Monday, January 19, 2015

Cameron Gov's "Dear Imams" Letter Gets the Cold Shoulder From UK Muslims (and a Jew, Too)

Post-Charlie Hebdo attack, David Cameron's Communities Secretary, the unfortunately named Eric Pickles (wouldn't it be great if his re-election slogan was "What's the big dill"?) sent a letter to 1,000 UK Muslim leaders. In it he asked them to help out with their co-religionists who are inclined to embrace jihad. He also asked them to explain how Islam "can be part of the British identity."
Needless to say, it wasn't received well.
And lest you think that Pickles's request was verging on the "Islamophobic" (which is how it was perceived by its recipients), it helps to read it context:
In the letter sent to more than 1,000 Islamic leaders, Mr Pickles stressed he was "proud" of the way Muslims in Britain had responded to the Paris terror attacks but added that there was "more work to do".  
He wrote: "You, as faith leaders, are in a unique position in our society. You have a precious opportunity, and an important responsibility, in explaining and demonstrating how faith in Islam can be part of British identity...
"We believe together we have an opportunity to demonstrate the true nature of British Islam today. There is a need to lay out more clearly than ever before what being a British Muslim means today: proud of your faith and proud of your country. We know that acts of extremism are not representative of Islam, but we need to show what is." 
It couldn't have been that "offensive" if it got buy-in from a highly-placed British Muslim:
Communities minister Lord Ahmad, who signed the letter with Mr Pickles, said the response from the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) was "disappointing" and "missed the point". 
He told BBC Radio 5 live: "It explicitly states that British values are Muslim values. This letter is laying out that the government is engaging with all communities, saying we need to tackle extremism and to work together to make sure we eradicate this evil from our society."....
Nonetheless, you likely won't be surprised to learn that it wasn't well received:
But MCB deputy secretary-general Harun Khan said: "We will be writing to Mr Eric Pickles to ask that he clarifies his request to Muslims to 'explain and demonstrate how faith in Islam can be part of British identity'. 
"Is Mr Pickles seriously suggesting, as do members of the far right, that Muslims and Islam are inherently apart from British society?" 
He told the BBC the organisation did not have an issue with the letter's content but rather its tone and the thinking behind it. 
"Why is the Muslim community being singled out in such an approach?" he said. "It puts imams in a difficult position now because it looks to the public that the government is telling them what to do." 
Mohammed Shafiq, chief executive of the Ramadhan Foundation, said he was "dismayed" by the letter, which was "typical of the government only looking at Muslims through the prism of terrorism and security". 
"We do not need a patronising letter from ministers to tell us to campaign against terrorism, promote values and do more against extremism when all the evidence points to Muslims organisations doing just that," he said.
One would expect a former chief rabbi to "get" it re the letter. In which case, one would be dead wrong:
Former Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks said he believed the letter was "well-intentioned" but he understood the frustrations of Muslim leaders at being held responsible for dealing with something out of their control. 
Would that Lord Sacks, who should know better, had had the insight to put it like this:
But Haras Rafiq, of the Quilliam Foundation think tank, said he was disappointed by the negative reaction of some Muslims.
"Whether we like it or not, there are some mosques, some imams who are preaching hate," he said.
He's disappointed by the negative reaction of some Muslims. I'm more disappointed by Lord Sack's apparent cluelessness (which reminds me of another rabbi's lack of insight).

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