David Cameron is at risk of demoralising British Muslims with his “misguided emphasis” on saying that some people in the community are quietly condoning Islamist extremism, according to a former cabinet colleague and Conservative party co-chair.
Writing in the Guardian, Lady Warsi said the prime minister may have further alienated Muslims with a speech about tackling radicalisation, which he made on Friday.
She warned that Cameron and ministers lacked the credibility to demand that British Muslims do more to weed out extremism when the government was itself failing to adequately champion and support them – although she said she did support the prime minister’s anti-extremist intention.
Criticising Cameron’s heavy focus on “Muslim community complicity”, Warsi wrote:“My concern is that this call to Muslims to do more, without an understanding of what they already do now, will demoralise the very people who will continue to lead this fight. As one prominent female Muslim activist told me: ‘This speech has undermined what I’ve been doing.’
“David Cameron is right that there are ‘some’ – a minority within a minority within a minority – who condone the Isis view of the world, but there are many, many, many more of this minority who are fighting a very real and sustained battle, the same battle he is fighting. They know they have to do more, they are willing to do more but they will do it a lot better knowing we are on the same side.
“The government needs to champion them, support them. Only then will it
have the credibility to demand that communities themselves do more.”
Warsi said Cameron’s own advisers should have been aware of how the intervention “with its misguided emphasis and call to action, would at best fall on deaf ears, at worst further alienate”.
The outspoken intervention came after Cameron told a global security summit in Slovakia that the growing threat posed by Islamic State could only be defeated if Muslim communities and internet service providers stopped giving any credence to an Islamic extremist ideology that claims the west is evil, democracy is wrong and women are inferior.
In one passage that was briefed to newspapers overnight, he said: “A troubled boy who is angry at the world, or a girl [who is] looking for an identity, for something to believe in, and there’s something that is quietly condoned online or perhaps even in parts of your local community, then it’s less of a leap to go from a British teenager to an Isil [Isis] fighter or an Isil wife than it would be for someone who hasn’t been exposed to these things.”
Cameron chose to make his speech at a time of heightened concerns about Britons travelling to Syria and Iraq to join Islamic State. Over the last week, one Briton, Talha Asmal, is believed to have killed himself as a suicide bomber in Iraq and three Bradford sisters took their nine children to Syria.
Dr Shuja Shafi, secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), also took issue with how Cameron’s speech was portrayed by some of the media, including the Daily Mail, which ran a front-page story headlined “PM: UK Muslims Helping Jihadis”.
He said that simplifying the causes of radicalisation for tabloid consumption helped no one but the extremists, and called on Cameron to work with all sections of the Muslim community.
Cameron’s decision to highlight the issue was welcomed by Labour, but the shadow home secretary and leadership candidate, Yvette Cooper, said the government needed to do more to “help community-led organisations prevent extremism and radicalisation in the first place”.
Warsi, who, as party co-chair, led the Conservative effort to attract more ethnic-minority voters, also criticised Cameron for deciding to make the speech in Bratislava rather than Bradford or Birmingham.
She said Cameron was right to say Isis posed a massive threat – one of the biggest Britain faces today – but added: “What concerns me about the prime minister’s speech is his emphasis on one aspect of the challenge while overlooking all the other aspects of the problem.
“He has apparently decided to focus on the idea that ‘some’ in our Muslim communities condone the activities of Isis and ‘perhaps’ encourage young people to take the ruinous path of joining the terrorists.
“Although he rightly said there are ‘many reasons’ why young people become radicalised and then take the next step towards acting on those warped beliefs, his speech focused only on the notion of Muslim community complicity. Friday’s newspapers were also heavily briefed to that effect ahead of the speech.”
Earlier this year, Warsi delivered a blistering critique of the government’s approach towards British Muslims, saying that failure to engage properly with such communities had created a climate of suspicion and undermined the fight against extremism.
She also criticised the MCB for “continuing to produce a leadership that is neither equipped to represent, nor is genuinely reflective of, the contemporary aspirations of large sections of British Muslim communities”.
Warsi was a Foreign Office minister who attended cabinet until August last year when she resigned over Cameron’s failure to condemn Israel’s military actions in Gaza as disproportionate.
She was the first Muslim to sit in the cabinet when she was made Conservative party co-chair by Cameron after the 2010 general election. She was subsequently moved to the post of minister of state at the Foreign Office and minister for faith and communities in the 2012 reshuffle – a move widely regarded as a demotion.
This article was written by Rowena Mason Political correspondent, for theguardian.com on Friday 19th June 2015 19.38 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010