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Mistrust of Muslims on rise in Britain

Britain is home to 1.65 million Muslims, mostly of Pakistani and Bangladeshi origin. Half were born in Britain.

india Updated: Jul 07, 2006 13:18 IST

In a picture recently published in British newspapers, a Muslim woman wears an England flag headscarf as she cheers on the England football team.

But far from this image of integration, malaise and mistrust are on the rise in Britain between the majority and the Muslim minority, a year on from the London bombings.

On July 7, 2005, Islamist extremist suicide bombers killed themselves and 52 others in co-ordinated attacks on London's transport network.

The discovery that the four bombers were British and three were born and raised here was met with stunned disbelief.

Worse, they seemed almost untraceable -- integrated into the mainstream of British society among the everyday folk of the Muslim community.

Britain is home to 1.65 million Muslims (2.8 per cent of the population), mostly of Pakistani and Bangladeshi origin. Half were born in Britain.

"Muslims are seen as dangerous and not loyal to the country," professor Muhammad Anwar, from the Centre for Research in Ethnic Relations at the University of Warwick, said.

The surge in attacks against Muslims and mosques in the weeks following the London bombings quickly died down.

But newly-strengthened anti-terror laws have "caused further insecurity due to random arrests and searches," said Elveena Malik, from the Commission for Racial Equality.

Continuous police operations, searches and arrests, and the extended period which security suspects can be held without charge, has entrenched the fear in the Muslim community that it is being targeted.

Britain no longer tolerates extremist preachers. The most notorious, Abu Hamza, the one-eyed, hook-handed former imam of the Finsbury Park mosque in north London, has been sentenced to seven years in prison.

Prime Minister Tony Blair's government has placed others under "control orders" -- house arrest -- while it tries to expel them. The "glorification of terrorism" has been outlawed.

However, the government has sought to bring moderate Muslims into the fold, creating a working group bringing together Muslim intellectuals.

While the meetings may have been fruitful in bringing together their participants, according to the controversial Muslim thinker Tariq Ramadan, a working group member, only a handful of their dozens of recommendations seem likely to be acted upon.

A consultative organisation of mosques and imams was launched last week. It will accredit imams, monitor their sermons and advise the government on the suitablility of foreign imams who want to preach in Britain.

Moderate imams have been charged with carrying out a roadshow tour of Britain to contest, particularly amongst youths, radical interpretations of the Koran.

Muslims are also encouraged to steer clear of extremists and to co-operate with the police if they witness any suspect activity.

But a massive police raid in June in response to intelligence about a possible chemical weapons factory at a house in east London, has set back efforts to build up trust between Muslims the police.

Two young Muslims, one of whom was shot during the raid, were arrested and then later released without charge.

The causes of Muslim resentment, beyond the war in Iraq, are often socio-economic: Pakistanis and Bangladeshis have the highest unemployment rate and the lowest level of qualifications compared to other immigrant communities.

"The British multicultural model is the subject of the debate, but it has not been reconsidered," said Ramadan, a professor at Saint Antony's College at the University of Oxford.