Report Finds UK's Forced Marriage Unit Overly Targets Muslims

A sweeping new report by the UK government’s faith adviser has been published, making it the most comprehensive review of the relationship between the British government and the country’s many religious organizations in more than a generation.

The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, headed by Secretary Michael Gove, unveiled the new report. Colin Bloom, the former head of the Conservative Christian Fellowship who serves as the current faith adviser of the Conservative government, drafted the review.

Michael Gove became controversial last 2022 when he dropped plans to officially define Islamophobia despite mounting pressure for the government to act on hate crimes against Muslims, along with scandals unwrapping Islamophobia in the Conservative Party.

Commissioned by then-Prime Minister Boris Johnson in 2019, the 165-page report emphasized various issues and areas where government officials became ineffective, partly because they were too cautious about tackling problems that emerged from religious communities.

Some of the issues highlighted by Bloom’s report include forced marriages, which had become a problem across many religious communities. However, the report slammed the government agency set up to tackle this concern.

Bloom described the government’s forced marriage unit as “under-resourced and poorly led” with “an Islamic bent to it,” adding that this problem not only occurs in Muslim communities but also among Orthodox Jewish and other religious groups.

He also emphasized how religious groups often use forced marriages as a form of conversion practice against gay individuals, as shown in 2013 when a British Sikh gay man murdered his wife after being married for just six months.

But forced marriages are just one part of the 65,000-word report, as it also deals with almost every governance area where religion is involved. There were also concerns that the review might stoke anger among religious groups for demanding ministers take bolder and more decisive action against abusive, extremist, and dangerous behavior within religious communities.

Bloom’s report also shows how the British government is failing Muslims, urging senior politicians and officials to stop stigmatizing them and making them feel responsible for Islamist terrorism nationwide. The review took a different approach from previous reports by the government, which often highlighted Islamism as a threat.

The report recommended several policy proposals across various aspects of religious life in the United Kingdom. Some of these recommendations include introducing Sharia-compliant student loans, requiring officials to undergo mandatory religious training, investigating extremism in the Sikh community, and launching a campaign to recruit more Muslims into the armed forces.

Bloom’s comprehensive review was delayed several times since being commissioned by former Prime Minister Boris Johnson, first by the COVID-19 pandemic and then by the multiple changes and reshuffles within the ruling Conservative Party.

Leaders from various religious organizations welcomed the findings of Bloom’s report, while the CEO of Humanists UK, Andrew Copson, described it as putting “religion and religious groups on a pedestal.

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