Germany debates counter-terrorism legislation after the Berlin attack

In the aftermath of the December 19 truck rampage committed by jihadist Anis Amri at a Berlin Christmas market, the German public debate has shifted to the policy and security lessons to be drawn from the attack. Given the Tunisian nationality of the attacker, discussions have focused on immigration law and on administrative counter-terrorism measures.

New security prerogatives proposed

Politicians from the conservative CSU party have been at the forefront of demands for increased competencies for the security services. In a policy paper, the CSU leadership most notably called for an expansion of administrative detention.

For the CSU, being identified by the intelligence services as an individual likely to threaten public safety because of suspected terrorist intentions (i.e. being identified as a Gefährder or ‘endangerer’ in German politico-legal parlance) is to be sufficient for an individual to be placed in administrative detention. Moreover, in the case of foreigners awaiting deportation, the period of custody prior to expulsion is to be prolonged from four days to four weeks.(( http://www.deutschlandfunk.de/sicherheitsgesetze-bericht-ueber-umfassenden.1947.de.html?drn:news_id=692879 ))

Finally, the CSU proposes to curb the usage of the more lenient juvenile penal law for terrorist offenders under the age of 21, to allow counter-terrorism intelligence operations against suspects as young as the age of 14, and to monitor the movements of convicted extremists even after their release from prison through electronic ankle bracelets.(( http://www.deutschlandfunk.de/sicherheitsgesetze-bericht-ueber-umfassenden.1947.de.html?drn:news_id=692879 ))

Effectiveness of policy initiatives

The moment for the CSU’s initiative is opportune: not only has the attack on the Christmas market shaken the German public; the effectiveness of expansive surveillance also appeared to be on ample display when a group of young men from Syria and Libya were caught on camera while trying to set on fire a homeless man sleeping in a Berlin metro station.

The men turned themselves in when crystal-clear CCTV images showing their faces were released to the public. Citing this example as an ostentatious success story, the CSU has demanded a drastic expansion of video surveillance of public spaces in the aftermath of the Christmas market attack.(( http://www.zeit.de/gesellschaft/zeitgeschehen/2016-12/berlin-polizei-fahndet-ubahn-obdachloser-angezuendet ))

A spokesman of the German lawyer’s association, Swen Walentowski observed, however, that “video surveillance does not lead to greater security. There are completely false and exaggerated expectations of video surveillance. […] [A] terrorist would never be deterred by a video camera mounted on some lamp post.”(( http://www.heute.de/csu-papier-fuer-schaerfere-sicherheitsgesetze-partei-setzt-auf-gunst-der-stunde-46201116.html ))

Investigative blunders in the run-up to the attack

Walentowski’s comments highlight the fact that the effectiveness of a number of the currently flouted counter-terrorism proposals is questionable. Indeed, in retrospect Anis Amri’s journey through Europe was hardly a smooth one, and the Tunisian did little to conceal his jihadist ambitions. European security services failed to use existing legal provisions that would have allowed them to curb the terrorist threat posed by Amri.

Having left Tunisia after the country’s revolution, Amri lived in Italy for years and had repeated brushes with the law in the country, spending time in Italian jails. Yet although mandatory on paper, the exchange of information between German and Italian security services appears to have been highly deficient, meaning that Amri could start a new life after his arrival in Germany in summer 2015.(( http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/anis-amri-und-der-anschlag-in-berlin-versaeumnisse-im-anti-terror-kampf-a-1127376.html ))

Subsequently, Amri established contacts to the hardline preacher Abu Walaa, dubbed the informal leader of the Islamic State organisation (ISIL) in Germany. The Abu Walaa network attempted to help Amri to travel to Syria. Amri also repeatedly discussed plans for a potential attack with leading figures in the preacher’s group.(( http://www.dw.com/de/anis-amri-abu-walaa-und-die-salafisten/a-36879648 ))

Slipping under the radar

Authorities had collected extensive material on Amri’s activities. Amri’s file at the domestic intelligence agency was updated only a few days before the December 19 attack, and included his aliases, his contact persons and addresses, details of his arrest in Italy, and his activities as a courier in the Abu Walaa network. It noted, too, Amri’s willingness to work as a suicide operator and his interest in building a bomb.(( http://www.tagesschau.de/inland/anschlag-berlin-amri-101.html ))

Abu Walaa himself, as well as some of his most important associates, were arrested in early November 2016. Yet intelligence services ceased their efforts to monitor Amri in summer 2016. Shortly before, an attempt to deport Amri back to Tunisia had failed: although his demand for asylum had been rejected, Tunisia refused to issue travel documents and to readmit Amri.(( http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/anis-amri-und-der-anschlag-in-berlin-versaeumnisse-im-anti-terror-kampf-a-1127376.html ))

To be sure, with numbers of suspected ISIL sympathisers being relatively large, German and European intelligence services will not be able to effectively monitor every single potential attacker. Rule of law and high standards of accountability can also be encumber investigations against terror suspects. The Amri case nevertheless appears to show a series of mishaps on the part of authorities. Tough questions must be asked as to why Amri was allowed to slip under the radar.

Failures to make use of existing legal provisions

When dealing with Amri, intelligence and security services had a range of tools at their disposal which they only used haphazardly. These include cooperation and information exchange with other agencies in the European abroad, as well as a number of domestic measures.

Perhaps most notably, Amri’s freedom of movement could have been restricted, thereby hampering his ability to integrate into the German jihadist network in Hanover and to commit an attack in Berlin – both places far from his home in North-Rhine Westphalia. The German Residence Act enables local authorities to require suspect or dangerous asylum-seekers who have had their demands for refugee status rejected to remain within a certain area and to report to the local police.

If the individual violates these requirements, he or she is placed in detention. Significantly, Amri did run into police controls when he was travelling through the country several hundreds of kilometres away from his home. At this point, he could have been arrested and detained had such a residence requirement been in force.(( http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/anis-amri-und-der-anschlag-in-berlin-versaeumnisse-im-anti-terror-kampf-a-1127376.html ))

Legislative fever

Yet none of these measures were taken – in spite of authorities’ awareness of Amri’s jihadist activities. Instead, the young man travelled frequently and freely across Germany, keeping in touch with his contacts from the radical scene and scouting potential places for attacks. The failure to stop Amri is thus less due to inadequate legal provisions than to a faulty assessment of the threat Amri posed.(( http://www.tagesschau.de/inland/anschlag-berlin-amri-101.html ))

Consequently, the Green Party security spokesman, Konstantin von Notz, accused the governing parties of voicing expansive demands for new laws in order to detract from their failings in implementing existing legal provisions.(( http://www.heute.de/csu-papier-fuer-schaerfere-sicherheitsgesetze-partei-setzt-auf-gunst-der-stunde-46201116.html ))

Following the events of December 19, Germany is currently undergoing the familiar legislative fever that appears to be the inevitable consequence of a terrorist attack. While it may be necessary to amend or alter selected legal provisions, the rushed introduction of sweeping new counter-terrorism laws does not respond to the genuine shortcomings in the German and European counter-terrorism framework that the Christmas market attack has revealed.

Muslims in a Bible Belt town hold their breath

Murfreesboro is one of the fastest-growing cities in the country and an increasingly diverse one. Muslim and Christian students go to school and play sports together; their families patronize the same restaurants and stores.

Residents variously describe the town as a proud example of Southern hospitality, a growing “melting pot,” a suburb of “little blue dot” Nashville and the “buckle on the Bible Belt.” Its downtown with the old courthouse and Confederate-soldiers memorial yields to strip malls and chain stores, new housing developments and old cotton fields, and the university, with its 20,000 undergraduates.

Among the town’s couple hundred places of worship are 59 Baptist churches, including an Arabic Baptist church as well as Grace Baptist, whose deacon in 2010 greeted the construction of the new mosque next door by erecting 23 huge white crosses on the road.

Murfreesboro doesn’t need “to have a lot of Muslims,” Sally Wall said. “I think they can stay where they are and we stay where we are.”

But there’s more tolerance because of the public acrimony over the mosque, said City Council member Bill Shacklett.

“I wish some of the things hadn’t happened. But the one thing it has done is compel people to open their hearts and minds to be drawn toward each other . . . get out and flesh out your faith with different people,” Shacklett said, adding that Muslims and Christians have started to do that.

 

 

Rep. Peter King Urges Donald Trump To Create A Federal Muslim Surveillance Program

NEW YORK ― Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) is encouraging Donald Trump to create a federal Muslim surveillance program that’s modeled after New York City’s failed and likely unconstitutional program.

“The main issues I discussed were what we have to do to have the Justice Department and the FBI be more leaning-forward when it comes to investigating Islamic terrorism,” King told reporters in the lobby of Trump Tower in Manhattan after meeting with the president-elect on Thursday.

 

 

She became the nation’s first Somali American lawmaker. A month later, she was harassed in a D.C. cab for being Muslim.

Less than one month after being elected, Ilhan Omar visited the nation’s capital for policy training at the White House, her historic role didn’t stop a cab driver from targeting her for her religion. Riding in a taxi en route to her hotel Tuesday, after having spent the afternoon at the White House, she “became subjected to the most hateful, derogatory, islamophobic, sexist taunts and threats” she had ever experienced, she wrote in a post on social media.

“The cab driver called me ISIS and threatened to remove my hijab,” she wrote. “I wasn’t really sure how this encounter would end as I attempted to rush out of his cab and retrieve my belongs.”

How Muslim Women Across the Political Spectrum Are Reacting to Trump’s Win

Early Wednesday morning, Chicago-area physician Ume Khan and her husband Asif woke their two kids to talk to them about Donald Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton, Islamophobia, and the Khan family’s place in this country as American Muslims.

For over an hour, they answered questions and reassured 9-year-old Rayya and 13-year-old Azmer that “America is a democratic country and no one can do anything to harm us.” She told them that no one has “the right to make them feel bad about their culture, race, religion, or anything else. We need to believe whatever we believed before [Trump] came in.”

But, despite her guarantees to her children, Khan says, “I’m really mad. How could he get away with it?”

 

Fear and apprehension among German Muslims after the Berlin attack

Disavowing the attacker

Following the truck attack on a busy Christmas market at Breitscheidplatz in the heart of former West Berlin on December 19, German Muslims have sought to dissociate themselves from the presumed attacker. The suspected jihadist, Anis Amri, remains at large at the time of writing.

Muslims gathered on the square where the attack had occurred, wearing t-shirts with the inscription “Muslims for peace”, and holding up signs such as “I am a Muslim, not a terrorist”.(( http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/anschlag-in-berlin-muslime-demonstrieren-gegen-terror-a-1126876.html )) A choir, composed of long-standing German residents and recently arrived refugees, came out to sing Christmas songs.(( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/anschlag-in-berlin-wir-sind-hier-weil-wir-alle-menschen-sind-1.3305340 ))

In the aftermath of the attack, anxieties among refugees are running particularly high: speaking to the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper, many express fears about a worsening security situation and a growing incidence of terrorist attacks. They worry about tighter immigration policies and above all about greater suspicion and distrust that couls make building a life in Germany more difficult.(( http://www.zeit.de/gesellschaft/zeitgeschehen/2016-12/anschlag-weihnachtsmarkt-berlin-fluechtlinge-reaktionen/komplettansicht ))

Responses of Muslim bodies and representatives

Representatives of the country’s largest Muslim associations have strongly condemned the attack and sought to show their presence during official ceremonies of mourning.(( http://www.islamiq.de/2016/12/20/religionsvertreter-verurteilen-berliner-anschlag/ )) An Imam participated in the oecumenical service at the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, a war-damaged church at Breitscheidplatz rechristened as a monument to peace. The service was also attended by leading politicians, including Chancellor Merkel.(( http://islam.de/28268 ))

At the same time, Muslim associations’ capacities remain circumscribed due to their internal divisions and their limited ability to represent Muslim believers in a convincing fashion. In contrast to a host of Christian and Jewish institutions, they are also not recognised as ‘religious communities’ (Religionsgemeinschaften) or as ‘corporate bodies of public law’ (Körperschaften öffentlichen Rechts) and thus have a distinctly inferior legal status in the country – a fact which hampers their financial and social capacities as well as their political clout.(( https://en.qantara.de/content/islam-in-germany-a-poor-second ))

The complex politics of Islamic associational life

Consequently, Germany’s Muslim community may struggle to develop a coherent and powerful public response to the Berlin attack. Already in January 2015, when a vigil with a large number of high-ranking participants from politics and society was organised in front of the Brandenburg Gate to commemorate the attack on Charlie Hebdo, bitter infighting broke out among Germany’s disparate Muslim associations.

At the time, representatives of the DİTİB, VIKZ, and IRD umbrella bodies, each of which runs substantial numbers of mosques, had a public fallout with their rival Aiman Mazyek, chairman of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany (ZMD). They accused Mazyek of using the vigil to distinguish himself and to derive political capital for himself and the ZMD to the detriment of the other associations. ((http://www.fr-online.de/terror/zentralrat-der-muslime-muslime-sauer-auf-mazyek,29500876,29557370.html ))

Germany at a crossroads

One might be tempted to hope that in the aftermath of the Breitscheidplatz Christmas market attack – the first substantial jihadist incident on German soil – the country’s Muslim associations could be propelled to overcome some of their long-standing hostilities and move to a more unified position.

Yet it is equally if not more plausible to expect tensions between these antagonistic players to increase in the coming weeks and months. Muslim representatives and institutions seem poised to be sucked into a divisive spiral of politicisation in which they are required to prove their loyalty to the German state.

The onset of this dynamic could already be observed in the immediate aftermath of the attack. Horst Seehofer, leader of the CSU, Bavarian sister party to Angela Merkel’s CDU, swiftly demanded a fundamental recalibration of Germany’s immigration and integration policies.(( https://www.welt.de/politik/deutschland/article160483611/So-rechtfertigt-Seehofer-seine-Zuwanderungsaussage.html )) A high-ranking AfD politician commented on Twitter that the fatalities of the attack were “Merkel’s dead”, i.e. a consequence of her lax immigration policies.(( https://www.welt.de/regionales/bayern/article160485594/Polizei-prueft-Tweet-von-AfD-Mann-Pretzell.html ))

Invoking unity

The bulk of the political responses to the events of December 19 has been more measured so far. Berlin’s mayor, Michael Müller (SPD), called upon the three monotheistic religions to continue to live together in peace. He asserted that “Jews, Christians and Muslims belong to this city” and must “not let themselves be pitted against one another”.(( http://islam.de/28268 ))

CDU politicians as well as a range of civil society actors harshly criticised Horst Seehofer for his glib calls for repressive measures and his populist ‘law and order’ approach.(( http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/annegret-kramp-karrenbauer-weist-horst-seehofer-nach-berlin-anschlag-zurecht-a-1127140.html ))

Cautionary tale from the other side of the Rhine

In this respect, the political climate in Germany is still far from attaining the poisonous levels reached in France after the November 2015 terrorist attacks. Yet it is worth remembering that after the January 2015 Charlie Hebdo massacre, France lived through something of a moment of national unity in which millions of citizens and leaders peaceably took to the streets, collectively defying the terrorist challenge.((http://www.reuters.com/article/us-france-hollande-idUSKBN0L91VN20150205 ))

Nearly two years and two major attacks later, this sense of unity appears to have dissipated completely. This highlights the challenges that Germany will face in the months and years ahead. The truck assault of December 19 may inspire the sense of cohesion that many observers are hoping for. Yet this cohesion remains fragile and vulnerable to further attacks.

CDU party congress shifts to the right on immigration, burqa, and dual citizenship

Pacifying internal critics

On December 6 and 7, 2016, Germany’s centre-right CDU congregated in Essen for its party convention to endorse Angela Merkel for another term as CDU chairwoman as well as for a fourth run for Chancellor in the September 2017 federal elections.

Merkel had announced her decision to stand again for both offices shortly before the convention. Manifestly, shee deemed the moment to be an opportune one: her popularity ratings had steadily improved over the past weeks as she shifted to a more restrictive position on immigration that sought to reassure a fearful electorate and – after a series of defeats at the polls – to pacify her internal detractors.(( http://www.euro-islam.info/2016/10/17/regional-elections-germany-deliver-gains-afd-weakening-merkel/ ))

At the party convention, Merkel continued her attempts to win over her critics on the right by asserting that the open-door approach to immigration that she had taken in summer 2015 “cannot, should not, and must not repeat itself.” She defined a harsher line on immigration as “our and my declared political goal.” ((http://www.deutschlandfunk.de/cdu-parteitag-zwischen-merkel-und-morgen.724.de.html?dram:article_id=373394 ))

A set of restrictive measures on immigration and identity

The party convention endorsed the creation of “transit zones” for newly arriving migrants at German borders. These are to function as centres for reception, shelter, and detention where immigrants’ demands for asylum are processed on the spot. Moreover, the CDU aims to quicken the deportation of asylum-seekers who have had their demands rejected. (( https://www.welt.de/politik/deutschland/article160057151/CDU-Innenexperten-setzen-auf-noch-rigidere-Asylpolitik.html ))

Islam and immigration loomed large behind some of the other proposals adopted at the convention, too. Merkel herself demanded that the burqa be banned “wherever this is legally possible.” As a piece of clothing making face-to-face communication in a democratic society impossible, Merkel defined the burqa as alien to German culture and values.(( http://www.deutschlandfunk.de/cdu-parteitag-zwischen-merkel-und-morgen.724.de.html?dram:article_id=373394 ))

Moreover, the convention demanded that marriages involving an underage bride or groom concluded abroad be no longer legally recognised and valid in Germany. On this issue, the run-up to the convention had witnessed repeated public polemics.(( http://www.spiegel.de/panorama/gesellschaft/kinderehen-in-deutschland-integrationsbeauftragte-aydan-oezoguz-gegen-pauschales-verbot-a-1119480.html )) Finally, in another measure of identity politics, German is to be inscribed in the constitution as the country’s official language.(( https://www.welt.de/politik/deutschland/article160076321/CDU-verschaerft-innenpolitischen-Kurs.html ))

Conservative revolt on dual citizenship

However, these concessions did not satisfy the CDU’s conservative wing. While Merkel was re-elected to the chairmanship, she only received 89.5 per cent of the votes – a weak showing given the traditionally consensus-based and largely ceremonial nature of personnel choices at CDU party conventions. It represented Merkel’s second-worst result in her sixteen years at the head of the party.

Moreover, the CDU’s youth wing pushed through a resolution proposing a tightening of citizenship laws. Since late 2014, children of non-EU immigrants (above all from Turkey) who have been born and raised in Germany are allowed to retain both the German nationality and the nationality of their parents. The convention adopted a motion that seeks to scrap this option for dual citizenship and to force children to choose between a German passport and the passport of their parents’ country of origin by the age of 23.

This proposition targets over half a million children and young adults born between 1990 and 2012. Conservative politicians such as Jens Spahn, young CDU hopeful and self-stylised ‘burqaphobe’((http://www.euro-islam.info/2016/08/26/muslim-womens-dress-takes-centre-stage-german-debate/ )) have long lambasted rules allowing dual citizenship as diluting immigrants’ loyalty to Germany.(( http://www.zeit.de/politik/deutschland/2016-12/doppelte-staatsbuergerschaft-cdu-optionspflicht-faq ))

The CDU’s strategic choices

Merkel and the CDU leadership subsequently stated that they would not consider themselves bound by the convention’s decision on dual citizenship. Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière asserted that while he remained sceptical of dual citizenship per se, retracting the more liberal regulations would needlessly hurt and antagonise the young people targeted. In any case, none of the CDU’s potential coalition partners for a post-2017 government is willing to accept a crackdown on dual nationality.(( http://www.zeit.de/politik/deutschland/2016-12/staatsbuergerschaft-cdu-parteitag-integration ))

Thus, while the arduous discussions on citizenship provisions will remain largely inconsequential for the foreseeable future, they nevertheless show the dissatisfaction of the conservative base: the CDU party convention – occasionally ridiculed by political opponents as a powerless body rubberstamping the leadership’s decisions (Kanzlerwahlverein) – rose up in open revolt against a party elite deemed too liberal and out of touch with a disgruntled population.

Merkel herself has warned that the 2017 electoral campaign will be difficult and marked by increasingly loud assaults from the rising populist right. It remains to be seen whether her own party will prove immune to the temptations of populist slogans.

UK integration report ‘divisive’ say Muslim groups

A government report on integration of immigrants in the UK has been described as “inflammatory” and “divisive” by its critics.

The Casey Review says that segregation is on the rise in the UK among other findings. It suggests that immigrants swear an “integration oath” to maintain British values and that these values be taught in schools.

Social welfare expert Louise Casey was asked to lead the review at the request of then-prime minister David Cameron as part of the government’s efforts to tackle extremism.

The report, which was published on Monday, said that some Muslims and members of other minority faith groups showed less progressive views, for example towards “women’s equality, sexuality and freedom of speech”.

But Mohammed Shafiq, chief executive of the Ramadhan Foundation, said it was an “inflammatory” and “divisive” report, that deliberately targeted one community over others.

“Sadly in today’s Britain, Muslims are seen as an easy target to attack by politicians, commentators and parts of the media without any regard for the impact this has on communities.

“There was no mention about the responsibility of the white community to help with integration, as many white families flee mixed areas as ethnic minorities move into a particular area,” Shafiq said in a statement.

“We are saddened that once again British Muslims have become a political football which is bashed from time to time without any regard for the impact this has on individuals who then are subjected to threats and violence,” he added.

On his part, Harun Khan, secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, said he feared the report was one-sided, focusing on Muslims without tackling the role of other British nationals in welcoming immigrants and helping them to integrate.

In a statement, Khan said the report could be a missed opportunity. “We need to improve integration, and it needs to involve the active participation of all Britons, not just Muslim.

“As former Prime Minister David Cameron has stated: ‘integration is a two-way street’. The report has little discussion on white flight, and could have delved deeper into the economic structural barriers to integration.”

He also disputed misconceptions that Muslims and Islam are incompatible with the British lifestyle and culture, and the notion that Muslims are not civilised enough to be part of the British society.

Meanwhile the Joint Council for the Wefare of Immigrants (JCWI) said in a statement that Prime Minister Theresa May needed to rethink the socially destructive immigration policies she implemented while home secretary.

“Integration comes when immigrants and the communities they live in can trust each other,” said Saira Grant, its chief executive in a statement. “Negative rhetoric against immigrants perpetuated by certain media and politicians permeates into the public psyche and results in racism and xenophobia.”

Reaction on Twitter was also critical.

However, Casey also admitted that there was a “vicious circle” in which Muslims felt they were being blamed for terrorism and extremism, leading to suspicion, mistrust and hostility.

“Every time there’s a terrorist attack people automatically blame a person that’s called a Muslim. That’s wrong. Muslims are no more responsible for terrorist attacks than I am for the IRA,” Casey told BBC 4’s Today programme.

The report referred to a 2015 UK poll showing that more than 55 percent of those interviewed believed that there was a fundamental clash between Islam and the values of British society. At the same time 46 percent of British Muslims felt that being a Muslim in Britain was difficult due to prejudice against Islam.

Casey said people should be able to discuss issues in the report without being “worried about being called racist or Islamophobic”.

The Casey review also states that the Crime Survey for England and Wales states that the actual level of hate crime experienced – including anti-Semitic and Islamophobic attacks – is more than four times the number of recorded incidents.

These attacks apparently increase following “trigger” events, such as the conflict in Israel and Gaza, and following the EU referendum, as perpetrators appeared to feel emboldened by the events and the language used around them.

Casey Integration Review: Muslim Council of Britain’s Initial Response

Today the long awaited review on integration by Dame Louise Casey has been published. Though the review has already been championed by those who pursue a divisive agenda and a hostile attitude towards Muslims, the Muslim Council of Britain will carefully consider the details of Dame Louise’s findings and offer a substantive response.

In the meantime, Harun Khan, Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain offered his initial response:

“Any initiative that facilitates better integration of all Britons should be welcomed, and we certainly endorse the few, fair and supportable suggestions proposed by the Casey Review. This includes the promotion of the English language, sharing of best practice across the nation and a range of measures to tackle exclusion, inequality and segregation in school placements. And while we agree that forced marriages, FGM, honour based killings and other practices have no place in modern Britain, we would argue that our faith tradition can be deployed to tackle what are essentially cultural practices.”

“I hope we can facilitate robust and active conversations in British Muslim communities where we are frank about the challenges facing us and creative enough to meet them head on.”

“Sadly, however, I fear that this report could be a missed opportunity. We need to improve integration, and it needs to involve the active participation of all Britons, not just Muslims. As former Prime Minister David Cameron has stated, ‘integration is a two-way street’. The report has little discussion on white flight, and could have delved deeper into the economic structural barriers to integration.”

“In our submission to the Casey Review, the Muslim Council of Britain highlighted the ‘culture of fear is emerging which is a big driver in preventing a more united and cohesive society.’

We said: ‘We must recognise that our public discourse and conversation has a part to play in furthering integration. Integration is fostered when the media reports on stories that speak of achievement of minorities, of people coming together and where national moments are shared by all.’

We also said “for too long Muslims have had to endure a media echo chamber which amplifies the misconception that Muslims and their faith are incompatible with life in Britain. We dispute these notions. It assumes that Muslims are not equal, and not civilised enough to be part and parcel of British society. It leads to discrimination against Muslims, alienation amongst Muslims where the national conversation dictates that they are not part and parcel of society, and, at worst, violent attacks against Muslims.”

We hope this Review does not feed into that narrative.

Casey report criticised for focus on UK Muslim communities

Muslim groups have raised concerns about the government’s community cohesion report, arguing that it confuses race, religion and immigration and focuses too heavily on Muslim communities.

The study, commissioned by David Cameron as prime minister and carried out by Dame Louise Casey, recommends a new strategy to help bridge divides in the UK, including an “integration oath” to encourage immigrants to embrace British values, and greater focus on promoting the English language and securing “women’s emancipation in communities where they are being held back by regressive cultural practices”.

Critics said its focus on Muslim communities ignored other issues such as equality and racism, and was potentially damaging to community relations.

Bana Gora, chief executive of the Muslim Women’s Council, said: “I am not denying that there is a problem in Muslim communities, but I would not put it down to self-segregation. We have to look at the broader picture, at education qualifications, at economics, at social mobility, at barriers in the jobs market.

“There are many inter-related factors and to put it all down such basic sensational terms by saying that the Muslim community is self-segregating does so much harm and is is totally unnecessary.”

Harun Khan, secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, said “any initiative that facilitates better integration of all Britons” should be welcomed. But he said the Casey report was a missed opportunity. “We need to improve integration, and it needs to involve the active participation of all Britons, not just Muslims,” he said.

He welcomed the promotion of the English language and initiatives to tackle exclusion, inequality and segregation in schools. But he highlighted a “culture of fear” that he said was “a big driver in preventing a more united and cohesive society”.

“We must recognise that our public discourse and conversation has a part to play in furthering integration. Integration is fostered when the media reports on stories that speak of achievement of minorities, of people coming together and where national moments are shared by all,” Khan said.

He said the MCB in its submissions to the Casey report had pointed out that Muslims had to endure “a media echo chamber which amplifies the misconception that Muslims and their faith are incompatible with life in Britain”.

“We dispute these notions,” he said. “It assumes that Muslims are not equal, and not civilised enough to be part and parcel of British society. It leads to discrimination against Muslims, alienation amongst Muslims where the national conversation dictates that they are not part and parcel of society, and, at worst, violent attacks against Muslims.”

Shaista Gohir, chair of the Muslim Women’s Network, welcomed the report, but said segregation could not be blamed only on Muslim communities. “We need a nuanced debate that looks at these hard questions that Casey raises but that also looks at the racism and xenophobia these communities face,” she said.

Gohir said there were many other factors fuelling segregation. “Segregation is always a two-way issue and we have to look at what is happening in the Muslim community, but also what is happening in the white community too – why they don’t want to integrate, the issue of so-called ‘white flight’, where white people leave an area when Muslim families move in. This has to be a starting point for a wider and more thoughtful debate.”

The report mentions Muslims 249 times, while there are only 14 references to Polish communities.

The first Muslim to sit in cabinet, Sayeeda Warsi, a former communities minister, said the year-long study’s focus on Muslims – and particularly Muslim women – was unfair. Responding to report’s use of the phrase “the emancipation of Muslim women”, she tweeted: “Yes, those words are in the report. The empire strikes back!”

Warsi argued that many of the statistics in the report were out of date, and it failed to talk about the challenge of raising aspiration among poor white Roma communities. She said the focus on Muslim women was unjustified, pointing out that white women were most likely to be victims of domestic abuse. In conclusion, she said the report had “some good bits, a few bad bits and lots of confused bits”.

The report says the single most important thing the government can do for effective integration is to take action to get more people speaking English. Stephen Hale, chief executive of Refugee Action, welcomed that, saying refugees were “determined to learn English to enable them to contribute to their new communities through work, volunteering and socialising with their neighbours”.

But he said funding for English courses had been slashed by more than half since 2009. “[Refugees] are deeply frustrated by the lack of English language classes available,” Hale said. “Refugees, particularly women, face huge barriers to learning, from a lack of local provision to long waiting lists.”

He said the government must act quickly to address the issue. “An investment of just over £40m per year would make it possible for every refugee to learn English and give them the opportunity to contribute and rebuild their lives successfully.”

Ukip’s immigration spokesman, John Bickley, welcomed what he described as a “damning” report. “It pulls no punches and is an excoriating critique of the Labour, Conservatives and Liberal Democrat parties’ support of mass immigration, multiculturalism and political correctness,” he said.