London: British Prime Minister David Cameron has distanced himself from comments made by the only Asian member of his cabinet, Sayeeda Warsi, that Islamophobia had become acceptable in British society.
Pakistan-origin Warsi made the comments in a speech at the University of Leicester yesterday.
Warsi sparked controversy when she declared that prejudice against Muslims had "passed the dinner table test" and was now seen as socially acceptable.
She said the practice of describing Muslims as either "moderate" or "extremist" fosters prejudice against all Muslims.
Cameron`s official spokeswoman refused to answer when asked repeatedly if the Prime Minister agreed with Lady Warsi.
"The Prime Minister thinks this is an important debate. We want to see that debate continues. We`re looking forward to hearing what she has to say," the spokeswoman said.
Studies have indicated that Islamophobia had risen in Britain after September 11 and the London Tube bombings. Philip Hollobone, a Conservative MP who has called for a ban on Muslim women wearing the burqa in Britain, said
Warsi had not described the reality.
He told the Daily Telegraph: "One of the difficulties with Muslim communities is that a lot of people feel that they adapt least to our way of life. That is a perfectly legitimate concern to raise at the dinner table or anywhere else."
He added: "There are other groups who are facing increasing prejudice in Britain today, not least Christians. It would be refreshing if Sayeeda Warsi came out to condemn that at the same time as condemning Islamophobia."
Lord Tebbit, former Conservative chairman, also suggested that Lady Warsi had been wrong to speak out. "The Muslim faith was not discussed over the dinner tables of England, nor in the saloon bars, before large numbers of Muslims came here to our country. She might consider who is in need of her homilies on prejudice," he said.
"A period of silence from the baroness might not come amiss."
Michael Nazir-Ali, a Church of England bishop, insisted that the distinction between extremist and moderate Muslims was valid.
However, Muslim commentators backed the speech. Ghaffar Hussain of the Quilliam Foundation think tank said the speech would help address prejudice.
He said: "While Islamist terrorism and Islamist extremism pose a clear danger to our society that needs to be tackled, this cannot justify the demonization of Muslims as a whole. British Muslims have a right to live their lives without fear of attack and without being discriminated against because of their religion."
In a BBC interview, Warsi stood by her central argument about the spread of Islamophobia. She said: "It has seeped into our society in a way that it is acceptable to have these conversations where anti-Muslim hatred and bigotry is openly discussed. This is not about controlling the conversations that go on in people`s homes. This is about drawing a line as to the state of anti-religious hatred or bigotry in Britain today."