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Friday, November 11, 2005 

Muslim taskforce shames government with workable and excellent suggestions.

It's a shame that the seven working groups involved in coming up with this plan didn't publish their suggestions before the vote on 90 days. It would have shown the government up even further, with its distasteful politicisation of the police. The immensely unlikable Hazel Blears has to her credit said the government will attempt to implement most of it.


Main recommendations

The working groups call for:

· A training programme for imams in non-theological skills, including interfaith dialogue and conflict resolution

· A public inquiry into the root causes of 7/7 and 21/7 terror attacks and their consequences

· Muslim "beacon centres" to develop leadership and promote integration

· A Muslim affairs media unit to provide rapid rebuttal to extremist sentiments and maintain a database of talking heads

· British Islam-online website to provide an information one-stop shop for the young to represent all the mainstream schools of thought

· Roadshow of scholars in big Muslim centres across the country

· UK youth parliament to train young Muslim MPs to run debates with young Muslims in their communities, to provide a safe space for youth to debate issues and register dissent

· Education programmes for Muslim prisoners, and greater support for Muslim chaplains

· A mentoring scheme for Muslim women to shadow figures in public life

· A national campaign to increase visibility of Muslim women

· Seminars and training schemes to develop women's skills and knowledge

· A better reflection of Islam in education

· Measures to improve public-sector understanding of Islam through secondments and short-term contracts into and out of government


And they haven't been silent in criticising the terror bill, either:

Their findings published yesterday are sharply critical of "inherent injustices" in British foreign policy which they say are a contributory factor in triggering "radical impulses" among British Muslims.

They are also scathing about the potential impact of the new terror law, saying that creating a criminal offence of glorifying terrorism could stifle legitimate support for self-determination struggles around the world. They also criticise the Home Office plan to produce a list of extremist websites, bookshops and organisations, saying this will be seen as censorship of those critical of British foreign policy. They also renew the demand for a public inquiry into the underlying causes of the July attacks - an initiative the home secretary says he is considering.


An inquiry into the attacks is crucial. Blair is likely to resist such a move, mainly as unless it follows the same route of the Hutton and Butler inquiries, it'll uncover a trail of poverty and radicalisation linked inextricably to British foreign policy. Such findings would go not down well, as Blair and most of the tabloids continue to stick with the cliche that terrorists are evil and that they are nihilists intent on destroying the west. While some no doubt are that caricature, others are those who have been misguided into believing only violence is the answer. The Muslim task force's's plan would help to stop that indoctrination for happening.

The first step, and probably the most important is the training for imams, many of whom are of the old-school and focus on the old teachings of Islam which are now out of touch with many of the young who see their religion as defining them. While those young men increasingly see Islam as also defining their political views, they do not want sharia. They want to see their views taken on board and not completely ignored by the elite establishment. This desperately needs to happen.

The media affairs unit would help with countering the extremist statements we see of the Zawahiris and similar militants, which are often only those which the average person will see on the news. Islam also needs to be better taught in schools - while religious education in the UK is actually very good compared to many other countries, it could still be vastly improved as it only touches on Islam, Judaism and Hinduism briefly, concentrating on Christianity. It is also usually poorly attended at schools, with teachers and pupils alike seeing it as worthless. That needs to be changed.

Also worthy of praise is the attention the action plan puts on the role of women. Often seen as marginalised, the suggestions would certainly help. I'd like it to be even more radical, and see women be encouraged to learn English, as many of the older generations do not speak it. If this was attempted, it would need to be a lot subtler than Blunkett's past attempts at demanding all immigrants learn English. English would greatly help to improve their visibility - no longer should they be seen as the quiet women walking the streets either in brightly coloured saris or hijabs.

Now the government needs to keep its word. Unless these plans are accepted and implemented, the Muslim community will be embittered and feel even more ignored than before. That must not happen.

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A terror bill for a terror drill?

London Bombings - from fictional to real?

See the two-minute video clip available here.

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