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Community Challenge

Community Challenge

Author: Editorial
Publication: The Times, UK
Date: May 13, 2002

Introduction: Hain should not withdraw his remarks about Muslims

When James Callaghan was home Secretary he told the Cabinet that Peter Hain's campaign for recial equality was so extreme it might lay him open to prosecution for conspiracy. Thirty-two-years later Mr Hain is a Labour Minister and has laid himself open to an entirely different attack. He is being asked by leading members of the Muslim community to withdraw remarks about Muslim immigrants who, he said, "can be very isolationist in their own behavior and their own customs". He should not bow to the clamour for contrition.

Their are many good reason why senior politicians should be very careful in what they say about ethnic minorities and their beliefs. It would be extremely arrogant of western democrats to believe that they have nothing to learn from traditional religions and that very new social customs and ideas are unquestionably superior to the wisdom of centuries. It would also be wholly unacceptable for the price of seeking refugee or fortune in this country to be the total abandonment of identity and community. Equally, it is important to ensure that minority groups do not feel beleaguered that they retreat further into themselves.

Providing that these dangers are kept in mind, however, mainstream politicians talk publicly about immigration policy and avoid disagreeing with the view or attitudes of any members of an ethnic minority Peter Hain's history as a fearless campaigner against apartheid and a founder member of the Anti-Nazi League makes him a particulate issues, as it is not credible to suggest that he is animated by prejudice.

Britain is enriched economically and culturally by immigration. Immigrants accepted into this country should be welcomed and treated with the greatest respect. Ten indigenous populations must do all it can to reduce racial prejudice and to help those who come here to settle and play their full part in British life. Sadly this has not always been the case and members of ethnic groups have often faced discrimination and rejection. Efforts to overcome this remain vital and should not automatically be dismissed as "political correctness gone mad".

At the same time, those who chose to come here and accept the rights of citizenship take upon themselves the responsibility to help to support and maintain the basic British values and institution that make this as attractive place to reside. Most immigrants to Britain, Muslims included, have made a success of integration-learning English, brining up children confident in their British identity, succeeding in the professions and commerce, making a mark in public life. Yet there remains a minority who seem intent only on preserving their difference rather than trying constructively to build upon them. It is this small grouping to which Mr Hain refers.

The Cantle report into last summer's riots in Oldham. Burnely and Bradford expressed concern that different ethnic groups in those places were living separate and parallel lives which did not touch each other in any way. Part of the reason for this is, without doubt, prejudice against immigrants but part is the fault of local Muslim leadership, which retains power by keeping Muslims separate and cut off from the mainstream. This helps to breed resentment and extremism. It also impoverishes members of the Muslim community economically, politically and socially.

Muslim hold strong beliefs and like any citizens have the right for these to be shown understanding and tolerance. British Muslims should not, however, be over-sensitive when a minister argues that some need to integrate their way of life further with the country in which they have chosen to live.
 


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