Sadiq Khan is the MP for Tooting, Shadow Justice Secretary & Lord Chancellor and Shadow Minister for London
Much has been written in the past month in the aftermath of the brutal murder of Drummer Lee Rigby. One unifying message has been the importance of communities standing together, in the face of the threats posed by those claiming to follow a particularly violent political version of Islam, and from far-right groups such as the EDL and BNP. One recent contribution to the debate came from the esteemed journalist Charles Moore, whose recent biography of Margaret Thatcher is a mighty tome of diligence and detail. In contrast, his words in last Saturday’s Telegraph were a clumsy foray into a territory about which he appears to know very little.
In his piece, Moore states that “the EDL is merely reactive” as if that’s OK. It’s far from OK. Many of the darkest chapters in recent human history have sprung from reactionary movements gaining a foothold in society. But to go on and equate the EDL with groups like Tell Mama, the charity that records incidents against the Muslim community as well as providing advice and support on how to deal with Islamophobia, as Charles Moore’s piece does, is ridiculous. I don’t recall seeing those running Tell Mama flicking fascist salutes while standing next to memorials for the war dead.
For decades, the British Jewish community has had to contend with the belittling of anti-Semitic attacks, whether they be on headstones in cemeteries or to Synagogues or schools. While we cannot be complacent, there is, rightly, a zero tolerance to anti-Semitism whether it be oral, viral or physical. Would we be comfortable with a respected journalist writing about the Community Security Trust the way Tell Mama has been written about? Or aspersions being cast on a politician due to their Jewish faith? Would we accept the Jewish community being talked about the way the Muslim community are? The piece would be roundly criticised, and rightly so. And that’s the point – in a tolerant society that won’t stand for division and hatred, attacks on any particular part of our society are an attack on all of our society. I don’t meet “young people taught to detest the freedom in which they live”, as Charles Moore claims. I meet British Muslims proud to be both British and Muslim, in many cases living their lives freer of the shackles of prejudice and social inequality than did their parents, or their parents before them. That is a real positive that living in Britain has fostered.
As a British Muslim, I understand that “Islam” and “Britishness” are not incompatible and, according to polling, 83 per cent of my fellow Muslims would agree – they are “proud” to be British, compared to 79 per cent of the wider public. And who could fail to be heartened by the custard cream diplomacy of the mosque in York when faced by an EDL protest, a very British response to a difficult situation. Like “Britishness”, Islam is about respect, tolerance and understanding.