Kelly urges 'fundamental rebalancing' of relationship with Muslims
Published by webmaster for 24dash.com in Communities
Ruth Kelly addresses audience of Muslims
Communities Secretary Ruth Kelly today called for a "fundamental rebalancing" of the Government's relations with Muslim organisations, in order to support voices of moderation in the struggle to defeat extremism and terror.
Ms Kelly said that people of all faiths in Britain shared "non-negotiable values" - such as respect for the law and freedom of speech - which were under attack both from Islamist extremists and the far right.
She pledged the Government's support to Muslim groups which took on the arguments of radicals, and indicated there would be a "significant shift" in state funding and engagement in favour of organisations which spoke out clearly against extremism.
And she was critical of groups and individuals who chose to boycott commemorations such as Holocaust Memorial Day, although she stressed it was their right to do so. The Muslim Council of Britain, which has received state grants, has not taken part in the event commemorating the murder of 6 million Jews by the Nazis, arguing it should be expanded to cover all genocides.
Speaking to a Muslim audience in London today, Ms Kelly said: "I do not come here to say that tackling extremists is your problem as Muslims alone. This is a shared problem. It is a shared battle for the kind of society we want to be and the values that we all hold dear.
"But I do say that without you fully on side we will fail. Your voice is more powerful than mine. And your actions can be more effective."
She promised the Government would "increase our commitment to work in partnership with you and communities throughout Britain who show through their words and actions that they are determined to take on the extremists and defend values that the vast majority of us share".
And she added: "It is not good enough to merely sit on the sidelines or pay lip service to fighting extremism. That is why I want a fundamental rebalancing of our relationship with Muslim organisations from now on.
"In future, I am clear that our strategy of funding and engagement must shift significantly towards those organisations that are taking a proactive leadership role in tackling extremism and defending our shared values.
"It is only by defending our values that we will prevent extremists radicalising future generations of terrorists."
Tackling the issue of Holocaust Memorial Day, Ms Kelly said: "There are also some people who don't feel it right to join in the commemorations of Holocaust Memorial Day even though it has helped raise awareness not just of the Jewish holocaust, but also more contemporary atrocities like the Rwanda genocide. That's also their right.
"But I can't help wondering why those in leadership positions who say they want to achieve religious tolerance and a cohesive society would choose to boycott an event which marks, above all, our common humanity and respect for each other."
Ms Kelly's speech comes amid furore over her Cabinet colleague Jack Straw's call - backed last night by Chancellor Gordon Brown - for Muslim women to consider removing the veil.
The Communities Secretary today restated her position that the decision on whether to wear the veil was one of "informed personal choice".
But she said there were a series of more fundamental things that all Britons should hold in common - including the English language, a sense of British history and the values of freedom and respect.
"There is more that holds us together than divides us," said Ms Kelly. "I believe there are some cultural aspects we should share - speaking English and having a sense of British history and traditions for example.
"And all of this needs to be grounded in a set of non-negotiable values. They belong to us all. They are found in Islam as much as in Christian, Sikh, Hindu, Jewish and other traditions:
"Respect for the law; freedom of speech; equality of opportunity; respect for others and responsibility towards others.
"And these values need all of us to defend them. And crucially these values - non-negotiable values to which we must all adhere - are distinct from political issues where robust debate is needed."
Ms Kelly said she respected the views of those who opposed Government foreign policy in Iraq and Afghanistan and welcomed a "full and frank debate" about the war on terror.
But she warned of the danger that differences over these issues could be "exaggerated and exploited" by those seeking to drive a wedge between Muslims and the rest of British society.
"The far right is still with us. Still poisonous, still trying to create and exploit divisions," she said.
"Their aim this time is to drive a wedge between British Muslims and wider society. We need to stand together to expose their lies and challenge their hate-fuelled message.
"But we also have to stand together to tackle those fomenting divisions and extremism within Muslim communities."
Ms Kelly hailed the work of moderate Muslims in promoting "good quality" teaching about Islam, leadership programmes for young people, "deradicalisation" programmes and projects to build bridges between communities and empower women.
And she insisted that, in spite of recent tensions, Britain remains "a good place to be a Muslim", with a record that compares favourably with many states in the West and even the Middle East.
Ms Kelly said the Government would "shift away" from those Muslim groups who did not stand up for tolerance and understanding.
"We will judge them by their words and their actions," she said. "We know Muslim organisations have a particular role they can play.
"Over time we will support those that stand up for our shared values and not support those who don't."
Ms Kelly insisted she was not pointing the finger at any specific Muslim organisation even though the Muslim Council of Britain very publicly boycotted Holocaust Memorial Day.
"I will support any Muslim leadership organisation that is prepared to stand up and share our common values.
"I have thrown down a challenge not just to Muslims, but the Government and the whole of society."
But her words were greeted with disdain by the group Hizb ut-Tahrir Britain, which said the minister was trying to blame the Muslim community for the Government's foreign policy.
Spokesman Imran Waheed said: "Ruth Kelly tried to deny that the Government is shifting the blame to the Muslim community by talking of a 'shared problem'.
"However, John Reid's demand that Muslim parents spy on their children, Straw's comments on the veil causing 'separation and difference' and Kelly's previous comments on Islamic schools promoting extremism and isolationism show clearly that the Government is intent on shifting the blame from foreign policy to the Muslim community."
Mr Waheed said the Muslim community must not be divided along moderate and extremist lines.
"Her talk of supporting 'deradicalisation programmes' seemed to be lifted from a Communist Party manifesto," he said.
"This was further evidenced by the threat that the Government will only fund those organisations that toe the Government line.
"In essence, we are seeing the creation of a New Labour state-sponsored Islam, akin to that adopted by the dictators of the Muslim world."
Copyright Press Association 2006.