Let us look closely at recent developments in government policy toward Muslims. The British Muslim reaction to the July 7 attacks was exemplary, as Ken Livingstone pointed out, and this was a proof that they were well integrated into society. A policy of constructive engagement would have spared no effort to make the best of these tragic events.

Instead, the British government has adopted an attitude of double denial, at home and abroad. Obsession with the “terrorist threat” rapidly colonised debate and drove the government headlong into an approach restricted to the “fight against radicalisation and extremism”. Though it appeared normal to deal with the issue, the “Muslim question” could in no way be reduced to one of security. Further, this policy was accompanied by a demeaning – and frequently paternalistic – argument on the necessity of “integration”. Muslims, so it went, must accept those British values (liberty, tolerance, democracy, etc) that make up the essence of “Britishness”.

This reductive argument is dangerous on two counts. First, it tendentiously associates terrorism with integration. It is common knowledge that the authors of the terrorist acts were thoroughly integrated: they were educated, held jobs and were culturally westernised. Second, in today’s social and political debate it normalises a formula that only parties of the extreme right once dared to articulate: that Muslims, on the whole, have a problem with western values and must offer more convincing “proof” that they accept them. On December 8 last year, Tony Blair called on minorities to conform to “our essential values”, stating that they have “a duty to integrate”. The Muslim community, because it is perceived as “badly integrated”, has become suspect.


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