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Last Updated: Friday, 23 April, 2004, 01:05 GMT 02:05 UK
UK extremism threat 'growing'
By Dominic Casciani
BBC News Online community affairs reporter

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Extremism among young Muslims in the UK is growing amid failure to combat alienation and poor handling of anti-terror laws, says a race watchdog.

Khurshid Ahmed, spokesman for Muslim issues at the Commission for Racial Equality, said Muslim communities need to stand up and be counted as British.

But the government had to stop the "terror" unleashed on UK Muslims by the security powers which followed 9/11.

Radicalisation among disaffected young Muslims was a real threat, he warned.

"I think [extremism] is growing and that is the worrying thing. It's a tiny minority of young people but they have proved vulnerable to external pressures," said Mr Ahmed. "This is the time to be vigilant."

Khurshid Ahmed, CRE commissoner
The Muslim community has to stand up and be counted - it is this alienation from community and family which pushes people to the laps of extremism
Khurshid Ahmed
Mr Ahmed, a CRE commissioner and former head of race equality in the west Midlands, said Muslims in that area had already established an early-warning network to alert mosques to potential agitators or extremists in the hope of marginalising and neutralising their influence.

"Fringe groups cannot access mosques in our community. They have no choice but to camp outside or go into more clandestine accommodation where they can hold their study circles."

Mr Ahmed said he had seen increasing instances of young Muslims believing they should not vote on religious grounds, influenced by radicals who say that democracy contradicts Islam.

"That's another area where some misinformed young people are going round.

"You can tell from their hate doctrine they don't want to be part of mainstream society and that's why we need to make sure we tackle the alienation of our young people to make them less vulnerable to these influences."

English identity

Mr Ahmed, also chair of the National Association of British Pakistanis, said many Muslims lacked a pride in the UK because of historic race and religious discrimination.

Anti-terrorism laws have given licence to racist and religious bigots employed within the security services to unleash a form of terror on innocent people up and down the country
Khurshid Ahmed
But speaking ahead of St George's Day, he stressed new generations born in England who question their identity "needed to" describe themselves as English rather than just British, he said.

"We have to move away from this psychological barrier that you can only be English if you are white, Anglo-Saxon. Our children are born in this country and know no other country and that makes them indigenous.

"Most of these young people when they come to look at reality see they have no other choice than to be British.

"The Muslim community has to stand up and be counted as a British Muslim community and re-engage with young people who we have failed to engage for the last three decades.

"It is this alienation from community and family which pushes people to the laps of extremism.

"The responsibility [to act] lies within the community, but also within the government and others. The community cannot do it alone."

'Terror unleashed'

Mr Ahmed said the CRE's chairman Trevor Phillips had been right to say earlier in April that projects funded by the race watchdog should emphasise Britishness - but he denied the change had been forced on the body by current events.

"It's a controversial area but it's about time that we got into it. This hasn't come about because of current events - but global events, terrorism fears and alienation among the Muslim community lends a greater sense of urgency to the debate."

However, he stressed wider society had to recognise the impact of anti-terrorism laws were having on law-abiding citizens.

"There is tremendous disquiet within the community," he told the BBC.

"It has given licence to racist and religious bigots employed within the security services to unleash a form of terror on innocent people up and down the country," he claimed.

"The community has the responsibility to co-operate with security agencies to ensure our own safety - but the way to get that co-operation is not by terrorising people and by allowing, without accountability, some within agencies to peddle their race hate among the communities."

Mr Ahmed said he had personally spoken to individuals and families who had been injured in speculative raids which had come to nothing.

He said he knew of elderly people who had been shouted at during search operations by security services, not necessarily the police, accusing them of coming from "terrorist countries".

Local police chiefs who had close ties with Muslim leaders had found their work damaged by the approach of national agencies, said Mr Ahmed. He added there were suspicions that some raids came from bogus tip-offs by people bearing grudges.

"That extent of violation of civil liberties is not befitting a nation that takes pride in leading the way in Parliamentary democracy and the rule of law.

"More urgent action needs to be taken to ensure that officers implementing the anti-terrorism legislation are accountable.

"I'm all for tough and robust policing but it has to be proportionate to the need."

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