By ANDREW WOODCOCK BRITAIN’S ethnic minority communities might be given new names in an effort to strengthen their ties to this country. Home Office minister Hazel Blears is to ask representatives of Muslim and other minorities whether they would prefer to be known by US-style hyphenated terms such as Asian-British, Pakistani-British or Indian-British, rather than simply ‘Asians’. The idea is one of a set of proposals to be floated at meetings that Ms Blears is holding around the country to discuss how to steer young Muslims away from radicalism. Ms Blears – appointed head of a new Government commission on integrating minorities by Prime Minister Tony Blair – said today: “In America, they do seem to have the idea that you’re an Italian-American or you’re an Irish-American, and that’s quite interesting. “I am going to talk to people and ask ‘how does that feel?’ It is about your identity and I think it’s really important.” She added: “If you want a society that is really welded together, there are certain things that unite us because you are British, but you can be a bit different too.” The proposal is seen as an indication that the Government is considering claims that some second-generation Asians find it difficult to identify with Britain or the country of their roots. Mrs Blears was backed by the Commission for Racial Equality but it also warned of problems ahead. A spokesman said: “She’s hit the nail on the head when she says it’s about how people feel and refer to themselves. “But one person might be happy being classified as one thing and someone of the same race or religion might not.” Muslim groups also responded with caution to the idea, while Conservatives branded it “fatuous”. Sir Iqbal Sacranie, general secretary of the Muslim Council of Britain, said: “What of the second generations? Why should they be defined as other than British? “These forms of identity based on ethnic background have been tried in the past and have failed.” And Ghayasuddin Siddiqui of the Muslim Parliament said: “Nobody cares for labels. We have to create a stakeholding society and an inclusive society.” Shadow home affairs spokesman Edward Garnier said: “This is a fatuous idea. “I’ve got a growing number of Asian British people in my constituency. They think of themselves as British. They don’t need a Government minister to tell them how to describe themselves.” And Greg Mulholland, the Lib Dem MP for Leeds North West, where the July 7 bombs were created, said a rebranding exercise would “not be remotely helpful”. “I think it’s another gimmick. I’m afraid we need some rather more intelligent and far-reaching solutions.” Councillor Shami Khan, a leading member of Edinburgh’s Pakistan community, said the proposals might go some way towards helping to integrate migrants into the community. He added: “We have to keep our culture but, at the end of the day, by coming here, people are accepting the British way of life and must adopt a British value and must have a respect for that citizenship. “I think this is a good idea and if you call people from South East Asia “British-Asian” that’s okay. I feel Scottish-Asian and I have a loyalty to Britain. “But what we really need to do is to teach people about citizenship and loyalty to this country.”
By Vikram Dodd and Alan Travis Hazel Blears, the minister responsible for counter-terrorism, said yesterday that Muslims will have to accept as a “reality” that they will be stopped and searched by the police more often than the rest of the public. Ms Blears told MPs that “there was no getting away from it”, because the terrorist threat came from people “falsely hiding behind Islam”. Her comments, on the day when leading British Muslim groups met to hammer out a strategy on maximising the Islamic vote for the election, provoked immediate condemnation from Islamic leaders. Massoud Shadjareh, chair of the Islamic Human Rights Commission, said: “She is demonising and alienating our community. It is a legitimisation for a backlash and for racists to have an onslaught on our community.” The Home Office minister’s comments come at an awkward time for the Labour government. It is struggling to pass anti-terrorism legislation through parliament and preparing for a general election where the traditionally loyal Muslim vote is threatening to desert the party. Ms Blears was speaking at the Commons home affairs committee inquiry into the impact of anti-terrorist measures on community relations. “If a threat is from a particular place then our action is going to be targeted at that area,” she said, adding: “It means that some of our counter-terrorism powers will be disproportionately experienced by the Muslim community.” Statistics showed that of the 17 people found guilty of terrorist acts since 9/11 in the UK, only four of the 12 whose ethnic backgrounds were known were Muslim, Mr Shadjareh said. The Muslim Council of Britain was in discussions with the Home Office about what the minister had meant. Inayat Bunglawala, spokesman for the MCB, said he feared they legitimised anti-Muslim sentiment and warned the minister against scaremongering to drum up support for the new terror laws: “The remarks are thoroughly unhelpful as we’ve seen a rise in anti-Muslim sentiment in the UK. “It is wholly unacceptable if a government minister is using her office to scaremonger at the expense of our community to ease the passage of legislation designed to curb our civil liberties.” Ms Blears’ comments come after Monday night’s vote over controversial new anti-terrorism powers that could see suspects subject to house arrest. The measures provoked a rebellion that saw the government’s majority reduced to 14, and yesterday the bill reached the House of Lords. Ms Blears also cited new Home Office stop and search figures showing that the rise in the number of Asian people stopped under the Terrorism Act was no longer as sharp as those involving white or black people. Counter-terror stop and searches rose from 21,500 in 2002-03 to nearly 30,000 in 2003-04. Those involving white people rose by 43% from 14,429 to 20,637; those involving black people rose by 55% from 1,745 to 2,704 over the same period; and those involving Asian people rose 22% from 2,989 to 3,668. Ms Blears said the figures may reassure the Muslim community they were not being unfairly targeted but she said it was important for the government to develop a broader conversation with the Islamic community than just talking about the terrorist threat.