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UK Muslims respond to the plane plot

14 August 2006

The recent discovery of the terrorist plot to bomb a large number of airplanes simultaneously while in flight has again rattled the British Muslim community. The alleged plotters were mainly British born Muslims of Pakistani background. Most were seemingly well adapted, well educated and well integrated.

The responses in the UK Muslim community fall into a range of categories:

1. Denial that the plot really existed, backed by conspiracy theories that police and security forces staged the whole thing to divert attention from the government's failing foreign policy, the mounting anger at its policies in the Lebanon crisis, and its failures in Iraq and Afghanistan. Even Lord Ahmad commented: "But they [police] must produce some evidence soon, otherwise people will not believe".

2. A denial of the existence of Muslim terrorists within the British Muslim community. All terrorist acts blamed on Muslims are actually Western plots committed by Western or Israeli secret services.

3. The "but" syndrome: many leaders of the British Muslim community condemn the plot but blame the British government's foreign policy for the radicalisation of the young would-be bombers and others like them. In this view, Britain should always intervene to help where Muslims are perceived as victims of non-Muslims, but must never do so when the oppressors are Muslim, even if their victims are Muslim.

4. Demands that British Muslims be compensated in real terms for every Islamic terrorist plot carried out or unveiled, because such events invariably cast a negative light on Islam and Muslims. Failure of government to offer such appeasement will inevitably lead to a further radicalisation of Muslims in Britain and to more acts of Islamist terror. Following the latest air plot arrests, demands were made by some Muslim leaders that Islamic feasts and holy days be recognised as public holidays in the UK, and that Islamic family law be recognised by the state as applying to Muslims in the UK.

5. The claim that the threat is external, not inherent to British Islam. Khurshid Ahmad, chairman of the British Muslim Forum, argued that radical Muslims from abroad were the source of mischief. These must be stopped before they train British Muslims to lead such a movement.

6. The acceptance that terrorism and extremism exist within the British Muslim community and must be firmly dealt with. This is coupled to a determination to face up to the problem and find a realistic solution. Haras Rafiq, of the Sufi Muslim Council, said the first thing the Muslim community must do is admit it has a problem with extremism. "It is like being an alcoholic -we need to stand up and say these things and have an open and honest debate". Shahid Malek, Labour MP for Dewsbury, argued that given the fact that these acts of terrorism are carried out in the name of Islam, British Muslims must not only condemn but confront the issue. Muslims must take the lead in defeating the extremism within their community. They must fight Islamic extremism for the very soul of Islam and for the freedoms they enjoy as Britons.