[PM David Cameron and Baroness Warsi meeting Imam Allama Qamaruz-Zaman Azmi at Jamia Mosque, Manchester]
By Musa Naqvi in Manchester
Prime Minister, David Cameron, is looking at the growing problem of attacks against the Muslim community after initially remaining silent in the aftermath of a series of bombings targeting mosques last month.
“I condemn these attacks absolutely, but more important than condemnation is action,” Cameron said belatedly during a visit to Jamia Mosque in Manchester as the month of Ramadan drew to a close on August 8.
“I think we can say that this Government has taken action. The Police have acted very robustly in response to these attacks. Also the Government has changed the [counter terrorism] PREVENT Strategy to make sure that it was to combat all forms of extremism and violence, including extremism and violence against the Muslim communities.”
“I recognise the seriousness of this problem and that’s one of the reasons my extremism taskforce at its next meeting will be looking at the problem of violence against Muslim communities themselves,” he said after facing criticism by The Muslim News and Muslim community for not being strong enough in his response.
A series of attacks against Muslim targets included three terrorist bombings targeted at different mosques in West Midlands in July. When questioned at the time by The Muslim News Editor, Ahmed J Versi, why the Prime Minister had not condemned the attacks, his spokesperson simply said Cameron was “concerned by the recent events”.
“I did, I’ve condemned all of the bomb attacks against all the mosques and I condemn these attacks utterly,” Cameron insisted when challenged at Jamia Mosque. “I think it’s very important as I’ve said, the Police pursue those responsible, it’s completely and utterly unacceptable in our country,” he told The Muslim News.
“I would argue that this Government has done more than any previous government to combat Islamophobia in all its forms. We’ve changed the prevent strategy. We’ve empowered the police, we’ve worked with the community to monitor the outbreaks of Islamophobia and I don’t rule out taking more steps.”
His visit to the mosque was to engage with the Muslim community as festivities of Eid al-Fitr began. In attendance, Minister for Faith and Communities, Baroness Warsi, described the past month as “a difficult Ramadan for the British Muslim Community because of the incidents in Woolwich and the backlash” that followed.
“There’s been huge concern at the heart of Government about the attacks on the British Muslim Community. Immediately after Tipton within hours I issued a statement which was followed by a visit by the Police Minister (James Brokenshire) and of course comments by the PM as well,” Warsi said.
“Let me make one thing clear, that this Government has done more in relation to tackling the scourge of anti-Muslim hatred than any government. We were the first government to set up the cross government working group on Islamophobia.”
When challenged that Cameron should have been more forthcoming in his condemnation, the Baroness said: “Well I’m part of the PM’s Government, I’m part of his cabinet, we work incredibly closely on this issue of extremism. I sit on the extremism task force. Indeed as you’ve heard from the PM the next meeting at the start of September has been allocated to just deal with the issue of anti-Muslim hatred and Islamophobia.”
During this visit, the mosque congregation spoke to Cameron on a number of different issues, sharing their personal experiences including the negativity experienced by children at school and women wearing head scarves.
A spokesperson for the mosque, Dr Waqar Azmi, added that “we spoke particularly around the security of the mosques, particularly following the Woolwich attacks, we asked if mosques could have CCTV Cameras just like Jewish schools and synagogues” - reflective of the unease and the threat felt by the Muslim community of late.
The Prime Minster was praiseworthy of the mosque’s efforts in tackling extremism commending “the Imam for the work he’s done in the community”. He recognised that “Islam was a religion of peace” and of a need to “distinguish between that and the violent extremism of a very small minority of people”.