Guardian Unlimited | Special reports | ‘Muslims need to be allowed to contribute to British culture’

‘Muslims need to be allowed to contribute to British culture’

Sher Khan, 36, investment analyst, London

Tuesday November 30, 2004

A generation of young Muslims have been brought up in Britain – they’ve gone to the same schools and watched the same TV programmes as everyone else in this country. As a result, their sense of belonging and identity is bound up with Britain. The majority of them couldn’t go and live in countries like Bangladesh and Egypt – they wouldn’t fit in.

Having said this, there have been problems with young Muslims integrating into British society. British Muslims can contribute to British culture, but they need to be allowed to. The war on terror has disenfranchised many Muslims. Action needs to be taken to stop terror in UK, but rather than entering into a partnership with British Muslims, the government is approaching the problem in a way that will hamper the very objectives it is trying to achieve.

Since September 11, huge numbers of Muslims have been wrongly arrested on grounds of terrorism. Very few are ever charged. The impact of this spreads across the community and creates suspicion, hatred and a siege mentality among British Muslims. The government can’t lecture Islamic countries on justice and democracy when there are violations of human rights in its own backyard.

While most young Muslims aren’t stupid enough to get involved with extremists, the way they are treated often leads to a sense of sympathy for the more radical elements of Islam.

Muslims need to make an effort too. Community leaders need to drive home the message to young Muslims that they live in a democracy, and if they want things to change, they need to get involved in politics. The message seems to be getting through, and a lot more young people have become politically active since the Iraq war.

The young Muslim community in Britain has huge potential. British culture is changing all the time, and is made up many different strands – black culture, working class culture, Scottish and Welsh culture. Muslims should be allowed, and allow themselves, to contribute to this.

When I talk to Muslims in America, I realise that things could be a lot worse. British people are a lot more sober and willing to listen to different opinions. You don’t get any of the jingoistic rhetoric in Britain that you do in the US.

Interview by Tom Lutz