UK Politics

Mixed Messages

Muslim leaders like the newly elected head of the MCB Muhammed Abdul Bari really should take a course in effective public relations.

Two things are obvious to the average person in the street. But neither of these is the source of the problem. We’ll get to the problem later.

The first thing that is fairly obvious that is that Islamic extremists do exist. They are not a paranoid fantasy. We should not have to rehash 9/11, 7/7, the failed 7/7 copycats, the Madrid bombing, and assorted attacks on civilian targets in Turkey, Malaysia, and elsewhere to demonstrate this.

The second thing that should be fairly obvious is that the vast majority of Muslim citizens are law-abiding people who just want to get on with their lives and are unfairly regarded with suspicion, partially because of the actions of the few nutters who share their religion, but also because of hysteria drummed up by the tabloid press.

This second point is one that – no matter how obvious – needs restating. And now here’s the problem.

Dr Bari appears to ignore the first point while he undermines the second.

He clearly ignores the first point because nothing in his statements to the press so far appear to concede that the police have a legitimate cause to act on tip-offs. Nothing he’s said (correct me if I’m wrong) has given the impression that he’s taken a leadership role in reassuring the Muslim community of the police’s bona fides and difficult task. Rather he has been a foghorn for grievances an increasingly skittish public is tired of hearing.

Just yesterday, the Canadian police thwarted a terror plot by Islamic extremists to bomb Canadian and US cities. So, as I say, the public isn’t going to be terribly sympathetic to grievances of the sort Dr Bari offers, even if one concerning a possible unjust arrest is quite legitimate. People instinctively know that intelligence-based policing is not and cannot be an exact science and any notion that those arrested were chosen at random from the phonebook is ludicrous. It is a community leader’s job to be frank with his or her community as much as it is to present that community’s concerns.

But – and here’s the crux of my compliant, and the problem – Dr Bari does worse than ignore the first point – he undermines the second.

Just take a look at his remarks:

“Trust could be an issue. Trust could break down if things are not clarified. Angry people can do anything, angry people can even feel that they should take the law into their own hands so anger has to be directed into positive action.”

Angry people can do anything? That sounds like a threat. It presents the spectre of more angry, resentful and militant Muslims driven to taking even more extreme actions. It’s saying “The situation is making us angry… and you know what we do when we’re angry!”

And how is the public likely to respond? Is the prospect of more “angry people” on the streets likely to decrease the demand for more ‘proactive’ policing, or decrease it?

So, let’s say that three things are now obvious.

Cynical Exploitation Alert
According to CNN, RESPECT has already sprung into action distributing leaflets “questioning” the police action in the area, and lining up a Guantanamo Bay alumni to headline a public rally on the issue.

MORE: As commenter ‘Sy’ pointed out, RESPECT party tchotchkyite Yvonne Ridley has called on British Muslims to “withdraw all support” for the police. And a hostile and uncooperative Muslim community will improve the situation how? Only in RESPECT-world, I guess.