By Prasun Sonwalkar
A respected anti-racism trust has said that Islamophobia is becoming institutionalised in Britain, particularly after September 11.
?If not addressed, this could lead to ´time-bombs´ of backlash and bitterness,? it said in a major report released this week.
Findings by a National Commission into Islam in Britain reveal that the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks had made life more difficult for Muslims. It criticised public bodies for failing to address institutional Islamophobia.
The report is the latest publication from the Commission on British Muslims and Islamophobia, a think-tank, first set up by the anti-racism organisation, the Runnymede Trust.
Its first report in 1997 made 60 recommendations and warned that the government and communities themselves had to do more to improve the situation of Muslims in the UK.
It called for changes in the law to better protect Muslim communities and a major effort to bring its people into public life.
Launching the new report, Richard Stone, chairman of the Commission, said that the key recommendations had been ignored.
?On February 15, 2003, there took place the biggest public demonstration ever in British history [the march against the war in Iraq],? said Stone.
?But within weeks, the wonderful solidarity seen in February 15 seemed to be unravelling.
?There is now renewed talk of a clash of civilisations and mounting concern that the already fragile foothold gained by Muslim communities in Britain is threatened by ignorance and intolerance.?
Since 9/11, communities had experienced greater hostility, including increased attacks against individuals and mosques, the report said.
It criticised established anti-racism organisations for failing to do enough to combat anti-Muslim prejudice.
Credit for any positive changes since 1997 had to go largely to Muslim groups themselves that had become more organised, the report found.
There was a feeling among some Muslims, particularly the young, that they did not belong to Britain. This resentment and disaffection represented a time bomb that needed to be dealt with now, it said.
Abduljalil Sajid, an Imam and advisor to the Commission, said he believed many elements of the UK were ?institutionally Islamophobic?.
?Since the September attacks, the single most important concern has been police harassment of Muslims,? said Sajid. ?Even one of the country´s Muslim peers, Lord Ahmed, has been stopped twice by the police.?
Stone added: ?The only area where there has been a major change is within the Muslim communities themselves.
?The govern-ment has not taken on board, in a deep way, the anti-Muslim prejudice in this country.?
The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), which was among those to submit its opinion to the Commission, said that ?very little progress? had been made to tackle Islamophobia.
Secretary General Iqbal Sacranie said: ?We have been witnessing a relentless increase in hostility towards Islam and British Muslims, and it is clear that existing ´race relations´ bodies have been either unable or unwilling to combat this phenomenon effectively.?
?Islamophobia is becoming institutionalised,? he added.
Revered Buddhist monk dies in Birmingham
Rewata Dhama, Birmingham´s first Buddhist monk who studied Hindi and Sanskrit in India, has died. He was 74.
Dhama was born in Myanmar on December 12, 1929 and entered a Buddhist monastery as a young novice, taking full monastic ordination at the age of 20.
After studying Theravada Buddhism under scholar monks, he passed the highest examination in scriptural studies at the age of 23.
In 1956 he went to India to study Hindi and Sanskrit as a State scholar, then continued to study Indian philosophy and Mahayana Buddhism in Varanasi, where he obtained an MA in Sanskrit in 1964 and a Ph.D in 1967.
An acclaimed author, he later joined the university´s academic staff and acted as general editor of a Buddhist encyclopaedia.
While in India he was on the Buddhist committee that welcomed the Dalai Lama after his flight to India.
He got to know the 11-year old Aung San Su Kyi, the future leader of the democratic movement in Burma, whose mother was then Ambassador to India.
He was also invited to Beijing at the height of the cultural revolution to attend to Prince Sihanouk´s mother, who lay on her deathbed. Importantly for his future plans, during this period he also became the custodian of Buddha relics once belonging to the Burmese royal family.
In 1975, Dhama was invited to England where he established a Buddhist monastery, with Birmingham as his base.
From there he journeyed to lead retreats and teach Buddhism at various centres in Europe, and in north, central and south America.
In 1998, he founded the Dhama Talaka Peace pagoda in Ladywood, alongside the gleaming gold and white
Birmingham Buddhist temple.
He placed the Buddha relics into the spire of the temple, which saw Birmingham achieve the unlikely status of a holy city and pilgrimage site.
During this time, Dhama´s non-political stance and dedication to the cause of reconciliation also gained him the confidence, not simply of bodies like Amnesty and the UN, but also of the Myanmar military authorities.
In 1994 he was invited to act as intermediary between the Myanmar military authorities and Aung San Su Kyi.
He also founded Birmingham´s first purpose-built monastery, the Sangharama monastery, and the Dhammatalaka peace pagoda.
Yann Lovelock, senior devotee of the Birmingham Buddhist vihara, said: ?His gentle, humorous and compassionate demeanour won him friends and esteem all over the world.
?From the very beginning he was insistent that Buddhists should be at the forefront of the dialogue and that we should not be looking on ourselves as competitors but colleagues of those of other faiths.?
(The writer is a UK-based journalist and can be contacted on [email protected])