BRITISH Muslims feel like they must take a daily “loyalty test”, Baroness Warsi, the former Conservative Cabinet minister, has said.
The lawyer and peer, who was previously a minister in the Foreign Office and minister of state for faith and communities in the Coalition Government, said that despite some signs of progress, “I still feel like every day I’m having to face a loyalty test.”
Baroness Warsi was speaking at the Greenbelt festival in Northamptonshire, where she was promoting her new book The Enemy Within: A Tale of Muslim Britain.
The message she wanted to tell the crowd of hundreds who had gathered to hear her speak on Friday evening was that British Muslims were just like them: young and old, straight and gay, they came in all shapes and sizes
“They shop at Tesco, Sainsbury’s, and Asda,” she said. “The posh ones even go to Waitrose.”
But despite the presence of young, well-integrated Muslims in popular culture, such as the popstar Zayn Malik or the Great British Bake Off winner Nadiya Hussain, Muslims were still “sick to death of being counted out” of mainstream society.
PAPioneer: Baroness Warsi was the first female Muslim cabinet minister in British historyThe Government’s approach amounted to “the paranoid state”, she said, noting how anti-terrorism policy focused solely on proscribing ideology and ignored the other factors research showed pushed people into extremism.
Less than a tenth of one per cent of the three million Muslims living in the UK had anything to do with jihadism, yet the Government’s engagement with this diverse community was seen solely through the prism of counter-terrorism, she lamented.
“There are far more Muslim doctors in the NHS than there are Muslim terrorists,” she said. “We are more likely to be life-savers rather than life-takers. This policy of disengagement is fundamentally wrong.”
In 2014, Baroness Warsi resigned from the Government saying that she could no longer support official policy on the escalating violence between Israel and Gaza (News, 8 August 2014). She described the Government’s stance as “morally indefensible” and not in Britain’s national interest nor consistent with international justice.
In her Greenbelt talk, she explained how the name of her book had come about one year earlier when Lee Rigby had been murdered in Woolwich by Islamist terrorists.
One “right-wing journalist” at The Spectator had questioned her place on the national security council discussing counter-terrorism proposals after the attack, describing her as “the enemy at the table”.
“That insult was the worst. It said that we don’t trust you,” she recalled. “You don’t belong. But the best way to deal with an insult that really hurts you is to own it — this book is my way of fielding that insult.”
The Prevent strategy, which has come under increasing scrutiny and criticism from some in recent years, was not wrong in principle, the Baroness said. It was essential for the authorities to attempt to tackle extremism “downstream”, before it became violent.
But Prevent programmes needed to be “battles of ideas”, where jihadi theology was challenged intellectually, rather than simply a mechanism by which those tempted towards extremism were told what they were and were not allowed to believe.
As well as criticising the Government’s approach, Baroness Warsi also said that interfaith efforts needed to be much more robust in the battle to keep Britain’s Muslims integrated into society.
“I don’t think tea and samosas in draughty church halls is going to fix the problems. It’s nice and we have to keep doing it, but we need something much broader and bolder.”
Listen to your Muslim friends’ experiences, she recommended the largely Christian audience. Ask them your difficult questions. Try reading the Qur’an. And if you don’t have any Muslim friends, go out and make some.
She also had some strong words for her own Muslim colleagues: “We are not all terrorists, but are we fit for purpose? Are we the best community we can be? And if not, how do we get there?”