Lord Patel condemns Fitzpatrick’s ‘cowardly attack’ on Muslim constituents

A Labour peer has demanded an apology from Jim Fitzpatrick, the Farming minister, after Mr Fitzpatrick publicly criticised the segregation of men and women at Muslim weddings.

Lord Patel of Blackburn, a senior figure in Britain’s Muslim community, accused Mr Fitzpatrick of launching a “cowardly attack” on Muslims who opted for a segregated wedding, accusing him of pandering to “anti-Muslim sentiment” within his constituency.

Mr Fitzpatrick angered many Muslims in his east London constituency when he walked out of a ceremony at the London Muslim Centre last week in protest at being split up from his wife. He also gave interviews suggesting that the custom showed a “degree of intolerance” towards guests who may be offended.

But in a scathing attack on his party colleague, Lord Patel said that Mr Fitzpatrick’s stance was merely an attempt to gain votes.

“I suspect Mr Fitzpatrick has one eye on the general election and has mistakenly used this event for political gain,” he said. “He is playing to a section of the voters with whom anti-Muslim sentiment is appealing. This is underhand and dangerous.”

He warned that Mr Fitzpatrick risked creating “alienation and distrust” within his own community by implying that all Muslims in the area must assimilate for reasons of social cohesion.

The bridegroom has also asked for an apology from Mr Fitzpatrick for “hijacking” the ceremony for political gain. Bodrul Islam said he had been “amazed and shocked” by Mr Fitzpatrick’s protest.

Independent, 18 August 2009