Muslim groups respond to government's Bloom review into faith
Muslim groups have both criticised and quietly approved a report that aims to reset the government's approach to dealing with religious groups.
According to a report by Colin Bloom, the government's faith adviser, Muslims are being marginalised in various areas of British life, which includes the pressure of having to frequently denounce acts of terrorism.
The Bloom Review also recommends ministers develop sharia-compliant student loans for Muslims university students and increase the representation of Muslims in the armed forces by conducting an outreach programme.
Muslim groups approved parts of the report but also pointed to its disproportionate focus on Britain's non-Christian religious minorities.
The Review says senior politicians must stop stigmatising Muslims by making them feel responsible for acts of terrorism.
Bloom warns: "Islamist extremism, Islamist-inspired terrorism, and the support of terrorist and extremist organisations … are as repulsive to mainstream British Muslims as the acts of Anders Breivik are to mainstream British Christians. If no effort is undertaken to relieve this situation, sadly many British Muslims will struggle to feel fully accepted and integrated within society."
He adds: "During this Review's stakeholder engagement, many Muslims described, often poignantly, how society has made them feel stigmatised and somehow responsible for or secretly supportive of acts of Islamist terrorism.
"This reviewer has reason to believe that this happens at all levels of society, including at the very top. Those in the political sphere are not immune from such stigmatisation, with baseless allegations of Islamist extremist sympathy and concerning anti-Muslim language not unheard of."
The report criticised the forced marriage unit, saying it focused too much on Muslim families.
"It is under-resourced and poorly led, which is the fault of politicians rather than the civil servants who work for it. Also, the unit has an Islamic bent to it, but this is not just a Muslim problem – this happens in Orthodox Jewish and other religious communities too," said Bloom.
Faith as a force for good
The Muslim Council of Britain said it endorsed the Review's parting observation that faith in the UK 'is a force for good.' It also welcomed the recommendation to introduce Sharia-compliant student finance and loans
"The report's call for greater faith literacy is laudable within the government and public sector. Faith communities have a role to play in our diverse, multicultural and multi faith Britain," it added.
But the MCB also pointed out the Review's "troubling focus on the problem areas of non-Christian faith minorities." It gave an example of how the Review excludes Sunday Schools for scrutiny compared to madrassahs.
Whilst the Bloom Review alluded to anti-Muslim hatred, the MCB said it also fell short of exploring the structural reasons behind this: Islamophobia.
"Government engagement has been woefully inadequate and has been held hostage by divisive dialogues who insist on seeing British Muslims primarily through the prism of security and counterterrorism," added the MCB.
The group was also critical of the report's attempts to draw a distinction between Islam and 'Islamism', which it said is "an ill-defined term widely used not only to describe the violent extremists that we all oppose but also to cast aspersions on those Muslims who are exercising their democratic right to disagree with the government of the day. "
Disproportionate focus on non-Christian minorities
Yahya Birt, Research Director from the London-based think tank the Ayaan Institute, said the Review is "disappointing" and disproportionately focuses on Britain's non-Christian religious minorities.
"It uncritically replicates the central canard that political violence emerges from a lack of shared British values, that the causes of conflict can be resolved by dividing Muslims into good or bad, or "Muslim" or "Islamist," said Birt.
""Islamism" in contemporary Western political parlance simply means those Muslims who currently oppose Britain's current interests – it has little to do with values and more to do with a post-hoc rhetorical justification of the current national interest."
Birt added: ""Notably, Bloom does not say like Shawcross that Islamists have been ignored by the focus on the far right, but rather attention should be given to Sikh or Black Nationalist extremists (all anti-Israel groups).
"The main body of the Review only nods to Hindu extremism in two short paragraphs, while giving over a dozen pages to extremism in British Sikh communities, something which will be more palatable to the Indian government. If there is such a thing as Jewish extremism, the Review does not see fit to address it."
Two months ago, William Shawcross published the UK government's long-awaited review of Prevent, which was accused of having an anti-Muslim bias.