Thursday 18 September 2008

Unlikely allies?

The Daily Express and the Muslim Council of Britain don't see eye-to-eye on very much.

But Sadiq Khan MP seems to have (almost) forged this unlikeliest of alliances with his new Fabian pamphlet Fairness Not Favours: How to Reconnect with British Muslims.

It is an important pamphlet, which covers a lot of ground, warning against a narrow focus on preventing extremism and setting out a new proposals for integration on inequality and life chances, public engagement in foreign policy, identity and citizenship, and the role of faith in public life. Though Muslims have been at the sharp end of public controversies in each area, the consistent 'fairness, not favours' theme is that none of these issues affect British Muslims alone and legitimacy comes from working out an agenda for citizenship for us all.

The argument is that government action is essential if the promise of equal opportunity is to be kept, and there are some important criticisms of a 'revolving doors' approach to engagement, 'where every so often we replace one set of usual suspects with a new set'. But there is a responsibility on British Muslims themselves too. Full engagement in British society requires full participation in British politics and society: 'British Muslims will know they have understood the challenges facing them when they have understood that childcare should matter more than Kashmir'.

So it is a balanced argument, which we hope can help to reframe many of the well-worn debates in this area.

But the reaction was not easy to predict. It was just as possible that the Mail and Express would challenge the potentially controversial argument for faith discrimination to be covered in the positive public duty of the Equality Bill as welcome the recognition of the importance of the English language as a 'passport to participation' in British society and warnings against falling into a victim mentality on which extremism feeds.

The Muslim Council of Britain have welcomed the argument as "incisive and thoughful", supporting the call for a 'fairness' approach, acknowledging that some of the recommendations will be "challenging" to all sides.

Sadiq's Comment is Free commentary sets out the thinking behind the pamphlet.

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