affecting all British people.

    Then you claim to be a left winger. That’s disgusting

    I treat it with the contempt it deserves, like your claim to be British, when you’ve rejected British values of tolerance and justice.

  24. Boofie

    I have no “totalitarian goals”, numpty. If a mosque hosts those who preach terrorism (and as we all saw in the Channel 4 Dispatches documentaries, that is not an exaggeration), or offers to marry children to adults, it should be shut down. Those things are illegal in the UK and hiding behind the guise of religion is no kind of excuse. Islamofascism must be fought in all of its guises, and child abuse must never again be legitimised.

  25. Guest

    So you’re not open about your goals. You are supporting shutting down all Mosques, of course, defending swat.

    And sure, your crimes must not be legitimised either, as you conflate things as ever,

  26. Boofie

    Bahaha, when on Earth did I say anything about shutting down all Mosques?

  27. ChrisEstMonNom

    The problem is, by engaging with people as Muslims rather than as British citizens, Eric Pickles is himself engaging in faith-based identity politics.

    People have a right to define themselves however they like, but the government of a modern state shouldn’t be encouraging them to take on particular religious identities.

  28. ForeignRedTory

    Fit in or **** off.
    w/s Ahmed Aboutaleb.

  29. Guest

    You don’t even notice who and what you’re defending. What a surprise.

  30. Guest

    Yes, feel free to leave.

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