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U.K.: Parliamentary Report Warns Of Rising Communal Tensions

The report urges Prime Minister Tony Blair's government to pay more attention to communal tensions A new report in Britain says tensions are rising between ethnic communities there. The report, issued by the British Parliament's home affairs committee, says there is a growing perception among Muslim residents that they are being stigmatized as a result of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the war on terror. The report urges the government and police to take a more active role in assuring British Muslims they are not being targeted for special scrutiny. It also says universities and the media can do more to fight Islamophobia and other problems affecting minority communities.

London, 8 April 2005 (RFE/RL) -- The report is the result of a five-month inquiry looking at Britain's minority communities and their relations with the white majority, local government and the police at a time of increased concerns over terrorism.

Bob Russell, a member of the committee that issued the report, says it's clear that problems exist.

"I believe the Home Affairs Select Committee recognizes that there is a problem," Russell says. "And it’s important, I believe, that we try and cool the atmosphere. So that we as a community recognize that those who are not white and who are not Christians are not therefore terrorists and a danger to this country."
The report noted rising suspicion among some segments of the majority population toward ethnic minorities, particularly Muslims.

The report noted rising suspicion among some segments of the majority population toward ethnic minorities, particularly Muslims.

Russell says the hostility appeared limited to what he called "fringe elements" of the white majority, but adds it has still had a damaging impact on many Muslim communities.

"Sadly, since 9/11, members of the Muslim community in the United Kingdom tell us that they feel that they are more subject to attention by the white population -- that part of white population which is looking for an excuse to single them out as being potential terrorists and so on," says Russell.

Muslim organizations say Britain's new anti-terrorism laws and media sensationalism have only added to the problem.

Inayat Bunglawala, a spokesman for the Muslim Council of Britain, says the intense focus on terror issues has sparked a rise in Islamophobia.

"This has served to create a real fear and dislike of British Muslims in the wider population. Just last week, the British Psychological Society found that 43 percent of Britons are now saying that they have an increased dislike of Islam and Muslims, because of the recent events, because of the atmosphere around them, and the accompanying media coverage -- which was also criticized heavily in the [parliamentary] report," Bunglawala says.

The relationship between law enforcement and minority communities was among the issues examined in the parliamentary report.

Ultimately, the report asserted that British police do not appear to be "unreasonably" targeting Muslims. But Russell acknowledges such a judgment is extremely difficult to ascertain:

"Some members of the Asian community thought they were being targeted. And certainly evidence was given which tends to both support and refute that. It was a very difficult one to call (eds: to judge) for the committee, because we had conflicting evidence. My view is that the perception [that the police are targeting Muslims] is probably greater than the reality. That doesn’t mean to say we then dismissed the perception, because the perception can quite often be more damaging than the reality," says Russell.

The report says rising tensions could be soothed by community leaders who condemn violence and extremism. It also says proponents of terrorism must be dealt with effectively not only by authorities, but -- in the words of the report -- "by the Muslim community itself."

Bunglawala says such sentiments are insensitive. "We believe all British citizens should be involved in a cooperative effort to help safeguard the security and safety of all the inhabitants of this country. No one sector of the population has a greater responsibility than any other. All of us should be involved. And by singling out Muslims in this manner, this report has actually contributed to even further stigmatizing British Muslims," says Bunglawala.

The report's authors, however, defend its findings. Bob Russell says the report gives a realistic picture of the situation, and offers practical suggestions for how to move ahead.

"We have to ensure that no member of the community, regardless of the color of their skin or the faith that they believe in, should feel that they are being discriminated against -- that they are actually being discriminated against, or whether there is a perception that they are being discriminated against," says Russell.

British society should have no room, he adds, for any form of discrimination -- real or perceived.