Muslims look to British-born lawmaker

Member of Parliament calls for confrontation with Islamic extremists


DEWSBURY, England - The 100 or so Muslim community leaders who gathered recently at the Taleem Community Center in this northern town no doubt knew Shahid Malik - one of the country's four Muslim members of Parliament - would take a strong line.

Just days after the July 7 bombings in London, police identified Mohammad Sidique Khan, a Dewsbury resident and the son-in-law of a prominent community leader, as one of the bombers. The three others came from just up the hill in Leeds.

Within hours, top security officials and the press bore down on this largely middle-class community. Right-wing groups that have led anti-immigrant campaigns in Dewsbury seemed ready to go on the offensive.

Malik, who represents Dewsbury in Parliament and is the only British-born Muslim in Parliament, had come to tell Muslims at mosques and community centers here of the harsh new reality they faced.

"The extremism in our community," he told the Taleem audience, "is now our problem."

After the July 7 bombings and the attempts two weeks later, Muslim leaders in Britain are taking a harshly critical position against long-entrenched militant Islamists.

Many leaders want police to deal with the agitators and pamphleteers, who were kicked out of mosques long ago but who have legal rights to continue to spread their views.

Even after plainclothes officers killed an innocent Brazilian man, Jean Charles de Menezes, many Muslim groups repeated support for the "shoot to kill" policy for suspected terrorists. Some leaders, like Malik, are calling on Muslims to root out the militants in their midst.

For Malik, who had taken office only 10 weeks earlier, the bombings posed a momentous challenge. As a rising star in the Labor Party, his need to juggle the needs of Muslim residents with the broader needs of his district has become even more urgent and dramatic.

As he makes his rounds in Parliament, on Downing Street and in Dewsbury, Malik is honing the image of a modern leader for the Muslim population, someone who looks and feels every bit English, is keenly tied to Muslim roots, but will not tolerate those with militant views speaking for Muslims.

To some, Malik is the great hope of a misunderstood community; to others, he is a politician seeking the spotlight. He has been criticized for holding British Muslims responsible for the attacks, when for years they have maintained that killing any civilian is murder.

Osama Saeed, spokesman for the Muslim Association of Britain, writing in The Guardian recently, objected to Malik's position as a tacit admission of negligence.

Malik says, though, that he hopes his tough stance will encourage others to speak out:

"You saw me deviate 100 percent from the norm, saying it is not enough to condemn - you must confront. People criticized me for it, but most people ended up standing with me."

In some ways, Malik has sought to fashion himself as a fresh face for Britain's Muslims. He understands the frustrations of young men torn between their parents' traditions and expectations and their own desire for acceptance in a culture that is so different.

"I've had the anger that everybody is talking about," he said one night as he raced to meet neighborhood leaders about plans for protests by right-wing parties in the area. "Anger may have its place, but you need to develop ways of using anger in a democratic society and prevent it from turning to violence."

The needs of Muslim youth are often neglected, he says, and efforts need to be redoubled to keep them part of the community, especially in universities where many are first exposed to Islamic groups and politics.

Malik is the second-eldest son of Pakistani immigrants who settled in the northern town of Burnley. Both parents served as Burnley's mayor.

Malik rose to prominence during race riots in Burnley in June 2001. As he worked to calm the crowds - South Asian youths who had confronted police over demonstrations by the anti-immigrant British National Party - Malik was beaten by the police and arrested. Images of his bleeding face were broadcast on national television.

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