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Wednesday, 3 October, 2001, 11:32 GMT 12:32 UK
Muslims welcome hate crime review
British Muslims have faced an increase in attacks
Muslims leaders have welcomed the announcement that the government is to take measures to combat religious hate crimes.

Home Secretary David Blunkett has announced a change in the laws on incitement to cover religious, as well as racial, hatred.

Muslim groups have been pressing for a change in the law for some time.

Afzhal Khan of the Muslim Council of Britain said that in the wake of the 11 September terror attacks on the US, they had again asked the Home Secretary to change the law.

Afzal Khan
Afzhal Khan: "British Muslims part and parcel of society"

"After the terrible incident in America it was clear there was a backlash and Muslims all over the country were suffering.

"We wanted to ensure there was some sort of legislation which covered this religious hatred point of view, " Mr Khan said.

He said since the US attacks the government had been doing a good job in making it clear British Muslims should not be blamed.

"There has been an increase in attacks but we feel the government is taking the right steps," he said.

"They've made it clear that British Muslims are part and parcel of this society and the message is getting across."

But legislative changes should go further to make discrimination on religious ground illegal in other walks of life such as employment, Mr Khan added.

That point was echoed by the leader of the self-styled Muslim Parliament of Britain, Dr Ghayasuddin Siddiqui.

He said the Muslim community faced major barriers in areas such as education, jobs and housing on the basis of their religion.
Home Secretary David Blunkett
David Blunkett will announce the change at Labour's conference

"The law has to cover all the areas otherwise it will not provide a solution to the discrimination faced by the Muslim community," Dr Siddiqui told BBC News Online.

The legislation needed "teeth" to ensure it was successful, he added.

"If it is weak on that point then obviously it will not provide the kind of protection we are looking for."

Cultural ambassadors

The government is also mounting an initiative to reach out to the wider Muslim world.

The Foreign Office is to recruit British Muslims as so-called cultural ambassadors who would travel to Muslim countries to explain that Britain and the West were not hostile to Islam.

But the plan has been described as a "missed opportunity" by the leader of one Kashmiri and Pakistani group.

Mohammed Yunnis told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that he felt it was "nave" for the government to concentrate on cultural issues.

Mr Yunnis said: "I think if you're talking about the root causes of some of the people's grievances then we're missing the point.

"I think rather than just talk about some of the good things in this country we need to be looking at perhaps some of the foreign policy that people are concerned about."

The BBC's Jonathan Beale
"Changing the law will tackle religious as well as racial hatred"
Afzal Khan, Muslim Council of Britain
"This really is positive news"
See also:

03 Oct 01 | UK Politics
Hate crime laws to be tightened
03 Oct 01 | UK Politics
Faith leaders unite against intolerance
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