Thursday, 12 March 2009

Problems with Muslim interest groups are part of a broader malaise

Recently, prompted by a speech delivered by Dominic Grieve, I posted on the subject of multiculturalism and suggested that successive Labour governments had adopted damaging policies in this area, to the detriment of British society. Ruth Dudley Edwards has penned an article pondering these very failures, provoked by protesting Islamic extremists who hurled abuse at troops returning from Iraq, at their homecoming parade. It is worth considering her piece, if only to develop a little further some of the themes which I had already touched upon in the first blogpost.

The kernel of Dudley Edwards’ argument is that radical Islamists have been singled out by the government for special treatment and are handled with kid gloves in order to dissuade them from committing violent acts. The result is that moderate Muslims are sidelined and extremists are accorded prominence, within and without their communities, which they do not deserve.
“(W)hy else would the Government throw £90 million at PVE (Preventing Violent Extremism) – an unaccountable, contradictory, bureaucratically convoluted counter-terrorism initiative that has the authorities snuggle up to homophobic, misogynistic West-haters, just so long as they don't actually use violence?"

She cites a Policy Exchange report, ‘Choosing our friends wisely’, which highlights instances where the government has funded initiatives which have only served to radicalise young people and to promote extremists' representatives. The article’s conclusion emphasises divisions within the government itself as regards engagement with Muslim groups.
“As Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Ruth Kelly came to realise that government policy towards Muslims was counter-productive. What is necessary, she says in the foreword to this report, is to stop pandering, to give incentives for good behaviour and disincentives for bad, and to defend the Western values shared by many British Muslims. She has a special commendation for Hazel Blears, who almost alone in the Cabinet is standing up to Jack Straw in the interests of national unity, common sense and morality. Moderate Muslims, embarrassed daily by their so-called community leaders, deserve a total change of direction in government policy.”

The thrust of Dudley Edwards’ article is not wrong. The threat of Islamic terrorism has resulted in the government’s misguided policies on multiculturalism being particularly closely focussed on that community. The consequences have been especially dire. In terms of precedent, violent dysfunction has become a prerequisite to command the government’s attention.

The issue is, however, part of a broader malaise. It is a malaise exacerbated by insistence on dealing with people through the prism of their perceived membership of racial, religious or ethnically defined interest groups. The Labour government has become entirely accustomed to engaging with communities predominantly through these interest groups and their self-appointed leaders.

It is a lamentable approach to take to community relations and actually encourages a reductionist view of minority cultures, whereby whole sections of society are defined by preconceived assumptions based on their ethnicity or religion. An urgent rethink is required.

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