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UK’s diversity and identity

BRITISH Prime Minister David Cameron made an astonishing and alarming statement at a recent security conference in Munich that is set to change both Britain`s policy of multiculturalism and the `prevent` approach that lays down the method of dealing with Islamist formations in Britain.

Cameron`s remarks, in all probability, will light the fire of ethnic tension in Britain. In a sense, the prime minister`s comments parallel in their approach the fundamentals of British morality and Christian evangelism that was initiated in 18th- and 19th-century Britain by the influential Wilberforce, who was a member of parliament.

It was this philosophy that separated the British in India from the natives and ultimately led to the upheaval of 1857. As a result of this revolt, the Muslims suffered the most; they lost the Mughal kingdom, and most of the Muslims in Delhi were massacred by the angry reaction of the British troops who led the restoration of British authority in India.

In another sense, Cameron`s speech may have presaged Tory politics of the future; his speech was made on the day that the right-wing English Defence League (EDL) was to march through London. Will the Tories shift to Britain`s lowest denominator of its fears rather than live in rationality? It is true that all nations have a base character and one set of attitudes within this deals with purported threats to the `purity` of the majority by a minority.

In the past it was the Jews; now the targeted group appears to be Muslims who are mainly from Pakistan, Bangladesh and India. Cameron is in a sense playing the religion card within the paradigm of the continuing war on terror and the rise of Islamist groups in Western Europe. Indications of a new policy were evident when some days ago the ranking Muslim in the Tory party Baroness Warsi was stopped from attending an Islamic conference where she was invited to speak.

A few days before David Cameron`s speech, she told a gathering at Leicester University that, “The drip-feeding of fear fuels a rising tide of prejudice.

So when people get on the tube and see a bearded Muslim, they think `terrorist` … when they hear `halal`, they think `that sounds like contaminated food` … and when they walk past a woman wearing a veil, they think automatically, `that woman`s oppressed`. And what`s particularly worrying is that this can lead down the slippery slope to violence.”

It is quite evident from the discussion above that the barricades of racial and religious violence are being erected in Britain and are harkening back to the Tory politics practised by Enoch Powell in the 1970s. Is this the right time to be practising the politics of identity when the Islamists exemplified by Osama bin Laden have been clearly stating for the last so many years that the Christian West intends to remove the Muslim minorities from their midst? The ban on the veil in France and Switzerland, the caricaturing of the Prophet (PBUH) in Denmark provide weight to Osama bin Laden`s discourse.

David Cameron may have ignored Britain`s demography during his speech. According to Britain`s census of 2000 the migrants from the Indian subcontinent constitute roughly three per cent of its population, a majority of whom are Muslims. Secondly, 29 per cent of this population is congregated around London. This is a demographic bomb that could so easily be ignited by the hate speech of the EDL combined with offensive policing that is likely to prevail in Britain soon.

It is recognised that many of the terrorists of Western European origin who have been arrested with intent to harm their countries have raised the threat levels in those nations and one would be insensitive not to reflect that such fears will lead to counter-measures that may result in the reduction of freedoms of the European Muslim minorities.

Moreover, there is some truth in the fact that Muslims in Western Europe have failed to assimilate their new identities as Europeans — there is nothing impossible in being a morally strong Muslim living in the West. However, such an existence is made difficult by concepts contained in the doctrine of Darul Harb and Darul Islam.

Wahabist jurisprudence enjoins that Muslims must live in a Sharia-compliant social environment; this is an area of religious knowledge that needs to be revisited and that is where a solution to this issue will most probably lie. It would seem that societies based on multiculturalism can more likely succeed while a counter-terrorist approach will cause plenty of socio-political turbulence in countries with sizable minorities.

But what will be the impact of Britain`s new approach on regions that are the battlefronts in the war on terror — countries like Pakistan and Afghanistan in particular? As indicated earlier the recent statements by the British prime minister will provide fuel to the rising Islamist movement in Pakistan that criticises Pakistan`s role in the war and its support to the US.

Unfortunately, while this debate goes on the sectarian war and violence within Pakistan will increase making the job of formulating effective transformational strategies that much more difficult. This wave of Islamism could lead to the creation of a political force that may be reflected in the next elections in Pakistan due in 2013.

In Afghanistan the impact of change in Britain`s multicultural approach will also strengthen the hands of the Taliban movement and give more leverage to its priestly driven politics that will affect Pakistan`s Fata and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province negatively.

The writer is chairman of the Regional Institute of Policy Research in Peshawar, a former political agent and former chief secretary of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

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