British Muslims should not be forced to “assimilate”, the country’s most senior counter terrorism officer has said, as he called for greater understanding of marginalised communities.
Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu, who is the country’s highest ranking Asian officer, said that in a successful, integrated society, people should be free to practise their religion and culture openly rather than having to hide away.
He also said more needed to be done to eradicate poverty, improve education and increase social mobility if community cohesion was to be improved.
But he admitted Prevent, the Government’s flagship counter terrorism strategy, had been “badly handled” and warned it needed to be more community led if it was to be successful.
Mr Basu said it was no longer enough to rely on just the police and security services to win the fight against extremism and terrorism, explaining that wider society also had a role.
He said the majority of those who were seeking to carry out attacks were British born or raised and therefore more needed to be done to explore social problems they were experiencing.
Rejecting the idea that British Muslims needed to assimilate, Mr Basu, who is of Indian heritage, said: “Assimilation implies that I have to hide myself in order to get on. We should not be a society that accepts that.
“You should be able to practise your culture or religion openly and still be accepting of others, and others be accepting of you. That is a socially inclusive society.”
His comments come amid the ongoing debate around the best way to integrate Britain’s diverse population.
Boris Johnson recently said it was vital that immigrants who came to Britain learned to speak English if they were to enjoy the benefits this country had to offer.
Speaking during the Conservative Party leadership campaign, Mr Johnson praised the “waves” of migrants who had come to the UK and “bought into our national culture”, but said too many could not speak English.
He said: “I want everybody who comes here and makes their lives here to be and to feel British, that is the most important thing. And to learn English.
“Too often there are parts of our country, parts of London still and other cities as well where English is not spoken by some people as their first language. And that needs to be changed.”
In 2016, Dame Louise Casey, the Government’s integration tsar, said a “common language” would help to “heal rifts across Britain” and called for a target to be set by which everyone in the country could speak English.
There has also been a fierce debate over the rights of Muslim women to wear the full face veil in public.
Mr Johnson came in for criticism when he compared women who wear burqas and niqabs to letter boxes, but he also stressed he believed in the right of people to wear what they wanted.
In 2011 France became the first country in Europe to pass a law banning the full face veil.
Since 2014 teachers in Britain have been required by law to teach British values in schools, but there have been fears that Muslim schools have failed to encourage greater integration with other communities.
Among the British values that are now required by law to be taught in schools is the tolerance of those of different faiths and beliefs.
In an interview with The Guardian, Mr Basu said the UK needed to look closer to home to understand what drove people to terrorism.
He explained that the majority of those who were seeking to carry out attacks were British born or raised and therefore more needed to be done to explore social problems they were experiencing.
He said people who experienced poverty and deprivation whatever their backgrounds and culture, were more “malleable” to terrorist recruitment.
Mr Basu said: “Policies that go towards more social inclusion, more social mobility and more education are much more likely to drive down violence … than all the policing and state security apparatus put together. It is much more likely to have a positive effect on society.
“The prescription for me is around social inclusion – it’s social mobility, it’s education, it’s opportunity.”