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British Communities Secretary Ruth Kelly has initiated a lively debate on whether excessive emphasis on multi-culturalism has contributed to Muslim separatism in the UK. In comments that have understandably riled the Left and bleeding heart liberals who insist on being politically correct even when faced by the very real and very grim possibility of witnessing passenger airliners being blown up as jihad continues to claim fresh victims around the world every passing hour, Ms Kelly has bluntly asked, "In our attempt to avoid imposing a single British identity and culture, have we ended up with some communities living in isolation from each other with no common bonds between them?"
For good measure, she has added, "We must not be censored by political correctness and we cannot tiptoe around the issues... Our ideas and policies should not be based on special treatment for minority ethnic faith communities. That would only exacerbate division rather than help build cohesion." It would be facetious to suggest that all it took to force a rethink on the noble and politically correct, Left-sanctified concept of multi-culturalism in Britain, which has been the mainstay of Labour politics ever since Mirpuris, Sylhetis and Punjabis from Pakistan began to land on British shores, were the July 7 London Underground bombings of last year that left 52 people dead and the failed plot to blow up planes in midflight after taking off from Heathrow.
A more plausible explanation for Ms Kelly's concern, echoed by influential individuals across the political spectrum, can be found in the results of a recent YouGov survey which show that at least 53 per cent Britons believe that their country "faces a Muslim problem" and an increasing number of people are beginning to fear Islam as also its followers. The poll, conducted by The Daily Telegraph, further reveals that 18 per cent of the respondents are of the view that "a large proportion of British Muslims feel no sense of loyalty to this country and are prepared to condone or even carry out acts of terrorism." The other findings of the elaborate poll are even less flattering to Britain's Muslims, most of them from Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Were an honest opinion poll to be conducted in India, with the agency not using "secular" filters to weed out "communal" responses, in all probability the findings would have been no different. With the Muslim leadership, such as India's 15-crore-strong "minority community" is blessed with, becoming increasingly intransigent and using external issues — the Danish cartoons allegedly lampooning Mohammed, the war in Iraq, the attempts to dismantle Iran's basement nuclear programme, the Israeli response to Hizbullah's terrorism — to foment internal dissent and disquiet, coupled with murderous jihadi assaults like the Mumbai bombings that have never fetched condemnation from the pulpit during Friday prayers, we would be, to quote Ms Kelly, "tiptoeing around the issues" if we were to pretend that all is fine and India is a shining example of excellent inter-community relations.
The rude truth is that Islamophobia is no longer a phenomenon restricted to the US or the UK. With every passing day as Islamists up the ante and push their agenda of imposing faith — never mind how misplaced it might be — over everything else, including their motherland, the ranks of those who believe "Muslims feel no sense of loyalty to this country and are prepared to condone or even carry out acts of terrorism" continue to swell. This is by no means a happy development and could, in the long run, cause irreparable damage to the way Hindus and Muslims look at the "other". It would be tragic if as a nation we were to gridlock ourselves in mutual suspicion and hate whose consequences are bound to visit future generations irrespective of their religious affiliation.
Yet, this is precisely what is being aimed: The UPA Government, driven by the most perverse notions of what constitutes "secularism" which are invariably conceived of by reigning stalwarts of the Congress, has chosen to make common cause with those sections of the Muslim leadership, especially the Ulema, whose loyalty to India is suspect and who make little effort to hide this fact; a strange alliance is taking shape between those who promise to put India on an unimaginable growth trajectory and facilitate its emergence as a power to reckon with, and clerics who are determined to ensure that the crescent of Islamist fanaticism does not bypass India. Pledges of modernisation are heard along with calls for Talibanisation. And, as the level of bigotry rises, the Government ups its offer to placate manufactured anger which is first generated and then skillfully used by the Ulema and other subscribers to pan-Islamism to leverage a better deal.
Haunted by the spectre of Islamist terrorism and the extra-territorial loyalties of the Queen's Muslim subjects, Britain is just beginning to discover that "ideas and policies should not be based on special treatment for minority ethnic faith communities" as they "only exacerbate division rather than help build cohesion." We in India came to realise this decades ago, but since we prefer to be duplicitous and cynically cunning in our politics and policies, we have chosen to pretend that the writing on the wall is no more than an illegible scrawl that need not bother us. Hence the reluctance to call the bluff of those who continue to exploit our emphasis on multi-culturalism and minority rights not for the welfare of the Muslim community but to force on secular India their vision of a separate Islamic identity which jars with that of the national Indian identity. The fatwa against Muslims singing Vande Mataram is only one example of how far the Ulema and the Islamists are willing to go to assert that the ikhwan may live in this country, but is not bound by its national identity.
No purpose shall be served by refusing to admit this truth and confront the reality. On the contrary, we may yet be able to retrieve the situation and prevent the inter-community gap from becoming an unbridgeable chasm by taking the lead from Britain and asking, with full sincerity, without being censored by political correctness or tiptoeing around issues: In our attempt to avoid imposing a single Indian identity and culture, have we ended up with an entire community living in isolation from the others with no common bonds between them? The answer holds the key to India's survival as a nation and a nation-state.