TOPICS: Terror: End chorus of intolerance

The best thing that can be said for the critics of multiculturalism in the UK is that they are confused. Their muddled thinking was perfectly illustrated last week by David Davis, the Tory shadow (opposition) home secretary, when he denounced the concept and then added that he welcomed ``the mainstream version of Islam as part of British society’’. The charitable explanation of the confusion is ignorance - an inability to distinguish between integration and assimilation. The alternative interpretation is more sinister. Muslims are accepted in Britain - but only if they cease to behave like Muslims. Yet people who ought to know better have joined in the chorus of intolerance. To demand that Muslims abandon their way of life - what they eat, how they dress, which way they choose their husbands and wives - is to make a frontal assault upon their faith. Islam is a total religion. People who go to church on Christmas Eve and think that makes them Christians may not realise that devout Muslims believe that the Qur’an should inform their whole lives.

Britain has to decide if the freedom that we so value is consistent with attempts to suppress the religious practices of the country’s fastest-growing faith. The fact that most of us do not share their beliefs (and some of us have no beliefs at all) is irrelevant. Only primitive people want to destroy everything they do not like or understand. The civilised, and sensible, approach is to welcome diversity as a stimulus to renewed vitality. The excuse for demanding Muslim conformity - Catholic and Quaker schools being acceptable when Islamic schools are not - is the fear of something that, for want of a decent definition, the ignorant call fundamentalism. But it is the assault on Islam that has alienated some Muslim youths to the point at which they will not condemn anyone who champions their religion. Social disadvantage combines with attacks on their favoured causes to make them feel rejected. Assaults on their faith will alienate them still further.

Former Labour home secretary David Blunkett’s confusion of arranged and forced marriages was deeply offensive to young Muslim women (many of them highly westernised) for whom ``a traditional wedding’’ is the only form of matrimony with which they feel comfortable. But the greatest damage was done by the obsession with immigration control. They wrote and spoke as if every Muslim who entered the country pollutes the pure stream of British life by insisting on performing barbaric rituals. Foreign secretary Jack Straw abolished the “primary purpose rule’’, which was invented to keep lawful husbands of Muslim British women out of this country. But the laid-back British still failed to recognise the passion with which British Muslims support their culture and their religion. If we attempt to deny that right - or even discourage them from respecting their history and culture - they will turn from friends into enemies. And, in the difficult days that lie ahead, we need them on our side. —The Guardian