Blair plea to Muslim leaders at No 10 meeting

Posted in Other | 19-Jul-05 | Author: Patrick Wintour and John Carve| Source: Guardian (UK)

Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair, center, red tie, sits alongside the leader of the Liberal Democrats Charles Kenndy, left of Blair and leader of the Conservatives Michael Howard, right of Blair during a meeting in Downing Street, London, with UK Muslim leaders, Tuesday July 19, 2005.
Tony Blair will today ask British Muslim leaders to help clamp down on extremist Muslim teaching, as ministers prepare to regulate the quality of religious teaching in mosques and independent Muslim schools.

The prime minister will seek a more permanent dialogue at a meeting in Downing Street when he will challenge the Muslim community to recognise that they have to do more than simply condemn Muslim extremism.

At last week's cabinet meeting, Mr Blair likened Islamic extremism to the Trotskyist Militant Tendency that infiltrated Labour in the 80s, and argued it was only when the party recognised the depth of the infiltration that a tough counter-strategy was implemented. The prime minister is said to be aware that new ways will have to be found to communicate with younger Muslims, including some relatively wealthy and well-educated males who have become alienated from British culture.

Mr Blair has invited at least 50 Muslims, including four MPs, five peers, the Muslim Council of Britain, leading community workers, and business people.

Downing Street declined to publicise the guest list, but some MPs have urged No 10 to recognise that it has to invite some of the harder line groups such as the Muslim Association of Britain if the initiative is to reach out beyond the "usual suspects".

Privately, ministers are concerned that the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) speaks mainly for an older generation and is not fully respected in Muslim communities. Alongside the Downing Street meeting, the work minister, Margaret Hodge, will say it is "unacceptable" that a quarter of the 150,000 Muslim graduates in Britain are out of work because of barriers in the labour market.

"Just 76% of Muslim graduates of working age are in jobs, compared with the overall graduate rate of 87%," she will tell a seminar supported by the government's ethnic minority employment task force.

The government is aware that any new communication drive will have to delve deep into communities. The MCB last year sent, with Home Office support, a pamphlet to 500,000 Muslim homes setting out their rights and responsibilities. It stated "terrorism has no religion and is indiscriminate in who it injures and kills. Averting a terrorist attack is an Islamic imperative".

Ministers now want leading Muslims to challenge those who argue that the west's foreign policy justifies suicide bombing or terrorist reprisals.

A Home Office consultation earlier this month suggested all imams and priests coming to Britain must have professional qualifications to show knowledge of, and engagement with, British civic life.