5. Memorandum submitted by Zafar Khan
This is a timely inquiry into terrorism and
community relations in Britain.
Stakes are high since 9/11 and the subsequent
events that continue to unfold at home and abroad which have impacted
on the current debate, both on the threat of terrorism, and community
relations in this country.
Highly charged political language and rhetoric
that informs the public debate on terrorism and the incidence
of 9/11, in my view, has impacted on community relations in Britain.
The world-view with which the threat and question of terrorism,
and the concerns about their safety and security is seen by many
people in Britain and elsewhere has inevitably changed.
Whether concerns and threat of terrorism in
Britain are real or perceived, the government, quite rightly,
cannot afford to take any chances, since it has the duty to ensure
safety of its citizens and stability in society, which is contingent
upon good and harmonious community relations.
The heinous act of 9/11 and how it has been
seized upon by many (quite rightly to some extent), especially
across the Atlantic, reinforced some entrenched attitudes and
These attitudes and perceptions inevitably have
a bearing on, for example, how Muslim minorities are seen in the
midst of British society.
The questions that we might ask on this matter
would be, on the extent to which responses, both legal and political
by the government are:
(b) Their impact directly and indirectly
on community relations in this country.
My own view is that, despite its relatively
positive and enlightened espousal, and fostering of community
relations, government's legal and political responses since 9/11,
have given rise to difficulties up and down this country.
Of course one would want the government to take
appropriate actions in meeting of its obligations and exercise
of authority, to ensure public safety, law and order for the benefit
of all sections in society.
Important too, is the duty of the government
to ensure that extremist forces in society do not exploit public's
fear of terrorism to target minority groups such as the Muslims
A vast majority of Muslims, like many fair-minded
people in Britain abhor and condemn terrorism. Many in the Muslim
communities prior to 9/11 felt discriminated, marginalised and
alienated. Sections of the community especially the young manifested
their alienation and discontent during the so-called "summer
of discontent". All of us were confronted with the very considerable
challenges of the issues emanating from the disturbances in 2001,
and the events leading up to it, when the Twin Towers incidence
In my view this dealt a body blow to the tremendous
good work that had been going on, and the vision and spirit of
co-operation which had become the new civic imperative, to ensure
that no new summers of discontent occurred again in our communities.
But 9/11 created a fresh and more sinister climate
of fear, suspicion and defensiveness among many people. New strategies
and thinking had to be put in place to combat the most negative
of the consequences that directly resulted from the effects of
the events of 11 September 2001.
Media at national and local level became constantly
preoccupied with the "war on terrorism". Many inferences
and implications of its coverage of events and analysis continue
to give rise to a sense of "despair" among Muslim minorities.
Some aspects of the media coverage, quite clearly, are thoughtful,
considered and objective, while others are opportunistic, populist,
and eager to play on the fears and anxieties of ordinary citizens.
This in no way is a positive contribution to good community relations
in society, nor is it a constructive and effective way in which
to combat the "threat" of terrorism in Britain.
Within such a framework, it is not unfair to
suggest that fear, anxiety and uncertainty among many Muslims,
is seen as a more tangible phenomenon since 9/11, and the community
is seen as one whose loyalty to Britain and the British way of
life is perceived to be in doubt.
It is imperative that those with responsibility
in public life adopt, considered, objective and enlightened approaches
to governance and public affairs.
Good community relations and communal harmony
has been a central theme in contemporary British social and political
life. Over the years this area of public policy has posed real
challenges, which successive governments, it has to be said, have
addressed with positive and constructive intentions. Britain has
led in the field of community and race relations in comparison
with many of its partners in the European Union.
Most effective work in building good community
relations however, has always taken place at the level of local
communities in this country. Local communities over the past 45
years have gained considerable first hand knowledge and experience
of life at the receiving end for many of the minorities that have
settled in their midst. Some of the most acutely felt effects
of diversity and coming to terms with it have informed policies
and nature of interaction with minority communities on countless
It would be overly optimistic however, to suggest
that solutions to all problems in the area of community relations
and effects of the fight against terrorism would be found in local
Nevertheless it is an appropriate place to start
from. It is in the localities within our communities that a sense
of belonging can be meaningful, and can be fostered. It is also
here that ruptures and fissures in social fabric of our communities
have to be healed. Bridges across "communal" or ethnic
fault lines can be built in an environment of mutuality, socio-cultural
and religious tolerance.
Solutions to some of the more pressing issues
as well as long term problems are being worked out by local communities
through interactions with each other. Many faith organisations
for example, are proactively engaged in dialogue, not only with
each other, but through their collective inter-faith organisations
and faiths councils, with the wider community, the media and local
and national institutions.
In our own case in Luton many such organisations
are actively engaged in forging partnerships for effective and
positive community relations and tolerance. In fact they have
led the way in identifying potentially difficult areas of engagement
for local and national policy makers.
Many people at local level recognise that they
have a common future and common destiny in this country. It is
this sense of being a part of the wider community, which should
get a wider exposure. Media can be a help in this, by reinforcing
the agenda of individuals and groups who work for wider understanding
and community cohesion.
In my view effective and meaningful work can
only be done by local communities themselves. This can come about
if people in our neighbourhoods feel confident, secure and as
citizens, in solidarity and with a sense of obligation and trust
toward each other.
The state both at national and local level must
enthuse, empower and support good practice in our localities through
community groups with proven and enlightened leadership. Principle
of partnership and mutuality should be fostered in practical and
effective manner through open debate and empowering of minorities.
Many local communities lack effective as well as competent leadership.
This should not remain neglected any longer. Good leaders inform,
empower and carry communities with them. In trying nay turbulent
times enlightened and inspirational leadership must be given to
building solidly good community relations and defeating terrorism.
7 February 2005