A long-awaited report by the British government’s faith advisor has issued calls for top politicians to end the practice of stigmatising and marginalising Muslims, in addition to making them feel responsible for acts of so-called Islamic terrorism. 
In the broad-ranging 159-page paper entitled Does government ‘do God?’: An independent review into how government engages with faith, Colin Bloom, in his official capacity as Independent Faith Advisor, offers a total of twenty-two recommendations, as well as criticisms of how the government currently interacts with various faith groups, after hearing from upwards of 21,000 respondents.  
However, in spite of the world of difference in tone utilised by Bloom in comparison with William Shawcross during his much ridiculed government review of the so-called anti-radicalisation programme known as Prevent, this review certainly has its merits and demerits. 
Blaming Muslims for terrorism
While Bloom encourages the government to deploy further draconian counter-extremism measures against Muslims and other minority faith groups, he also raises some useful arguments.
“…in the opinion of this reviewer, this laser focus has allowed other types of faith-based or ‘faith-adjacent’ extremisms, such as Sikh extremism, Hindu nationalism and black nationalism, to grow under the noses of the authorities…
“[This report] recommends renewed efforts to investigate these behaviours and activities, as well as greater government vigilance and the need for decisive and courageous action where these groups are politically subversive or where they use tactics to silence or threaten their opponents.” 
One such useful example referred to by Bloom is that British Muslims are often put in the deeply uncomfortable and inappropriate position of feeling as though they need to answer for the extreme cases where terrorists claim to be acting in the interest of Islam.
Indeed, Bloom shares stakeholder feedback that many Muslims regularly described in “poignant” terms as,
“…how society has made them feel stigmatised and somehow responsible for or secretly supportive of acts of Islamist terrorism. This reviewer has reason to believe that this happens at all levels of society, including at the very top.
“Those in the political sphere are not immune from such stigmatisation, with baseless allegations of Islamist extremist sympathy and concerning anti-Muslim language not unheard of.” 
Calls for Shariah-compliant student loans
Another important point raised by Bloom is in relation to interest-free student loans.
The advisor rightly argues that,
“In the field of higher education, this review found significant demand for an alternative student finance option which accommodates the prohibition of ‘riba’ (interest) in Sharia law within Islam.” 
He then warns,
“At the time of writing, it is estimated that annually, around 12,000 students are either forgoing university entirely or forced to self-pay because of the lack of alternative student finance.
“With the increase in tuition fees for students in England (to £9,000 in 2012 and to £9,250 in 2017), and increases to the fee loans available to pay them, attending university can become impossible for some Muslims unless they can independently finance their tuition and living costs.” 
The topic of student loans has been covered in great length and is the subject of extensive discussion.
In an August 2020 ruling, Shaykh Dr. Sajid Umar of the Islamic Council of Europe stated that existing government loans to students are indeed compliant with Islamic guidance in principle. However, there are those who argue it to be forbidden. 
It is, therefore, welcomed that Colin Bloom encourages the British government to offer “faith-sensitive” student finance from the start of the academic year of 2024-25. 
Criticisms of the review
Yahya Birt, a veteran Muslim community activist and a research director at the Ayaan Institute, has picked up on a number of key areas that the Bloom report has either failed to mention or is arguably harmful to the religious landscape of Britain. 
Of particular note are the report’s reference to an apparent lack of Muslim soldiers in the British armed forces; a need for a new regulatory body that is tasked with overseeing “out-of-school settings”; bolstering counter-extremism policies in prisons; and granting the Charity Commission greater powers to combat misappropriation of funds by faith-based charities. 
Beginning his analysis by deriding the overdue nature of the investigation and its unfair attention on non-Christian faith groups, Birt states,
“First commissioned in 2019, the much-delayed review by Colin Bloom, the faith advisor to the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, into the UK government’s engagement with faith communities has been released today.
“It has a disappointing and disproportionate focus on Britain’s non-Christian religious minorities and fails to consider what faith engagement should look like in a country where Christianity is now a minority faith (46% in the 2021 Census).” 
The academic and seasoned expert in public policy engagement draws attention to the fact that Colin Bloom’s work falls under the remit of the Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities, which is led by the notorious Michael Gove.
In this light, Birt argues that the review is “predictably a further extension of Gove’s counter-extremism policies into Muslim civil society but also into other faith communities, based on the same flawed focus on British values.” 
Moreover, he opines that the report,
“…uncritically replicates the central canard that political violence emerges from a lack of shared British values, that the causes of conflict can be resolved by dividing Muslims into good or bad, or ‘Muslim’ or ‘Islamist’.
“‘Islamism’ in contemporary Western political parlance simply means those Muslims who currently oppose Britain’s current interests – it has little to do with values and more to do with a post-hoc rhetorical justification of the current national interest.” 
A lack of Muslim soldiers in the British armed forces?
In Birt’s analysis piece published by the Ayaan Institute yesterday, the community historian questions why the review “singles out” the low levels of British Muslim recruitment in the armed forces, while warning that the “the primacy of faith in deradicalisation… [is] a premise that is far from proven in the academic literature.” 
“…the Review seeks to further toughen up counter-extremism policy in prisons, with a particular focus on the training of prison staff, including chaplains, and their theological training in counter-extremism arguments. This is an argument for the primacy of faith in deradicalisation, a premise that is far from proven in the academic literature. Rather, the causes of extremism or moderation are multifaceted, not unidimensional.
“The Review singles out the low levels of British Muslim recruitment into the armed forces (0.4%, while making up 6.5% of the UK population), without properly considering the highly demotivating aspect that post-9/11 geopolitics posed. After all, Muslim nations have been the major targets of these wars, with huge civilian casualties approaching 400,000 and 38 million displaced people and refugees, according to one study by Brown University.” 
The Bloom Review is welcomed for elements that seek to encourage government action towards a more equitable society.
However, the reviewer’s arguments pertaining to counter-extremism, the clamping down on faith school settings, and a lack of oxygen given to vital questions – such as Britain’s constitutional role with regards to religion today, and the forthcoming coronation of Charles III – result in a review that could have been far more effective than it stands.
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