There is no doubt that extremism, an element which can be found in many religions and ideologies, is an issue that must be confronted. Unfortunately, as the headlines about the ‘Trojan Horse’ scandal continue among a public row between ministers we are being shown a lesson on how not to approach an issue which is fundamental to a peaceful and healthy society. Almost Inevitably it will feed a perception by some that Islam is incompatible with British values and it is, perversely, this perception that extremists often use themselves to justify their atrocities, rather than reality. Importantly this is also one case among many where Muslims are overwhelmingly connected with negative media stories. A 2007 Search for Common Ground report, for example, found that, typically, over 90% of coverage concerning Muslims was negative. Giving evidence in 2011 to the Leveson Inquiry, Richard Peppiatt, a journalist who had quit the Daily Star, said he had previously expressed disquiet about an anti-Muslim agenda. Yet, the British public are likely unaware that Islamic Relief were one of the first aid agencies on the scene of the Haiti earthquake disaster. This is likely also something which extremists don’t want anyone to know.
Addressing this situation by reaching out to moderate members of the community so they can tackle extremism within their own community and encouraging them to do so, is therefore critical. If the issue is not addressed by all groups within the British community it is ordinary people, such as Lee Rigby or Muhammed Saleem who ultimately suffer the consequences. In extremism’s place there must be collective solidarity such as that displayed when the Archbishop of Canterbury stood in solidarity with Muslims to condemn the murder of Lee Rigby. It was also seen when the York Mosque defused tensions by inviting protesters from the English Defence League inside for tea.
Posting a former counter-terrorism chief to investigate possible extremism, as the education secretary chose to do, is the antitheses of such actions and can only reinforce extremist views. It potentially encourages people to view Islam through the narrow lens of atrocities committed by a minority, which can only breed suspicion and fear. Many people will say that it is simply the nature of the news media to perpetuate negative stories but when it is linked with such a complex issue, which can have very real and devastating consequences, it is vital to address.