Guest Writings
5/8/05 What Muslims need is up-to-date leaders Aamer Anwar

Letter to the Glasgow Herald

Our so-called “community leaders” want to eradicate extremism among the youth and met with Malcolm Chisholm at a secret “invite only” meeting. These discredited old “yes men” (with a handful of honourable exceptions) have stifled political discussion within the “Labour-dominated” city mosques for years. They are the remnants of 1960s community relations grateful for the crumbs of the table who continue to pretend that they are in touch with our youth. Of course our community condemns the London attacks but that does not mean we should be paralysed by a defensive and apologetic stance translated into a lack of criticism of the government.

We have screamed from the rooftops for years that we are British, yet no-one wanted to hear and now we are told we must prove our Britishness. Born and bought up here, I have no desire to support the Queen or fly a Union Jack.

Conspicuous by their absence at No 10 or at the meeting with Chisholm were the real leaders, the young Muslims who have marched in their hundreds of thousands on the streets against war, shoulder to shoulder with the non-Muslims campaigning for genuine justice and peace. The anti-war movement was a real turning-point and a beginning of hope for many within the Muslim community.

Until then as British Muslims we had been asked whether we were British or Muslim – as if we could not be both. It would have been better for the government to invite their harshest critics. But Blair never listened to the millions who marched against war. He ignored real democracy, opening a Pandora’s Box releasing the politics of hate.

As British Muslims we feel marginalised, criminalised and fed-up with demands to adhere to higher standards of behaviour than any other section of the community or risk losing the right to be British. They forget that our community is also among the dead, be it in New York, London, Baghdad or Bali; that we also had sleepless nights waiting to hear the voices of our loved ones

The young bombers are easy to dehumanise as “evil monsters” but that will bring us no closer to what motivated them. British society bears a heavy responsibility for losing these men to hate, and what we have seen in the days gone by is only increasing that hate. By ignoring political realities, Blair’s war on terror will not contain but fuel further violence.

Muslims picked up for questioning have no more desire than anyone else to be slain in a random act of violence, whether it is instigated by a fanatic or the politically committed. We were as likely, if not more, to have been victims in the bombings in Hackney, Aldgate East, or Edgware Road. The irony is that while Muslims feel so afraid with their very existence being threatened, we are at the same time being portrayed as the threat.

Since 9/11 there have been 700 arrests in this country under the terror laws, yet only three successful convictions related to militant Islamic groups. Two years ago when charges against my clients accused of being the “Hogmanay al Qaeda” were finally dropped, I warned that security services were wasting valuable time and resources targeting the innocent, racially profiling the usual suspects.

Extra powers for the police will further alienate their best resource for intelligence, the Muslim community. Muslims today balance the fear of being victims of bombs with the fear of being executed paramilitary style. So no, we cannot accept this mythical “intelligence-led” Stop and Search, no matter what our elders say.

We now learn that British police officers have been receiving shoot-to-kill training from the Israeli military. How could a police commissioner sanction shoot-to-kill without any consultation? Why send them to a country accused of war crimes and torture? What message does this relay to the Muslim community? Would it have been acceptable for the Met during the Brixton riots to have sent their officers for training to apartheid South Africa? Would it not have been wiser if the Metropolitan Police had gone to the West Bank to learn from Palestinians why some of their children do not want the gift of life any more?

It has been 150 years since public hangings were stopped and over 40 years since execution of convicted murderers because it was considered morally reprehensible. I remember as a child being taught that it was better to let 100 guilty men go free than to hang an innocent man. In 2005 the police can carry out a public execution on the basis of a “suspicion”, ministers excuse the death of 100,000 in the search for “WMD”, community leaders conduct witch-hunts and the tabloids blame refugees with their banners of hate – how far our civilised, democratic society has come.

We know the sense of alienation our youth feel. They are intelligent, highly politicised and angry about troops in Iraq, the Israelis in Palestine, and racism in this country. It is time we valued our Muslim youth rather than fearing them, but to do so we must listen to their grievances and stop operating double standards if we really want to win a future generation that this country can be proud of.

Aamer Anwar, Beltrami Berlow Solicitors, 40 Carlton Place, Glasgow.

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