Kelly: We must raise our game against extremism

There is a “battle of hearts and minds” to be won among some young British Muslims, the communities secretary admitted last night.

Ruth Kelly said the government and community leaders must work together to help tackle extremism – but warned that Muslim leaders must “raise their game”.

She was speaking after a day of meetings with Muslim leaders on how to cope with the radicalisation of many young people, in the wake of last week’s thwarted terror plot.

“This is all of our problem. We have all got to raise our game. They have got to play their part, and they recognise that, in a more comprehensive fashion than has happened up until now,” Ms Kelly told BBC Radio Four’s PM.

“They have got to reach out to younger people – mosques have got to become more accessible to young people, they have got to enable young British Muslims to become imams, or community leaders, in a way that has not been possible now.”

She accepted the government must also take action to ensure that young people, “particularly those who disagree with us passionately on certain issues”, can get their voices heard through democratic means.

“There is certainly a battle of hearts and minds to be won among some young, British Muslims,” Ms Kelly noted.

Yesterday’s series of meetings are part of a wider drive that began following the July 7th bombings last year, when government started to work with the Muslim community to establish why young men turn to violence.

Khurshid Ahmed, chairman of the British Muslim Forum, raised concerns about the influence that imams and mosques are having on young Muslims.

“They do have some influence over the young people who are perhaps alienated, or feel alienated from our society,” he told the BBC after his discussions with Ms Kelly.

“And it is probably a growing number and that is what worries us – we do want to make sure that it becomes limited.”

However, a spokesman for the Union of Muslim Organisations, Sayed Aziz Pasha, repeated calls for a public inquiry into the July 7th bombings, in which four British-born Muslims blew themselves up on the London transport system.

“We urge the prime minister to hold a sort of public inquiry to find out what are the causes,” he told the same programme.

“We have been saying it in our meetings, the imams have been saying it in their mosques, they’re asking all the people to be peaceful. Islam is a religion of peace and given brotherhood.”

At the weekend, a letter signed by nearly 40 Muslim organisations and individuals was sent to Tony Blair warning that his foreign policy was one of the reasons behind extremism in the UK. However, the government has refused to acknowledge any link.