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Last Updated: Monday, 29 August 2005, 10:33 GMT 11:33 UK
No 'faith solution' to extremism
Salman Rushdie
Mr Rushdie opposes government backing of faith schools
Tony Blair's reliance on faith-based groups in fighting extremism is a "very bad mistake", Salman Rushdie has said.

The prime minister's belief that "more religion is going to solve the problem" was "seriously out of step with the country", the novelist told BBC News.

He criticised support for faith-based schools and said UK Islamic groups were failing to represent most Muslims.

The Muslim Council of Britain said Mr Rushdie had "lost his faith" and was "enraged" that most UK Muslims had not.

MCB spokesman Inayat Bunglawala told BBC News: "Salman Rushdie's call amounts to an appeal to Muslims to apostasise from their faith.

"He has been doing so at regular intervals since The Satanic Verses was published and has miserably failed every time."

The Satanic Verses being burned in 1989
The Satanic Verses contained allegedly blasphemous passages

Mr Rushdie spent years in hiding because an Islamic fatwa in 1989 ordered his death over allegedly blasphemous passages in his book The Satanic Verses.

At the time, Iqbal Sacranie, now the head of the MCB, said death would be "perhaps too easy" for Mr Rushdie.

On Monday, Mr Rushdie told BBC Radio 4's Today programme Sir Iqbal, who was knighted in the Queen's Birthday Honours in June, also expected The Satanic Verses to be banned under the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill.

The bill currently going through parliament would create a new offence of incitement to religious hatred and would apply to comments made in public or in the media, as well as through written material.

Most people of Muslim origin in this country have a range of political and social interests that have nothing to do with whether or not they are religious
Salman Rushdie

But ministers insist it will not ban people - including artists and performers - from offending, criticising or ridiculing faiths.

Mr Blair had "explicitly said" the bill would not be used to ban The Satanic Verses, Mr Rushdie told Today.

The fact that Sir Iqbal had said he expected it to be banned "just shows the kind of confusion you get into when you try to deal with these people", he added.

Sir Iqbal and Mr Bunglawala had been "very very vociferously hardline on a range of issues for a long time", Mr Rushdie told the programme.

"These are not people who are sounding like the kind of people who can make the kind of changes in the community's attitudes that need to be made.

"What really needs to happen is the very large majority of British people of Muslim origin who do not want to be just defined in terms of their religion start speaking up and creating a genuine voice that represents the majority rather than these minority figures claiming to be important.

The Satanic Verses affair brought us together... and that is a development that clearly upset Mr Rushdie
MCB spokesman Inayat Bunglawala

"Most people of Muslim origin in this country have a range of political and social interests that have nothing to do with whether or not they are religious."

But Mr Bunglawala told BBC News Mr Rushdie had himself inadvertently "helped create a British Muslim identity around faith".

"The Satanic Verses affair was a turning point in the history of Muslim communities in Britain.

"Up until then we had been more identified by our ethnic background - Indian or Pakistani - but The Satanic Verses affair brought us together... and that is a development that clearly upset Mr Rushdie.

"Faith is an integral part of our identity and helps make us more rounded individuals," Mr Bunglawala added.

The cover of Shalimar the Clown
Mr Rushdie's latest novel is published in the UK next month

Mr Rushdie also complained that faith-based schools were "an absolutely central plank of the government's policy".

Ministers are due to publish proposals later in the year which will make it easier for independent schools, including Islamic, Christian and Jewish institutions to opt into the state sector with access to public funding.

But Mr Rushdie told Today: "If [Mr Blair] thinks that more religion is going to solve the problem, then not only in my view is he wrong, but he is also seriously out of step with the country."

On Tuesday an ICM/Guardian survey found 64% of people opposed the idea of government funding for faith schools.

Mr Rushdie's latest novel, Shalimar the Clown, published in the UK next month, is about a young Muslim boy who is guided by a radical mullah to become an Islamic terrorist.


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