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Europe: Britain's Muslim Leader Opposes Joining A Federal Europe

London, 20 January 1998 (RFE/RL) -- A spokesman for Britain's one million-strong Muslim community has urged the Blair government not to join a federal Europe because it might lead to heightened discrimination against ethnic and religious minorities.

Zaki Badawi, chairman of the Council of Imams and Mosques, regarded as one of the most distinguished Muslim intellectuals in Britain, says the drive to federalism presents "a great danger of prejudice against those of us who come from elsewhere."

The Egyptian-born Badawi contrasted Britain with France, where far right politicians such as National Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen get 15 percent of the vote and with Germany, scene of firebombing attacks on Turkish and other immigrants by neo-fascist skinheads.

He said Britain is the "most tolerant country in the world" and the best European location in which to be a Muslim because it does not "demand that everyone conforms." But this tolerance could be in jeopardy if ultra-right values are imported.

Badawi, who spent his youth campaigning to get the British out of his homeland, has lived in London for the past 20 years.

He said: "Britain is a place where you can say what you like very strongly, and nobody will feel you are insulting the country." He said that, unlike France, it does not disparage other cultures, and it is more tolerant of eccentricity than Germany.

Britain is the most multi-racial society in Europe. Its non-white population amounts to 2.5 million people (five percent of the total population). Many are Muslims and Hindus, or their families, who immigrated from former British colonies in Asia and Africa.

A recent report said Britain will be home to some two million Muslims within 20 years, double the number today, and easily the largest non-Christian community in the country (There are some 600 mosques compared with only a handful a few years ago).

Badawi's warning about the dangers of imported racism were published in the Sunday Telegraph newspaper in a survey of how outsiders regard their treatment in Britain, their adopted home.

His views appear to reflect concern that federalism will be a spur to anti-immigrant feelings, upsetting what is seen as fairly good race relations, measured against other European countries.

Specifically, he warns against the import of the "lower values" of continental Europe, an apparent reference to the kind of far-right., xenophobic policies pursued by populist parties in France or Austria (Support for Britain's own National Front is tiny).

Badawi said if Britain does join a federal Europe, it should use its traditions of "democracy", "tolerance" and "compromise" to counter what he called the EU's tendency to rule by "bureaucratic dictate."

His remarks suggest that he shares the fear of Euro-skeptical British politicians that a federal Europe will be undemocratic and over-centralized, provoking the risk of a nationalist backlash from voters angered at what they regard as remote and unresponsive rule from Brussels. If that happens, as Badawi implies, the first people to be targeted could be ethnic and religious minorities.