Britain’s largest Muslim organization has objected to a letter sent by Communities Minister Eric Pickles urging Muslim leaders to do more to tackle radicalization and extremism in the wake of the recent attacks on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.
In the letter, sent to more than 1000 Muslim leaders across the UK, Mr Pickles praised the Muslim community’s condemnation of the 7 January attacks in Paris but said that more needed to be done in order to show that extremists “do not speak for Muslims in Britain or anywhere else in the world”.
The letter was co-signed by Lord Ahmad, one of Britain’s most senior Muslim politicians.
On Monday, a spokesman for the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) compared Mr Pickles’ words to the rhetoric of Britain’s far-right.
Harun Khan, the MCB’s Deputy Secretary General said: “Is Mr Pickles seriously suggesting, as do members of the far right, that Muslims and Islam are inherently apart from British society?”
Mr Khan added that the MCB would be responding to the letter to “demand an explanation” for the assumptions made in the correspondence.
In the letter Mr Pickles wrote: “We are proud of the reaction of British communities to this attack. Muslims from across the country have spoken out to say: not in our name.
“But there is more work to do. We must show our young people, who may be targeted, that extremists have nothing to offer them. We must show them that there are other ways to express disagreement: that their right to do so is dependent on the very freedoms that extremists seek to destroy. We must show them the multitude of statements of condemnation from British Muslims; show them these men of hate have no place in our mosques or any place of worship, and that they do not speak for Muslims in Britain or anywhere in the world.”
Mr Pickles added that “challenges of integration and radicalization” cannot be solved by the government alone and called for “strong community-based leadership at local level” to counter extremism.
In a list of ways that could help the government’s efforts, Mr Pickles urged community leaders to inform the government of the work being done to “promote the positive image of Islam”.
The letter continued: “We believe together we have an opportunity to demonstrate the true nature of British Islam today. British values are Muslim values. Like all faiths, Islam and its message of peace and unity makes our country a better and stronger place, and Britain would be diminished without its strong Muslim communities.
Every day, mosques and other faith institutions across the country are providing help for those in need, and acting as a centre for our communities. It is these positive contributions that are the true messages of faith and it is these contributions that need to be promoted.”
Lord Ahmad said the council’s response to the letter was “disappointing” because it had made it abundantly clear that Mr Pickles and the rest of government regarded Muslims as an important part of British society.
“This was about reassurance that a Britain without Muslims, a Britain without Jews, Hindus, would not be the Britain we want to see,” he said on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.