In so many ways, it's an example of how government thinking doesn't change. It clearly wasn't meant to suggest imams aren't doing enough to emphasise how you can be a Muslim and thoroughly British; it just comes across that way because there's nothing Eric Pickles likes more than talking at people rather than talking with them. It also shows how engrained communalism is, government reaching out solely to religious leaders still considered the equivalent of communicating with an entire minority. Those already radicalised or most vulnerable to extremism are far more likely to listen to their parents than leaders at the mosque they may well have already clashed with, but of course they are the ones who must do this and must do that. To be patronising, tone deaf and worse than useless at the same time takes particular skill though, for which much credit must go to the communities department.
After all, where do you even begin with the melange of Britishisms Pickles throws at the wall in the hope of some of them sticking? What is British identity? What is a British Islam, a British Muslim? What are British values, and how can they be Muslim values at the same time? I don't have the first idea, because almost every single person will respond in a different way, which if you were being charitable you could say would be very British. The government itself doesn't know either, as we saw when they demanded schools teach British values in the aftermath of the Trojan Horse panic; err, it's the rule of law, democracy, free speech, that sort of thing. Except we're more than happy to waive all three of those core values if necessary, especially if it means continuing to ally with the country more responsible than any other for the spread of extremist Islam, say. Of those three values, only democracy is truly embedded in British society and generally respected, with the other two often deemed surplus to requirements, the rule of law especially if it gets in the way. And free speech only goes so far, as we've gone over enough recently.
If you wanted to be additionally glib, you could say asking how faith in Islam can be a part of British identity is very much unBritish in itself. We just get on with it, and considering the potential there has been for unrest over identity and integration, for the most part we've done pretty well so far. Not for us the neuroses of the French, with the rise of the far-right and warnings about the simmering radicalism of the banlieues, although for all the mocking of the idea of Birmingham being an outpost of the caliphate it would be absurd to ignore completely how in some areas a very conservative interpretation of Islam is the norm, with all that entails both for women and rebellious youth.
It was all so very different at yesterday's Countering Anti-Semitism event in London. No opaque statements about demonstrating how faith in Judaism can be a part of British identity, despite the government acknowledging acts of extremism are not representative of Judaism, probably because it was Theresa May on duty rather than Pickles. May instead courted votes, saying how she never thought she would see the day when members of the Jewish community would express fears about staying here. Rather than perhaps allay those fears by pointing out how there is no specific threat at the moment to anyone, May went on to quote the French prime minister who spoke of how if 100,000 Jews left France the French republic would be judged a failure, pointed remarks that alluded directly back to the Vichy regime. Repeating that same message except with France replaced with Britain doesn't then really work, and May then blunted it further by saying without all the other religious minorities Britain also wouldn't be Britain. Nor would it without foreign students then, right? As for whether Britain will still be Britain without page 3 girls, who knows?
The idea that perhaps this fearmongering over the perceived threat to Jews might be precisely what the extremists want doesn't seem to occur. It also further highlights how specific targets can have a more dramatic impact than indiscriminate attacks, giving ideas to so-called "lone wolves". The additional patrols being introduced, while in some cases a sensible precaution if used temporarily, can also lead to the exact opposite of the intended effect, or indeed, perhaps that response is exactly what is intended.
Certainly when last night's 10 O'Clock news dedicated almost 15 minutes to varying reports either directly on or connected to Islamic extremism, including a mother complaining about how she had received no help from the government on "deradicalising" her son after he returned from Syria, it's not difficult to see why some believe an attack is inevitable. The challenges of radicalisation cannot be dealt with from Whitehall alone, wrote Pickles, in stating the bleeding obvious mode. Perhaps Whitehall could at least try and deal with the root causes of the current anxiety though, which sadly involves reiterating once again just how counter-productive our policy on first Iraq and now Syria has been. The blame however rests only with "these men of hate [who] have no place in our mosques or any place of worship" (Pickles again). Good to know that you don't need to so much as be a Muslim to declare takfir, and I look forward to our Eric deciding in the future just who can and who can't be admitted to a Sikh temple also. Clearly, as David Cameron declared, it's me rather than Pickles with the problem.