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26th February, 2007

Ruth Kelly speech to Birmingham British Muslim Event 26th Feb 2007

Monday 14:12

Speech By Ruth Kelly MP

Birmingham, British Muslim Forum Event

Monday 26 February

Introduction

I'm very pleased to be here.

It's an honour to be invited to the Forum's first consultation event.

This is an important opportunity to look to the future. To think about how our different communities can live together for years to come.

But perhaps I can start by talking about the past.

By celebrating some of the achievements of our diverse society.

Where are Are Coming From

Whenever I come to the West Midlands, I'm reminded how much it has to teach the rest of us.

Over the years people have come from all over the UK, and from all over the world, to make the West Midlands their home.

Only London is more ethnically diverse.

For generations people of all backgrounds, races and religions have lived here in tolerance.

And just as, at a national level, our diversity has enriched us immeasurably, so diversity has driven the West Midlands' success in many spheres.

From business to politics, from music to sport.

Think how much poorer we would be without people like Sir Bill Morris, Dr Sarinder Singh Sahota, or Kelly Holmes.

And never have the West Midlands' diverse communities been stronger than when united behind common goals.

Take Birmingham's role in the Anti-Apartheid movement, reaching out to residents of all races and faiths to protest against manifest injustice.

That experience of coming together: of standing up for what's right: and of facing down intolerance, will be vital as we face today's challenges.

Old Challenges

Some of those challenges are old as the hills.

There's nothing new, for example, about prejudice and intolerance.

There have always been people who have sought to hold others back because of the colour of their skin, their beliefs, their gender, and any number of other arbitrary criteria.

And the far right are still with us, still poisonous. Still seeking to divide our communities with their lies.

We should never stop striving to bring down the barriers that frustrate people's aspirations: and we must never be complacent about the far right.

And we have a great deal more to do to extend opportunity and prosperity to all - to all parts of the country, and to all different communities.

A New Challenge

But alongside these old familiar problems, we face a new challenge today.

It is the tiny minority who foment divisions within Muslim communities.

Who seek justification in Islam for acts of cruelty and terror.

There are just a handful of people who are attracted by the twisted interpretations of one of the world's great religions.

But we all know how disastrous the consequences of the actions of just a handful of people can be.

They have an impact not just on individuals and families, but on communities and our society as a whole.

So it is incumbent on us all to tackle extremism.

Everyone has a part to play -Government, communities, and individual citizens alike.

And it means actions of various kinds.

A Security Response

There will be times when the police and security services need to take action.

They have an incredibly difficult job carrying out their investigations, balancing the protection of us all whilst managing the impact on our communities.

They need our support because it is increasingly clear violent extremists are plotting to harm all of us, irrespective of race, faith or community.

I met the West Midlands Police this morning.

They told me about their efforts to reassure local communities in recent months.

I commend their efforts - and know how seriously they want to learn the lessons about handling sensitive situations.

And it helps no-one when some people claim the UK is a police state.

First, it's nonsense.

Second, it's dangerous nonsense. It feeds the victim mentality that extremists seek to exploit. It tries to drive a wedge between us.

So I applaud the restraint and dignity shown by the vast majority of Birmingham's Muslim community during recent weeks.

I applaud, too, the leadership shown by this Forum at a difficult time.

Winning Hearts and Minds

A constructive approach from all parties is immensely valuable when a security response is necessary.

But a security response on its own will not be, cannot be, enough.

In the longer term our goal must be not just to stop terrorist atrocities, but to stop people wanting to commit them in the first place.

This means winning hearts and minds.

Reasserting the common values that are the foundation of a civilised society.

I've spoken before about the non-negotiable values that the vast majority of us share:

* Respect for the rule of law * Freedom of speech * Equality of opportunity * Respect for others and * Responsibility towards others

They belong to us all, and should be at the core of a common sense of citizenship.

The vast majority of Muslims, and people of all faiths, adhere to them.

But making them resonate with some people, including a small group of younger Muslims, is a genuine challenge.

Central Government shouldn't try to provide all the answers. It can't.

Instead, Government needs to engage with communities, enabling them to build their own resilience to the extremists' messages.

It's about local leaders who understand the tensions and the problems in their communities taking action themselves.

So your contribution is absolutely vital.

I welcome the grassroots work that is already being done here in Birmingham, and that it already making a difference.

Such as this event. It is an excellent example of how the community and public sector can come together to tackle the alienation and disadvantage that too many Muslims experience.

I very much welcome the charter of citizenship that the Forum is launching today. Its message is one of solidarity and confidence. About being proud to be Muslim, proud to be British. About reaching out to form strong links with the wider community and with other faith groups. And about securing the welfare and engagement of British Muslim women.

There are other excellent examples of good practice here in the West Midlands, too.

The Dudley Forum has been particularly successful in engaging young people to explore ways to tackle extremism and Islamophobia. Dudley's "Green Light" project has started to think about ways to dispel misconceptions about Islam, and promote tolerance.

And I very much welcome the Islamic Resource Centre's proposals for a public debate around terrorism, and young Muslims' responses to it.

I'm proud that the Government has supported all these projects.

But they have worked because the local community here in the West Midlands has displayed real leadership. Because your voice is more powerful than mine. And because your actions can be more effective.

And it's this kind of work that the Government wants to continue to support.

That's why last month I launched a £5m fund to help local authorities work with their local communities to counter violent extremism.

I look forward to the many projects that this funding will support in future, here in the West Midlands and elsewhere.

Moving Forward Together

And as we move forward together, let me raise three key questions:

First, are we doing enough to reach those most at risk from extremist messages - particularly disaffected young men?

Extremists try to exploit myths and distortions.

Young people need to hear from respected community scholars instead.

And they need to have the chance for open and informed discussion about citizenship and faith.

Second, how do we build on what we have done to establish dialogue about extremism?

Dialogue is a vital part of preventing extremism. It's not talking for the sake of talking. It's about recognising the problems in our communities, taking a hard-headed look at the ways to tackle them.

A lot of good work has been done so far to establish forums where people can have their say. We need to carry this work on, and take it further.

Third, how can mainstream community leaders, imams and scholars make themselves heard to a wider audience?

Too often in the public eye, it is the more extreme figures who get the most attention.

If no-one else's voice is heard, it's all to easy to see how the public can think that one view is representative of wider Muslim opinion.

That can cause misunderstandings and tension.

So it's important to ensure that mainstream leaders, those who really understand and speak for their communities, have the opportunity to put their point of view across.

I look forward to hearing what you think about all these issues. And I look forward to working with you in the years ahead to make the British Muslim Forum's Charter a reality.

Conclusion

Your work here in the West Midlands is an example to the whole country.

I commend your leadership - your efforts to reach out to young and old, men and women alike - and your connection with other communities.

And let me assure you that Government stands with you.

Tackling extremists is not your problem alone.

This is a shared problem.

It is a shared vision of the kind of society we want to be, and the values we all hold dear.

Violent extremism seeks to drive us apart. We will overcome it together

(ends)

ISSUED ON BEHALF OF DCLG BY GNN WEST MIDLANDS.

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