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Controversial Swiss academic to advise London

Tariq Ramadan at a news conference last month in London

(Keystone)

Muslim academic Tariq Ramadan, who is effectively banned from the United States, is to join a British task force aimed at preventing Islamic extremism.

Ramadan, who was born in Geneva, is one of a group of 13 people who have been selected by the Home Office in London.

"The security response to the terrorism threat is not enough," he told the Swiss News Agency on Wednesday.

"My contribution will be mainly to develop the possibility of a political response to this problem," he said.

Ramadan, who has been criticised for alleged links to Islamic militants, has denied such links and said he opposes all violence.

Create dialogue

The task force was set up in the aftermath of July's bombings in London that killed 56 people and forced the country to consider the role of extremism in Islam.

In an interview with the Associated Press in Switzerland, Ramadan said he hoped to create a dialogue in Britain about Muslims there and the role they play in the fabric of the country's society.

"Within three weeks of the second bombing, the atmosphere has dramatically changed. The people are scared. They don't know what to think about this Muslim presence and this radical element," he said.

"But we have the feeling from the political landscape that something should be done and that Muslims are part of the solution, and not the problem."

British Labour member of parliament Sadiq Khan said Ramadan would be a key part in the working group on fighting extremism. But the Muslim scholar is not without his critics.

He has been accused by some sections of the British media of supporting more radical stances when in Muslim countries. French critics say his tone hardens notably when he switches to Arabic.

The scholar had his visa to teach at Notre Dame University in the US revoked last year.

The Homeland Security department based its decision on a section of federal law applying to foreigners who have used a "position of prominence within any country to endorse or espouse terrorist activity", adding that the cancellation of the visa was based on "public safety or national security interests".

Clear sign

Khan said Ramadan's selection was a clear sign of the British government's efforts to reach out to the Muslim community.

Swiss researcher Patrick Haenni told swissinfo that the British were not marginalising Ramadan but were actively seeking his services.

"That does not surprise me. They know how to differentiate between those who plant bombs and those who advocate a rather moderate Islam."

The new task force will report to British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Home Secretary Charles Clarke by the end of September on ways to prevent British Muslims from embracing violence and extremism.

Shared responsibilities

"They asked me to be a part of the task force and we are asked to think about shared responsibilities: What the government could have done and what Muslims could have done to prevent radicalisation and extremism," said Ramadan.

"For me it's really important because I have always said we have a shared responsibility. The British society should ask itself how it can improve its policies toward the mainstream curriculum about Islam, about the cultures of origin."

Ramadan is due to begin a visiting fellowship at St Anthony's College, Oxford University, in October.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

Born in Geneva in 1962, Tariq Ramadan is from an Egyptian family that fled Egypt under President Gamal Abdel Nasser.
His grandfather, Hassan al-Banna, founded the Muslim Brotherhood in 1928.
Ramadan's father was later founder of the Islamic Centre in Geneva.
Ramadan was for a time an advisor to the European Commission in questions of religion.

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