For those furth of the UK Eric Pickles is Communities Minister in the present government. A rather rotund Yorkshireman he plays the part of common sense man of the people rather well, but behind the bluff exterior there lies a very canny political operator. But even the canniest, most Machiavellian of operators can come a cropper.
Following the Charlie Hebdo attack Mr Pickles sent a rather benign, supportive letter to 1,000 Muslim leaders in the UK asking them to help with their co-religionists who are on their way to embracing jihad. Clearly the great majority of Muslims want nothing to do with the violence, unfortunately there also exists a small minority planning or enacting violence. However, and almost as worrying, there are large numbers in the middle who will not condemn any other Muslim over any act, or who actively sympathise with the violent.
In the face of this Mr Pickles in his letter made the valid assessment that Muslim radicalism ‘cannot be solved from Whitehall alone’ and stressed the need for all to fight extremism. He stressed that he was ‘proud’ of the way Muslims in Britain had reacted to the Paris atrocity but added that there was ‘more work to do’. He asked the immams to explain how Islam ‘can be part of the British identity’ explicitly making the somewhat strange assertion that British values are Muslim values. Pickles even repeated that well worn cliche that Islam is ‘a religion of peace’.
He wrote: ‘We believe together we have an opportunity to demonstrate the true nature of British Islam today. There is a need to lay out more clearly than ever before what being a British Muslim means today: proud of your faith and proud of your country. We know that acts of extremism are not representative of Islam, but we need to show what is.’
‘We must show our young people, who may be targeted, that extremists have nothing to offer them. We must show them that there are other ways to express disagreement, that their right to do so is dependent on the very freedoms that extremists seek to destroy.
‘We must show them the multitude of statements of condemnation from British Muslims, show them these men of hate have no place in our mosques or any place of worship, and that they do not speak for Muslims in Britain or anywhere in the world.
‘Let us assure you that the government will do all we can to defeat the voices of division, but ultimately the challenges of integration and radicalisation cannot be solved from Whitehall alone. Strong community-based leadership at a local level is needed.’
One would assume that such an emollient letter would be received in the spirit in which it was written, however, this ‘Islamophobic’ missive was not well received by all.
Harun Khan, Deputy Secretary-General of the Muslim Council of Britain said: ‘We will be writing to Mr Eric Pickles to ask that he clarifies his request to Muslims to ‘explain and demonstrate how faith in Islam can be part of British identity’. Khan continued, ‘Is Mr Pickles seriously suggesting, as do members of the far right, that Muslims and Islam are inherently apart from British society? He asked, as though it was not apparent, ‘Why is the Muslim community being singled out in such an approach?’
Mohammed Shafiq, chief executive of the Ramadhan Foundation, said he was ‘dismayed’ by the letter, which was ‘typical of the government only looking at Muslims through the prism of terrorism and security’.
Pride of place in reaction to the letter goes, of course, to the Guardian. In today’s Comment is Free section there is an article by Areeb Ullah. In a classical example of ‘Whatabouterry’ he asks of Mr Pickles: ‘Serious question. Will you be sending a letter any time soon to members of the Roman Catholic church following the child-abuse scandals in Catholic institutions?’
There are some basic differences between the scandals which have hit the Roman Catholic church and the somewhat over enthusiastic interpretations of jihad amongst too many Muslims. Chief amongst them is that, depraved though many of them are, it is doubtful that those priests who raped children claimed they did so because Jesus told them to do it. The Muslims murdering those whom they think have slighted Muhammad do so because they have been taught, and sincerely believe, that Muhammad sanctions such action.
When it comes to child abuse no-one is asking Muslims to show their Britishness because of the horrendous grooming gangs who committed horrific widespread acts of child abuse in England. Everyone reckons that this was committed by Muslims who were bad people, not just because they were Muslims. These men were under no illusion that what they were doing was what Islam commanded.
I’m not sure if such creatures exist but I think I would feel more comfortable being around an extreme Methodist than I would being around an extreme Muslim.
Jesus is insulted constantly. If the Methodist Mujahadin take action the most they are likely to do is purse their lips, shake their heads and get on with organising the jumble sale. Offend the Church of England and the Anglican Al-Qaida may just have the Vicar invite you round for a sherry and a quiet chat after Evensong. As for the Baptist branch of Boko Haram they are the worst, offend them and they will pray for you.
There is a world of difference between a faith which teaches its followers that when attacked they should turn the other cheek and one which sanctions violent reprisal.