Dr Patrick Sookhdeo is a priest in the Church of England. He is of Pakistani origin and is a convert from Islam. He is an academic with several links to various research institutions. This article appeared in the London Evening Standard last September.
Once there were tens. Then there were hundreds. Now Peter Clarke, head of Scotland Yard’s Anti-Terrorist Branch, speaks of thousands of militant British Muslims, indoctrinated and radicalised in British mosques and madrassas.
This is not, primarily, because of the influence of a handful of “preachers of hate”. Islamic extremism has spread in Britain thanks to a particular brand of multiculturalism encouraged by this Government. And until ministers tackle it - especially the influence of Muslim faith schools - all their new efforts to build cohesion will come to very little.
The context goes far beyond Britain. Contemporary Islam has burst out of its colonial restraints. Once colonialism removed power, jihad and territorial control from Islam, it was left a benign force focusing on prayer and good deeds. But contemporary Islam has reverted back to early Islam, with all its theological rage against the non-Muslim world. Issues like Iraq and Afghanistan have become valves for expressing this anger and hatred against Britain and the West.
Increasingly, it is the values and culture of Islam which define the identity of British Muslims. A senior British Muslim leader has defined Muslim identity as: creed, sharia and umma.
The Islamic creed is non-negotiable. Those who do not share this creed are despised as kafir (infidels). Hatred of non-Muslims is preached in many British mosques.
Meanwhile Islamic law, sharia, is deemed by the majority of Muslims unalterable. Its medieval formulations cannot be updated. Yet it is this discriminatory law which many British Muslims wish to see enforced.
Finally the umma, the worldwide community of Muslims, is the primary focus of loyalty. It represents the political as well as the religious. Muslims have a duty to defend each other. This defensive jihad is what leads Muslims to go and fight in places such as Iraq.
It might seem paradoxical that the UK, which has granted Muslims greater freedoms than any other Western country, should be the greatest Western incubator of Islamist violence. The explanation lies not only in the radicalisation of Islam but also in the Government’s policy on multiculturalism.
There is a positive aspect to a multiculturalism where people share and enjoy each other’s cultures. But the UK’s well-meaning policy of validating every faith and ethnic community culturally, in a depoliticised way, is naïve when it comes to Islam. For Islam does not separate the sacred from the secular: it seeks earthly power over earthly territory. The result is that already the UK has reached the stage of parallel societies, where purely Muslim areas function in isolation.
Worse, this is about to be made semi-official. In West Ham a gigantic mosque is planned by the radical Tablighi Jamaat group. The London Thames Gateway Development Corporation says that the new mosque will make West Ham a “cultural and religious destination”. This will be nothing less than an Islamic quarter of our capital city. But has anyone asked the people of West Ham? The non-Muslims? The moderate Muslims such as Barelwis and Sufis? The Muslim women? And shouldn’t the Government be looking into why a movement claimed as inspiration by a number of convicted terrorists should be allowed to control a whole community?
One must feel grateful for the police’s interception of terrorist plots. Yet we must tackle the root causes, rather than dealing with this threat simply by vigilance and appeasement. Giving in to the demands of Muslim extremists will not turn them into liberals loyal to the UK. They will simply want further concessions.
This is now the Government’s dilemma. With the launch of the Commission on Integration and Cohesion last month, it recognised that it must address the development of separate societies. Privately, ministers are deeply worried.
Yet at the same time the Government seems fixated on empowering an ultra-conservative Muslim leadership embodied by the Muslim Council of Britain and Muslim Association of Britain. It says sharia will never be permitted in Britain, yet it has allowed sharia-compliant mortgages, and admits that many British cities have sharia councils.
Just as important, communities minister Ruth Kelly has already excluded faith schools from the remit of her examination of integration and cohesion. Yet many Islamic schools are known to nurture values that are radically different from those of the prevailing society.
Faith schools have a long and noble tradition within the British Isles. Christian denominational schools as well as Jewish schools continue to play an important role in community cohesion. Whether Islamic schools can fill such a role is highly questionable.
Has the time come to say no to Islamic schools, whilst allowing the others to exist, even though this may seem unjust? Or should we consider a new kind of school where all children can study core subjects together in the same environment, with religious teachers - be they mullahs, rabbis or priests - instructing the children in their own faiths?
I believe Islam needs different treatment from other faiths because Islam is different from other faiths. It is the only one which teaches its followers to gain political power and then impose a law which governs every aspect of life, discriminating against women and non-believers alike. And this is ultimately why a naive multiculturalism leads not to a mosaic of cultures living in harmony, but to one threatened by Islamic extremism.
Most British Muslims are not supporters of terrorism. Some have embraced Western liberal values and society. Others are peaceful but simply prefer to live in their own separate community. Mainstream figures such as Shahid Malik MP have courageously called for British Muslims to fight against extremism.
But unless all of us, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, join forces against the kind of multiculturalism which has nurtured extremism, we may eventually find that whole swathes of London and other cities have become “cultural and religious destinations” dominated by Islamic extremists - men who would remove the very freedoms so many moderate British Muslims now appreciate.