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British MP: Muslim Prejudice 'Socially Acceptable'

Britain's Conservative Party co-chairman, and Minister without Portfolio, Sayeeda Warsi arrives for a cabinet meeting at Downing Street in London (File Photo).

A member of the British government said Thursday that prejudice against Islam has become socially acceptable in Britain. Baroness Warsi spoke as the country's Home Office blocked a U.S. preacher from entering Britain. Pastor Terry Jones caused outrage last year when he made plans for his church to burn copies of the Koran on the anniversary of September 11.

Baroness Sayeeda Warsi is the first Muslim woman to sit in a British government cabinet. Speaking on Thursday, she said prejudice against Muslims in Britain had become socially acceptable - she said it had “passed the dinner-table test”.

Warsi spoke to the BBC before giving a speech on the subject. She said more needs to be done to turn the tide.

"This is about drawing a line as to the state of anti-religious hatred or bigotry in Britain today," she said.

Warsi said Muslims are regularly divided into “moderate” or “extremist” and she said this attitude is patronizing. Much of the blame, she said, is with Britain’s media.

According to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life there are almost three million Muslims living in Britain - around 5 percent of the population.

Anne Gray, from the London-based Campaign Against Criminalizing Communities, agrees that prejudice against Muslims is rife in Britain. But she says this socially accepted stigma is tied to attitudes within the government.

She highlights Britain’s controversial “stop and search” policing policy, which human rights groups say target ethnic minorities unfairly.

"The stop and search policy I think is a harassment of Muslims," she said. "When the police seek to defend it, it is again on the grounds that some degree of ethnic or cultural profiling is appropriate from what they know about where terrorists come from.

"A major worry," she says, "is the emergence of the English Defense League, a far-right political group in Britain that opposes the spread of Islamism in Britain.

“We've seen the English Defense League phenomenon go up in the last couple of years, which is beginning to target Muslim communities as the alien 'other' with the notion that they are antagonistic to British values and I find that extremely unfortunate and very unjustified.”

The English Defense League recently invited a controversial U.S. pastor to speak at an event in Britain. Pastor Terry Jones sparked widespread protests around the world when he called on his American church to burn copies of the Koran on the anniversary of September 11. On Wednesday Britain’s Home Office said Jones will not be allowed to enter Britain because the government opposes all forms of extremism.