Following police action in a high profile suspected UK terror case last week, one of Birmingham‚Äôs senior Muslim leaders, Dr Mohammad Naseem, chair of the city‚Äôs Central Mosque, has said that Muslims in Britain are being labelled as a threat in a way that has parallels with the treatment of Jews under Hitler.
Dr Naseem described arrests in the city as an example of the government justifying its foreign and domestic political agenda. He claimed Muslims were being ‚Äúbullied‚Äù and that the framing of anti-terrorism laws was a threat to freedom.
The remarks, coming from someone who Midlands police says has been cooperative in the past in condemning those prepared to use violence, will be seen as symbolic of the huge distance in perception between the authorities and large numbers of Muslims.
‚ÄúThis is a persecuting course of action that the government has taken‚Äù, claimed Dr Naseem. ‚ÄúThey have invented this perception of a threat. To justify that, they have to maintain incidents to prove something is going on. There is dismay and people feel they are being persecuted unjustly‚Ä¶ If there is a reason, the process should be open and for everybody to see what is happening.‚Äù
He called on police either to charge the nine men being detained or release them, but added: ‚ÄúI do trust the West Midlands Police ‚Äî but the orders are coming from the political establishment. Blair is under suspicion himself. I am asking people to be calm.‚Äù
According to media reports, thousands gathered to hear Dr Naseem‚Äôs comments during Friday prayers. Many continue to believe that the arrests will turn out to be a repeat of those in Forest Gate, London, in summer 2006, when a man was shot in the shoulder as police searched his home for traces of a chemical weapon. He and his brother were released without charge and no evidence of the weapon was found.
Sir Iqbal Sacranie, the former head of the umbrella group the Muslim Council of Britain, commented: ‚ÄúI wouldn‚Äôt have used the Nazi reference but I know from the number of calls that we are getting that people are really disturbed by the onslaught on the Muslim community.‚Äù
He added: ‚ÄúOpinion polls have been created giving a bleak picture of Muslim views which do not represent the majority. We are now having trial by media of the men who have been arrested but not charged. The mainstream Muslim organisations and community are being demonised and are under siege.‚Äù
Other commentators say that voices of alarm do not represent the views of the majority, and that a substantial part of the problem is the desire of the media for instant comment based on defining people primarily by religion, and by the remarks of community leaders.
Others suggest that the substantial numbers listening to Dr Naseem indicate a genuine underlying fear in significant sections of Asian communities.
West Midlands police and the government say that the presence and activity of terror cells is a reality, and that to describe talk of a terror threat as unfounded is wrong.