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Last Updated: Wednesday, 2 June, 2004, 03:41 GMT 04:41 UK
Islamophobia pervades UK - report
By Dominic Casciani
BBC News Online community affairs reporter

Mosque
Many Muslims say they feel they don't belong
Persistent and untackled Islamophobia in the UK could lead to 'time-bombs' of backlash and bitterness, according to a major report.

Findings by a national commission into Islam in Britain found the aftermath of the 11 September attacks has made life more difficult for Muslims.

It criticised public bodies for failing to address institutional Islamophobia.

But it said schools and hospitals had become much more sensitive to the religious needs of Muslims.

The report is the latest publication from the Commission on British Muslims and Islamophobia, a think tank first set up by anti-racism organisation the Runnymede Trust.

Its first report in 1997 made 60 recommendations and warned that the government and communities themselves had to do more to improve the situation of Muslims in the UK.

It called for changes in the law to better protect Muslim communities and a major effort to bring its people into public life.

'Recommendations ignored'

Launching the new report, Dr Richard Stone, chair of the commission and formerly an adviser to the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry, warned key recommendations had been ignored.

Government has not taken on board, in a deep way, the anti-Muslim prejudice in this country
Dr Richard Stone
"On 15 February 2003 there took place the biggest public demonstration ever in British history [the march against the war in Iraq]," said Dr Stone.

"But within weeks, the wonderful solidarity seen on 15 February seemed to be unravelling.

"There is now renewed talk of a clash of civilizations and mounting concern that the already fragile foothold gained by Muslim communities in Britain is threatened by ignorance and intolerance."

HAVE YOUR SAY
I don't feel the government has done anything to show a balanced view of Islam
Usman, London

Since the 11 September attacks, communities had experienced greater hostility, including increased attacks against individuals and mosques, the report said.

It criticised established anti-racism organisations for failing to do enough to combat anti-Muslim prejudice.

Rioting predicted

Credit for any positive changes since 1997 had to go largely to Muslim organisations themselves which had become more organised, the report found.

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Central government deserved some praise for moves on religious discrimination.

But it warned exclusion from public life perpetuated a feeling among some Muslims, particularly the young, that they did not belong in Britain.

This resentment and disaffection represented a time-bomb that needed to be dealt with now, it said.

Dr Abduljalil Sajid, an imam and adviser to the commission, said he believed many elements of the UK were "institutionally Islamophobic".

"Since the 11 September attacks the single most important concern has been police harassment of Muslims," said Dr Sajid. "Even one of the country's Muslim peers, Lord Ahmed, has been stopped twice by police."

While there were many examples of authorities properly addressing the needs of Muslim communities, he said, there were more than enough examples where communities believed they were being excluded or ghettoised.

This could spark fresh rioting and increase the influence of extremists.

'Institutionalised'

"These communities need help and want to be proud to be British. But government and public bodies are not backing up words with actions," said Dr Sajid.

Dr Richard Stone added: "The only area where there has been major change is within Muslim communities themselves.

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Aziz Ahmed

"Government has not taken on board, in a deep way, the anti-Muslim prejudice in this country."

The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), which was among those to submit its opinion to the commission, said "very little progress" had been made to tackle Islamophobia since the 1997 report.

Secretary-general Iqbal Sacranie cited a 41% increase in "stop and search" operations on Asians revealed by the Metropolitan Police Authority and a "virulently anti-Muslim" televised party political broadcast by the far-right British National Party as examples of the government's failure to tackle racism.

He said: "We have been witnessing a relentless increase in hostility towards Islam and British Muslims and it is clear that existing race relations bodies have been either unable or unwilling to combat this phenomenon effectively."

"Islamophobia is becoming institutionalised," he added.




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SEE ALSO:
Islamophobia 'explosion' in UK
24 May 02  |  UK News
Islamophobia: Ask the experts
03 Sep 03  |  Have Your Say


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