The next time David Cameron meets representatives of the Muslim community and they tell him that the reasons for domestic extremism are that ‘Muslims are angry about British foreign policy’ or that ‘Muslims are don’t like social liberalism and gay rights’ he can look them square in the face and tell them that they’re wrong. He has, of course, long felt that they’re wrong – but now he has some proof.
A Demos poll – published today – shows that the stories so-called ‘Muslim leaders’ tell about their communities are often utterly untrue. We found that not only are only a quarter of British Muslims concerned about ‘alternative lifestyles’ or angry about issues like gay marriage and adoption but that almost half are actively proud of Britain’s tolerance in these areas. What’s more, 80% are ‘proud to be a British citizen’, two-thirds are ‘proud of British culture’ and only 20% are not ‘proud of Britain’s role in the world’. All of which amounts to the not-so-stunning conclusion that British Muslims are, on the whole, just like the rest of us. The difference? Well the difference is that British Muslims have to suffer the ‘representation’ of community leaders who claim to speak for them.
These men (they’re always men) use their legitimacy to whisper into Government’s ear about ‘what Muslims think’. They paint a picture of a community uncomfortable in modern Britain, intolerant of difference and resentful of our cultural and social diversity. They are lying. British Muslims are no more incapable of liberal, tolerant decency than anybody else. But continuing to pretend that extremism is Islam and Islam is extreme brings benefits to these elder statesmen of community leadership. For a start it allows them to present themselves as the voice of moderation – they, afterall, ‘oppose violence’ – when in fact they are often the most dogmatic and inflexible members of their community. Second, it keeps Government coming back. If the barriers to integration are as big and as bas as these men say they are then Government has a major problem – one that the community leaders are happy to help out with, for a price of course. Third, it keeps the community itself in check. They perpetuate and accentuate the differences, terrify their own community with myths about modern Britain and parlay the legitimacy, funding and credibility that comes from contact with Government into old-fashioned patronage.
Our polling shows how right David Cameron was to call for ‘active, muscular liberalism’ to underpin and guide modern multicultural and multiethnic Britain. There is nothing uniquely intolerant, bigoted or illiberal about being a Muslim and British Muslims are far more comfortable with the mores of modernity than we sometimes give them credit for. It’s high-time that British Muslims get the leadership they deserve and representation that reflects them rather than the elaborate Ponzi scheme through which Government has encouraged extremists and reactionaries to pose as mediators. Muscular liberalism isn’t about harassing or attacking British Muslims, it’s about getting them the leadership they need; our polling proves just how much the Muslim community will welcome liberation from their so-called ‘representation’ they currently enjoy.