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9 April 2007

Time for a British version of Islam . . .

Deep faith and commitment to country can mix.

By Ruth Kelly

The recent trial of those behind the failed 21 July outrage is a stark reminder of the terrorist threat that Britain faces. There can now be no doubt of the scale of the threat. The security services estimate, since this failed attack, that a further 30 plots have been detected and foiled. Few expect these kinds of numbers to fall soon. It will be a challenge for at least another generation.

The government is constantly striving to sharpen our response. Reshaping the Home Office will give clearer oversight to the government’s overall counter-terrorism effort. We must be prepared to give the security services and police the powers they need to keep our citizens safe. But we recognise as well that a security response alone will fail. We also have to address the fundamental causes of this home-grown violent extremism to win the battle for hearts and minds.

I don’t underestimate the difficulties we face. But I know, too, that the good sense and decency of the vast majority of people in this country have ensured that no type of extremism has ever really got a foothold here. Oswald Mosley’s fascists were defeated by decent people coming together. It is how the BNP, time and again, has been beaten back. Similarly, success today will hinge on forging a coalition against violent extremism. It means, in particular, reaching out and including the overwhelming majority of British Muslims disgusted by terrorist attacks carried out in the name of Islam. It means ensuring that those courageous individuals and communities who make public this view are not drowned out or intimidated by the minority who disagree.

It was in order to help ensure that those who stand up don’t stand alone that I am today publishing an action plan to help tackle the violent extremism in our midst. It sets out how new training will help imams, particularly those engaged by the state, take on violent extremists’ messages. It signals a step -change in the role of madrasas in teaching about citizenship. It supports strong and inclusive governance of mosques and establishes a new role for the Charity Commission.

These proposals come out of many discussions I have had in recent months with members of our Muslim communities. I’ve spoken with scholars and thinkers about where we go from here. I’ve listened to those behind the inspiration of community projects up and down Britain. And I have heard the views of women and younger people who have too often felt ignored.

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There were, of course, concerns about aspects of the government’s policies. But I was also struck by the unanimous and resolute rejection of any notion that Islam justifies terrorism and agreement, too, that being a devout Muslim is entirely consistent with accepting the laws and values that come with being a British citizen. Many are proud to be British, proud to be Muslim, and want to help all young people understand this too.

The likes of Tariq Ramadan have written about these issues. And an interim report of work I have commissioned from an impressive young academic – Tufyal Choudhury – makes a powerful argument for why the ultimate response to extremism in the name of Islam is an emerging European or British Islam.

It is not for government to engage in theological debate. But we need to show that we understand how a deep faith can be combined with a deep commitment to one’s country. And we should be working together with the people who are best placed to give a lead to the young people most at risk of being influenced by the arguments from violent extremists.

The progress so far, in forging this coalition against extremism, has been impressive. From the British Muslim Forum to local organisations such as the Bradford Council of Mosques, many, I hope, respect the balance that government is making here. It is the about government challenging and supporting, not seeking to take control or provide all the answers itself.

The vast majority in this country share a vision of a tolerant and fair Britain, where people from all backgrounds get on; where all communities can marry deep faith with commitment to Britain; and where extremists are resolutely isolated. We are already taking important first steps. There is a long way to go, but I believe it sets us in the right direction.

Ruth Kelly is Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government