PROMINENT BRITISH MUSLIM ASSAILS PREJUDICE (uk) 20/1/2011- Stirring a potentially explosive debate over faith and politics, the first Muslim woman to serve in the British cabinet said on Thursday that prejudice towards the country's Islamic minority is so prevalent that it is seen by many as normal and uncontroversial and has "passed the dinner table test" "It seems to me that Islamophobia has now crossed the threshold of middle-class respectability," Baroness Sayeed Warsi told an audience at the University of Leicester in the English Midlands. "For far too many people, Islamophobia is seen as a legitimate, even commendable, thing" Lady Warsi is the chairperson of Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservative party and a minister without portfolio in the coalition government, making her Britain's highest-ranking Muslim leader. Her comments seemed likely to add fuel to a long-simmering debate that has never been far from the political forefront, particularly since the London suicide bombings of July 7, 2005.
The attacks by four British Muslims, killing 52 travelers on the bus and subway system, opened a passionate discussion both about what Muslim leaders depicted as a deep sense of alienation among some young Muslims and about the resentment of those complaints among some Britons. Lady Warsi said terrorist offenses committed by a small number of Muslims should not be used to condemn all who follow Islam. But, she said, terrorists "should face social rejection and alienation across their society, and their acts must not be used as an opportunity to tar all Muslims" who, according to the most resent statistics, represent less than five percent of Britain's population of 60 million. Many of them are descended from families who emigrated to Britain from Pakistan in the 1960s and provided cheap labor in industrial cities.
The remarks were widely publicized in Britain throughout Thursday and drew some sharp remarks from commentators such as Lord Norman Tebbit, an arch-conservative who once devised the so-called "cricket test" to determine the loyalties of Pakistani immigrants by the way they behaved at cricket matches between English and visiting Pakistani teams. "The Muslim faith was not discussed over the dinner tables of England, nor in the saloon bars, before large numbers of Muslims came here to our country," Lord Tebbit said in a blog on The Daily Telegraph Web site. But, blogging on the left-wing New Statesman Web site, columnist Mehdi Hasan said that, despite ideological differences, "I am delighted by her latest intervention precisely because I share her faith and am a co-religionist. Why wouldn't I be? Like every other Muslim I know, I've been waiting years for a leading politician to speak out against the growing, depressing and nasty anti-Muslim bigotry that has disfigured our public and private discourse"
In a statement, Farooq Murad, the secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, an umbrella group, said Lady Warsi's remarks were welcome because "unfortunately, the language used with reference to Muslims is feeding into stigmatization of one section of our society" It was not clear if her remarks had the endorsement of Prime Minister Cameron. "He thinks that equality in society is important, and he's wholly against any inequality or discrimination," a spokesman for him said, speaking in return for anonymity under departmental rules. "The prime minister's view is that he thinks it's an important debate"
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