Islamic hotspots in Britain
Communities Secretary Ruth Kelly today held talks with police and local council officials in a new drive to root out extremists from Muslim and other communities.
The hour-long meeting, at a central London hotel, was intended to draw a line under the increasingly bitter religious rows of recent weeks by emphasising that extremism was not just an issue for Muslims.
Afterwards, Ms Kelly told reporters that it had been a "really constructive" meeting.
"I detected a real sense of enthusiasm and ambition for us to work together on this shared agenda," she said.
The talks were attended by representatives from round 20 "key" local councils and senior police officers including Scotland Yard Assistant Commissioner Andy Hayman who is responsible for anti-terrorist operations.
Before the talks, officials said Ms Kelly would be pressing them on whether they are doing enough to tackle extremism in schools, colleges and universities, and whether they had identified "hot spot" neighbourhoods and sections of the community which could be breeding grounds.
According to an advance text of her comments, she told them that in major parts of the country the "new extremism" was the single biggest security issue for local communities.
"This is not just a problem for Muslim communities. The far right is still with us, still poisonous, still trying to create and exploit divisions," she said.
"Extremism is an issue for all of us. We all must play our part in responding to it. The world has changed since September 11 and 7/7."
"The Government has had to change and respond to that, and we appeal to local authorities to do the same."
The talks comments come after nearly two weeks in which the simmering row over religious tensions has gradually reached boiling point.
It began with comments by Leader of the Commons Jack Straw urging Muslim women to abandon the face veil, warning that it was a "visible statement of difference" and a barrier to good community relations.
Then at the weekend a Muslim teaching assistant's refusal to remove her veil became a new focal point for increasingly bitter exchanges between senior politicians and Muslim groups.
The Government's race minister demanded 24-year-old Aishah Azmi - already suspended - be sacked, accusing her of "denying the right of children to a full education".
Phil Woolas said Ms Azmi's stand meant she could not "do her job" at Headfield Church of England junior school in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, and insisted barring men from working with her would amount to "sexual discrimination".
He was backed by Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell, who told the BBC: "It seems to me that the legitimate question is can children be taught by somebody in a class whose face they can't see who is in a sense secluded from them, by the clothes and headgear that she wears".
She added: "I think that the veil is a symbol of women's subjugation to men. Women who are heavily veiled, whose identity is obscured to the world apart from their husbands, cannot take their full place in society".
But the Muslim Council of Britain quickly condemned Mr Woolas for his "outrageous" and "reckless" foray into a "matter that should be decided by the school - and if necessary by the courts".
UK: Muslim Extremism In British "Hot Spots"