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British Police Work on Improved Relations with Muslim Communities

In the aftermath of the London bombings of July 7th, British officials have been working to improve their image in the Muslim community. VOA's Jeff Swicord takes a look at some of the efforts to get the Muslim community more involved in mainstream British society and deter radicalism.

London's Notting Hill carnival has always symbolized diversity and ethnic unity. But this year's event took on new meaning after what are known here as the “7/7 bombings” by Islamist extremists in the city's subway and bus system.

Lewis Benn is one of the carnival's organizers. "Everybody knows the unfortunate incidence that took place on the 7/7, and this is our answer to say we are not divided, we are all one. We come from all backgrounds and we are all responding with our feet to show strength and unity at this great event."

Ethnic diversity has always been one of the city of London's strong points. Twenty-five percent of London's 7.5 million residents are non-white. But for decades city services, such as Metropolitan Police Service, did not reflect the ethnic makeup of the communities they serve. Particularly the Muslim community, which is estimated at 600,000 people.

Mike Howard is a community liaison superintendent with the Kensington/Chelsea precinct. He told us, "London is a very diverse community and we need a police service that reflects everybody in London. So, we need people from all backgrounds that can understand all the differences the cultural nuances of how that community works, if you like."

London Police commissioner Sir Ian Blair had already announced that he wanted 2,000 new Muslim police officers on the streets. But after the 7/7 bombings demands intensified to hire more Muslim officers. Currently there are just 300 officers in the Association of Muslim Police. They include Atiq Haque, who emigrated in 1983 from Bangladesh.

"I am pretty sure it will help the community, with me being a police officer from a Muslim background,” he said. “Obviously I would know better perhaps than other colleagues in terms of certain aspects of the religion and do forth."

London's Metropolitan Police Service, or MPS, is aware it has an image problem within the Muslim community, particularly after the accidental shooting of a Brazilian man who was thought to be a bombing suspect. They also have taken heat for enforcing new anti-terrorism legislation that gives the police broad powers of arrest. But they are aware of their shortcomings.

"I think that we are more aware now with the need to engage now with the Muslim community,” said Mike Howard. “Perhaps there are some elements within the Muslim community that we need to have a better understanding of. I think that the events of the 7th of July and the 21st of July frightened people. Some of the good thing that came out of it is that I sit on a community group, which represents a wide range of people on this borough. And it has enabled us to get much closer and gain an understanding and appreciation of everybody's views."

Because of the high Muslim population in their borough, all officers from the Kensington/Chelsea station will be attending awareness training at a local Muslim cultural center.

Mr. Howard continued, "There will be more officers going there to take part in this awareness training about ‘what does Islam mean?’ And some of the misconceptions about Islam that are portrayed in the media. Just to create an awareness of the Islamic faith and what it stands for."

Muslim community leaders have also done some reassessment in the wake of the bombings. According to a study, most Muslims feel at home in Britain. Fifty percent of them where born here. Many leaders, like Dr. Daud Abdullah with the Muslim Council of Britain, say one of the best deterrents to radicalism is to get young people involved in the political process.

"We want them to be given an opportunity to listen to analysis and commentaries on issue that effect their lives,” said Dr. Abdullah. “We do not want them to think that the mosque is a place for rituals, if we do this, if we give them the impression that politics does not work, and there is no place for them in the political process, then they will seek solutions elsewhere."

The Muslim Council of Britain plans to hold a series of seminars on politics targeted at young people, in hopes of encouraging them to one day run for office.