Britain’s first Muslim minister has attacked the growing culture of hostility against Muslims in the United Kingdom, saying that many feel targeted like “the Jews of Europe”.
Shahid Malik, who was appointed as a minister in the Department for International Development (Dfid) by Gordon Brown last summer, said it has become legitimate to target Muslims in the media and society at large in a way that would be unacceptable for any other minority.
Mr Malik made clear that he was not equating the situation with the Holocaust but warned that many British Muslims now felt like “aliens in their own country”. He said he himself had been the target of a string of racist incidents, including the firebombing of his family car and an attempt to run him down at a petrol station.
“I think most people would agree that if you ask Muslims today what do they feel like, they feel like the Jews of Europe,” he said. “I don’t mean to equate that with the Holocaust but in the way that it was legitimate almost – and still is in some parts – to target Jews, many Muslims would say that we feel the exact same way.
“Somehow there’s a message out there that it’s OK to target people as long as it’s Muslims. And you don’t have to worry about the facts, and people will turn a blind eye.”
The claims are made in an interview to be broadcast on Monday in a Channel 4 Dispatches programme to coincide with the third anniversary of the London bombings of 7 July.
A poll to accompany the documentary highlights the growing polarisation of opinion among Britain’s 1.6 million Muslims, who say they have suffered a marked increase in hostility since the London bombings.
The ICM survey found that 51 per cent of Britons blame Islam to some degree for the 2005 attacks while more than a quarter of Muslims now believe Islamic values are not compatible with British values. While 90 per cent of Muslims said they felt attached to Britain, eight out of 10 said they felt there was more religious prejudice against their faith since the July bombings.
The Dispatches film, “It Shouldn’t Happen to a Muslim”, presented by the writer and broadcaster Peter Oborne, examines claims that negative attitudes to Muslims have become legitimised by think-tanks and newspaper commentators, who use language that is now being parroted by the far right.
Mr Malik, who narrowly escaped serious injury when a car was driven at him at a petrol station in his home town of Burnley in 2002, said he regularly receives anti-Muslim hate mail at his constituency office in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, which has the highest BNP vote in the country and was home to Mohammad Sidique Khan, the leader of the suicide attackers who killed 52 people in London in 2005.
The MP said the negative portrayal of Muslims in the media, including a story run by several national newspapers in December last year wrongly stating that staff in the Dewsbury and District Hospital had been ordered to turn the beds of Muslim patients towards Mecca five times a day, was a key example of how his co-religionists were being alienated from the mainstream.
He said: “It’s almost as if you don’t have to check your facts when it comes to certain people, and you can just run with those stories. It makes Muslims feel like aliens in their own country. At a time when we want to engage with Muslims, actually the opposite happens.”
The Dispatches programme also speaks to Andy Hayman, the former Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner who was Britain’s most senior anti-terrorism officer until he resigned last December. Mr Hayman, who was criticised for failing to tell senior Scotland Yard officers that an innocent man, Jean Charles de Menezes, had been shot dead after being mistaken for a suicide bomber, is asked why he thinks it is important to engage with Muslims expressing extreme views.
Mr Hayman said: “Because we’re tackling head on the people that we feel are at the heartbeat of this whole complex agenda. Not to have a dialogue with them would seem that we are apprehensive, we’re scared, we’re frightened… So even if it’s appeasement in some quarters, that is still a conversation that is not being had and needs to be had.”
Mr Malik’s comments were backed by Simon Woolley, a member of the Government’s task force on race equality, and co-founder of Operation Black Vote. He said: “On an almost daily basis, there is rampant Islamophobia in this country, the effect of which is not for our Muslim community to get closer to a sense of Britishness but to feel further away from a feeling of belonging in British society.”
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