Wednesday, October 11, 2006

We're all in this together

Ruth Kelly today announced that she is going to, ‘in the future’ increase funding for ‘organisations that are taking a proactive leadership role in tackling extremists and defending our values’.

I am getting tired of this Government’s continuing message that it is up to the Muslim community to sort out extremism. I have said it before and I’ll say it again, of course they have a responsibility, but so do we all.

In the same speech to the Commission on Integration and Cohesion, established after 7 July, she says’ In our attempt to avoid imposing a single British identity and culture, have we ended up with some communities living in isolation of each other, with no common bonds between them?’

So on the one hand she is advocating cohesion and on the other she is telling Muslims to sort it out themselves and if they’re good she’ll bung a bit of cash their way.

How can she complain of ‘communities living in isolation’ whilst at the same time advocating faith schools? The phenomenon of extremism is deep rooted, there is no quick fix solution to this, we need to be looking at long term solutions, not headline grabbing policies. Whilst tackling the current problem in our midst we need to look to the future, to the next generation, to the children.

I was born, bred and schooled in London. I am used to living and working with people from all sorts of ethnic origins. My parents and my grandparents, however, are not. It is ignorance and unfamiliarity which grows the seeds of prejudice and fear. My parents have come out with some clangers in their time. If I ever have children I will want them to grow up in an even more multicultural environment than I did, I will want them to be familiar with those that are different from an early age and to learn judge people by what is inside.

How can we expect children, being educated in all white, all black, all Muslim, all Jewish schools, to name but a few, to be any more accepting than our grandparents? We can’t.

The way to instil common values, is to teach common values, together. Not to separate us at birth then expect us to grow up the best of friends. We need to learn to know each other before we can find respect.

At the same time we cannot ignore the current problems of alienation. We need to embrace that too. We need to work together as a community and let the moderate Muslims know that we are all striving towards the same goals. The majority of Muslims want peace in this land, as do the majority of citizens. The extremists are a tiny percentage. We need to take their target away from them.

When I saw the video of Mohammed Sidique Khan, telling me I had been attacked because I supported this Government and it’s policies in the Middle East I shouted back at the TV ‘I didn’t’. I marched against the war, I voted against this Government after the invasion of Iraq. I fundamentally didn’t support it. And you know what, I can see why they are angry and so can thousands of others. The ‘them and us’ in this battle of wills needs to be between moderate peace loving citizens and the extremist violent ones. We need to embrace the majority of Muslims, tell them we are on their side, we understand their frustrations and fight the injustices together.

That way we start to diffuse the target, we isolate the extremists from their community, take away their justification for their actions. They are not just attacking the values of non Muslims any more, they are up against their whole community. We need to stop this media frenzy of demonisation of Muslims and start talking to them as friends, as allies, as people who are threatened as much as we by this hatred amongst our ranks.

We are all in this together after all.