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Is this letter to Muslim leaders Islamophobic or 'reasonable, sensible and moderate'?

Eric Pickles MP’s urged Muslim leaders to show that being a proud Muslim means being a proud Briton.

Eric Pickles letter Eric Pickles wrote to over 1,000 Muslim leaders in the UK. Source: Joe Giddens

A ROW IS ongoing between a number of British Muslim groups and the UK Government over a letter sent by the communities secretary urging mosques to do more to root out extremism.

Eric Pickles MP’s letter called on more than 1,000 Islamic leaders to “lay out more clearly than ever before what being a British Muslim means today: proud of your faith and proud of your country.”

“We know that acts of extremism are not representative of Islam; but we need to show what is,” the letter continued.

“Let us assure you that the Government will do all we can to defeat the voices of division, but ultimately the challenges of integration and radicalisation cannot be solved from Whitehall alone. Strong community-based leadership at a local level is needed.”

The letter comes as security is being heightened across Europe in response to the extremist attacks that left 17 people dead in Paris and fatal police raids in Belgium over the weekend.

Security has also been stepped up for British police, who were told to withhold their home addresses from electoral lists, two weeks after attacks in Paris in which 17 people including three police officers were killed.

Extra security advice has been given to police officers, with security bolstered around police buildings and increased “levels of specialist support, including firearms officers”.

Islamophobic

Pickles’ letter has been criticised by the Britain’s biggest Muslim association, the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB). They and other Imams who say that Muslim communities need protection from extremists, not lectures about how to find them.

“We agree with your assertion that British values are indeed Islamic values. However, we do take issue with the implication that extremism takes place at mosques, and that Muslims have not done enough to challenge the terrorism that took place in our name,” read a response from Shuja Shafi, Secretary General of the MCB.

“The letter has all the hallmarks of very poor judgement which feeds into an Islamophobic narrative,” the MCB’s Talha Ahmad told Sky News.

Mohammed Shafiq of the Ramadhan Foundation went further, saying he was “dismayed” by its contents:

The letter is patronising and factually incorrect and typical of the Government only looking at Muslims through the prism of terrorism and security…Last Friday, in their sermons over 1,000 Imams spoke against the Paris attacks and Islam’s teaching against terrorism, there have been no allegations of Mosques promoting extremism in recent years.

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Source: Sky News/YouTube

But Prime Minister David Cameron defended the letter saying it was “reasonable, sensible and moderate”.

“Anyone… reading this letter, who has a problem with it, I think really has a problem,” he said.

Labour’s former communities secretary Hazel Blears said she was “a little frustrated” that the issue of security has boiled down to a row about a letter.

The party’s shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna also appeared frustrated at the controversy when he stormed off during a Sky News interview after being asked about the letter.

Additional reporting by © – AFP 2015

Read: ‘The French attacks were carried out by terrorists, emphasising their religion is not fair to Muslims’ >

Read: Paris attacks: Kouachi brothers given secret burial in unmarked graves >

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Rónán Duffy

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