Back in 2007, British Prime Minister David Cameron spent a night in a Muslim household in Birmingham to see how community action had transformed a former red light district into a now flourishing neighbourhood.
Abdullah and Shahida Rehman, a neighbourhood warden and dinner lady at Balsall Heath Forum, had welcomed Cameron into their home who was then only 16 months into his role as Conservative leader.
The politician was said to be so impressed that Balsall Heath was called the inspiration for the ‘big society’.
Cameron later wrote a touching thank you note, approving of the “British Asian way of life”, adding “I found myself thinking that it is mainstream Britain which needs to integrate more ... not the other way around.”
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The British premier has kept in touch with Abdullah Rehman and his family, inviting them to meet him when he visits the city, hosting them at Eid parties in Downing Street, sending Christmas cards and even sending handwritten letters to Amina and Zainab. He even wrote a touching condolence letter after Rehman’s mother died.
However, eight years later Abdullah Rehman, who is now the chief executive of the Balsall Heath Forum, said that the PM’s change of tone towards Muslim communities risks making people feel alienated and stigmatized.
In a speech last month Cameron had said parts of the Muslim community were “quietly condoning” views that bolstered extremist ideology.
Rehman took exception to this and said, “The Muslim community is loyal and committed to protecting this country. I have not spoken to one person who condones what is happening [in Syria and Iraq].”
Rehman, whose father owned a shop, and whose grandfather arrived in the UK in the 1950s, further added that Cameron should be saying that the majority of Muslims are doing good and we are trying to fight the tiny, tiny minority.
“The community feel they are being targeted. The headlines in newspapers are different when it is a Muslim who has committed violence. If you look at [Zack Davies, who attempted to murder a Sikh dentist in January] wasn’t that terrorism? It made me afraid for myself and my children – will they be attacked by someone with supremacist views?” he contined.
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Rehman has already written to the prime minister, urging him to visit again so he could see how hard communities are working to fight against extremism.
The Forum, he added, was working with a group that supports young substance abusers – including those at risk of radicalisation – and has even renamed its annual youth awards in honour of Alan Henning, who was murdered by Islamic State last year.
Moreover, Rehman said Cameron had replied to his latest invitation, but only to say that his diary was full and “he will try to visit when there is a free spot”.
However, if the prime minister came visiting again, Rehman is determined to say, “I love this country, my father loved it and my children love it. So don’t take away our contribution.”
This article originally appeared on The Guardian
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