The role of faith groups and regeneration

I was reading the Sentinel over the last week the prayer event organised by Saltbox and the hopes of participants. Some of the hopes I equally share such as the idea of a Government Department relocating to the area. In some ways we are well blessed- no pun intended- that faith communities are especially strong in North Staffs. I think that in a discussion with Lloyd Cooke the figure of 140 was mentioned.

I should say that I am not a believer myself although I occasionally attend church in Leek and I am aware of the vibrant scene in the town and its campaigning role. For example the main driver for the Leek Fair Trade Group has been Trinity Church in Derby St. I hold out high hopes for the Salvation Army who have a role for example in skill development for the unemployed. I was involved with them over an Employment Plus Scheme- a national scheme and I wondered about bringing something like this to the Moorlands.

However it is in the LETS movement that I have high hopes. I am aware of the Black Churches involvement in a number of projects in North London.

I do not know what the involvement of other faiths and I would be interested in a Muslim, Sikh or other view on this matter.

Should we fear Islam?- A Historical Perspective

Today I drove past the Mosque in Regent Rd, Hanley. The green dome was glinting in the winter sunshine. It was here a few weeks ago that a former City Councillor Jenny Holdcroft held a demonstration holding up a placard denouncing Islam as being Un English. Another mosque in the City was daubed with paint on the day of the EDL demonstration. The allegation of Ms Holdcroft that Islam is alien is a view shared by many people in the UK.

More than half the people of Britain are strongly opposed to a mosque being built in their neighbourhood. Only a quarter of Britons feel positive towards Muslims, while more than a third report feeling “cool” towards them according to results from the latest social surveys.

Should we fear Islam?

. These are the ominous results from the latest British Social Attitudes Survey. So is Britain anti-Muslim? Is there a place for Islam in British public life?

Last Monday saw the screening of a documentary on “Generation Jihad” which featured two young Muslim men from Yorkshire who had been convicted of terrorist offences. The programmed examined how men whose grandparents arrived from Pakistan decades ago with not a murderous or subversive thought in their heads, have signed up to fantasies of global jihad. I probably witnessed the first signs of the “islamifacation” in the late 70s on visiting a friend in Bradford when there was a demonstration against the Pakistani President Zia.

The programme continued with other milestones such as the “Satanic Verses” affair a decade later, massacres of Muslims in Bosnia and conflict in the Middle East which add the influence of the Internet and a poisonous combination ensues.

According to the Police there are around 2,000 principally young men who are part of Generation Jihad in the UK. And yet contrary to the public view polls show that the overwhelming majority of British Muslims are integrated, loyal, non-violent and are appalled by religious fanaticism. But the activities of a small group of British-born Muslim radicals exemplified by the young men in the documentary bring the entire Muslim community into disrepute.
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For my own part I have generally been sympathetic to Islam over the years. I have supported the Palestinian cause by donating to Medical Action for Palestine. I believe that the Arab Diaspora has replaced the Jewish Diaspora. I’m interested in the history of the Middle East and I appreciate the role that Islam has had in the preservation of the knowledge and culture of Ancient Greece and Rome. I visited a few Muslim countries and I have a grasp of some of the differences of various interpretations of the religion.

And I try to approach the issue from a historical perspective and there are historical parallels and differences from the treatment of Catholics in the distant past.

There is a view as personified by Jenny Holdcroft and the EDL that Islam is foreign and supported by foreign groups and forces abroad. This can be compared with the perceptions in the 16th and 17th century that Catholics received instruction from Rome and acted as a “fifth column supporting Catholic foreign invasions.

A small group of Muslim extremists such as generation jihad give the entire community a bad name and are treated with suspicion and fear by the majority population. Compare the attitude to Islam after the 7/7 bombers in 2005 with the attitude to Catholics after the Gunpowder Plot of 1605

A belief that Islam will take over and a caliphate will be established with sharia law and compare with the Popish Plot scares. This continued into 19th century with the riots following the re-establishment of the Catholic Church in the 1850s and found a voice in the formation of the Orange order in parts of the UK.

In the Linda Colley book “Britons” the rise of a British identity in the 18th century is described as being a response to anti Catholicism. The work “outlandish” was specifically coined to describe Catholic practices.

Echoes of anti Catholicism still continue as the Act of Succession bars any future monarch from marrying a Catholic. As the comedian Mark Steel has suggested that it’s there to stop the Queen running off with Gerry Adams.

The question is whether we can learn the lessons of the past and whether they are relevant can we learn any lessons from the integration of Catholics into UK life (with the exception of Ulster) and whether they can be applied to Muslims in the 21st century.

I will end with a brilliant observation I saw on the site Spitton by a Muslim writer Shabba Goy which has a bearing on the incidents seen in Hanley last week on Islam4UK.

” They all need each other. The EDL is a fantastic gift to SWP-UAF as they can put aside their total inability to deal with the rise of the BNP and pretend it is the 1970′s again and they are the ANL fighting the NF. The EDL is exactly what Islam4 UK is designed to provoke and of course the sight of Trots and Islamists shouting violently on the streets is what the EDL wanted.

It’s all rather silly isn’t it? Except of course that when you take politics on to the street, especially highly-charged racial/religious politics, with football yobs on one side and nutballs yelling about “Ëœkuffar’ on the other ““ there is always the chance that it really does spill over into violence ““ and high-profile violence captured by the tv cameras as well.

That of course runs the risk of increasing tension in areas with significant Muslim populations. Which is, I suspect what the EDL’s masterminds, the SWP and Anjam Choudhary would all like.

All extremist organisations know that their best chance of growing comes in situations of polarisation and tension ““ for the far right it is their “Ëœrace war’ fantasy, for Choudhary and co it is the impending clash between “Muslim v Kafir’ and for the SWP it is the ever-so exciting state of “Ëœresistance’ or rebellion”

No community is beyond scrutiny. There is a debate to be had about the role of Islam in modern Britain. British Muslims find themselves at or near the bottom of various socio-economic indices: poverty, unemployment, literacy and life expectancy.

But the American Muslim experience offers hope. Muslims in America are among the nation’s brightest and best-adjusted minorities: in a Gallup poll, 41 per cent of American Muslims said they were “thriving”. This figure drops to 7 per cent in the UK
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President Obama has appointed the pollster Dalia Mogahed, a veiled Muslim woman, as one of his advisers on inter-faith relations. Is America’s “melting pot” a better model for the integration of Muslims than Britain’s multicultural experiment?

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Islam4UK Banned!

Home Secretary Alan Johnson has announced that the radical Islamist organisation Islam4UK is to be banned.

The controversial group had threatened to march through the Wiltshire town of Wooton Bassett.

Wooton Bassett has become famous for it’s respectful and dignified tribute to the Country’s fallen heroes in Afghanistan.

The towns citizens line the streets of the town in honour of those who have lost their lives in the service of our Country.

Islam4UK had caused outrage by planning a march through the town. The group announced at the weekend that they had decided not to go ahead with the march because the story had highlighted the plight of Muslims in Afghanistan.

The potteries branch of the organisation have carried out two demonstrations in support of the protest, the latest being in Cobridge Park last Sunday.

Alan Johnson, speaking to the media this morning said:

“I have today laid an order which will proscribe al-Muhajiroun, Islam4UK, and a number of the other names the organisation goes by”.

“It is already proscribed under two other names – al-Ghurabaa and The Saved Sect.

“Proscription is a tough but necessary power to tackle terrorism and is not a course we take lightly.

“We are clear that an organisation should not be able to circumvent proscription by simply changing its name.”

In law, a group can be banned if it “commits or participates in acts of terrorism, prepares for, promotes or encourages terrorism or is otherwise concerned in terrorism”.