Prime Minister David Cameron charged Friday that some British Muslims quietly condone the radical ideology of the Islamic State group, prompting accusations that he is scapegoating the large and diverse community.
Speaking at a security conference in Slovakia, Cameron urged British Muslims to do more to stop the group from recruiting young Britons. He said disaffected youths are being drawn to an ideology that believes "the West is bad and democracy is wrong, that women are inferior, that homosexuality is evil."
Saying this ideology "is quietly condoned" among some Muslims, Cameron blamed radicalization in part on "people who hold some of these views who don't go as far as advocating violence, but who do buy into some of these prejudices, giving the extreme Islamist narrative weight."
About 2.7 million of Britain's 64 million people are Muslim. Police say at least 700 of them have traveled to IS territory, including a 17-year-old who blew himself up in Iraq last week and three sisters from northern England believed to have gone to Syria with their nine children.
Some Muslim groups reacted to Cameron's comments with anger. Mohammed Shafiq, chief executive of Muslim think-tank the Ramadhan Foundation, called them "deeply offensive."
"We do not need a lecture about being good citizens from a government that thinks the way to build alliances with the Muslim community is to trash us," he said.
Opposition lawmaker Yasmin Qureshi accused Cameron of conflating religious conservatism with support for extremism.
"To make the comparison he has done the way he has done, it is not only unhelpful but actually wrong," she told BBC radio.
Others defended Cameron's message. Haras Rafiq, managing director of anti-extremism think tank the Quilliam Foundation, said he didn't see the speech as anti-Islam.
"He is not saying that all Muslims are the problem," Rafiq said. "He is saying the Islamist ideology needs to be tackled."
And Kalsoom Bashir, who heads the counter-radicalization group Inspire, said Cameron has a point that some British Muslims have a degree of "sympathy, empathy and envy for the people who are going out to Syria."
"Just as we dismiss the Ku Klux Klan as a loony fringe of Christianity, we need to be back in a place where we can dismiss this ideology as a loony fringe of Islam," she said. "But unfortunately it's becoming mainstream. I think that fightback has to come from within the communities as well."
Lawless reported from London.