» Tuesday, July 19, 2005

London bombings

Asked for a reaction both to Omar Bakri Mohammed’s comment in today’s Evening Standard that the London bombings had been the responsibility of the British people for electing Tony Blair as Prime Minister, and also to the UK leader of al Muhajiroun, Anjem Choudray, who had said, among other things, on the Today Programme this morning that anyone who sat down with the Prime Minister today would be sitting down with a tyrant and that another 7/7 was a very real possibility, the PMOS said that the views of certain individuals should not be mistaken for the views of the community as a whole.  It was important for us to listen to the vast majority of voices in the Muslim community, not just today but in the period since the bombings.  Those voices had not only outrightly condemned the bombings, but had also recognised that Muslims must take on the argument against the extremists within their own community.  Today’s meeting with the Prime Minister was all about mobilising the moderate voice within Islam to take on the arguments within the Muslim community. 

Asked to explain how people like Omar Bakri Mohammed could be allowed to say the things they said, the PMOS said that people would always express their views and it was up to the authorities to monitor what was being said.  As the Prime Minister had set out on Saturday, it was important to recognise that this was an argument about ideology and against extremism.  It was also an argument on which the moderates needed to coalesce, particularly in terms of putting it to the community in order to isolate the extremists.  Pressed by the Sun to explain how extremists were allowed to express their views when the Government was introducing measures to outlaw anything which encouraged or indirectly incited terrorism, the PMOS said that the entire point of today’s meeting was to focus on moderate Muslim opinion.  He had no intention of fuelling any more headlines about extremists.  No one should be in any doubt about the Government’s resolute approach to taking on the extremist voices within the Muslim community.  That was precisely why we were proposing changes to the law. It was also why we had the support, in principle, of the Opposition parties.  In reacting to those extremist voices, it was obviously important not to give them more attention than the moderates.  Ultimately, it was for the authorities to monitor and make assessments about the things people said in terms of whether it was within the law or not.  Put to him that not giving the oxygen of publicity to extremist voices was not the same as taking direct action to send a strong signal to those concerned that we would not tolerate such behaviour, the PMOS said that we were not ignoring what was being said.  We were simply choosing to focus on the vast majority of the Muslim community to harness their energy in fighting extremism in the most effective way.  Consequently, rather than focus on the views of a few extremists today, it was better to focus on the moderate community.  To give publicity to a few individuals would be to do the extremists’ work for them and would obscure the work of the moderates.  Put to him that the extremists were obviously going to get publicity because of what they were saying, the PMOS said that the question would imply that the media did not have a choice in the matter.  Of course they did.  Asked if he was suggesting that the media should not publicise what the extremists were saying, the PMOS said that that was a decision which needed to be taken by the media, not him.  Put to him that the Government should be working with the media to expose the extremists, the PMOS said that the Government was taking appropriate action to deal with them, as you would expect, including the meeting with Muslim representatives today.  Put to him that none of the attendees had done anything in the past to silence the radicals and extremists within their own community, the PMOS said he did not think it was helpful to make such a sweeping generalisation.  Put to him that it was a "fact", the PMOS said he would disagree.  It was important to use the time to discuss what the moderate Muslim community could do, including taking on the extremists.  Equally, we should allow the authorities to monitor and deal with any extremist views that were put forward. 

Put to him that the approach the Government was taking meant that it was in danger of repeating the mistakes of the previous two or three years inasmuch as it appeared to consider extremists within the Muslim community simply as "hotheads", the PMOS said that he would disagree.  In his view, the danger lay in focussing on a few individuals rather than taking on the argument about an overall ideology which would tackle the root cause of extremism.  That meant taking the argument beyond those few individuals right into the community and give moderate Muslim opinion the momentum, the means and the weight to win.  Focussing solely on a few individuals would not achieve that outcome.  

Asked for a reaction to the view expressed by the Muslim Council of Great Britain and Zaki Badawi, the head of the Muslim College, that the Prime Minister must understand that the Iraq war had contributed to the feelings of social dislocation, exclusion and disillusionment with mainstream politics, particularly among Muslim youths, the PMOS pointed out that it was not the Government who had carried out the London bombings.  They had been carried out by extremists.  We recognised that some people would use issues such as Iraq, Israel/Palestine and Afghanistan to further their aims.  However, it was important to understand that these were not the root cause of extremism.  The root cause was a perverse ideology.  The two should not be confused.  Extremists did not want to see a democracy in Iraq.  Moreover, if they had had their way, President Karzai would not have been elected by 80% of Afghans who had turned out to vote in the elections.  Similarly there would be no attempts to try to secure a settlement on the Israeli/Palestinian issue. 

Asked if the Prime Minister would rule out a direct dialogue with the extremists, the PMOS said the Prime Minister was clear that it was important to take on the extremist argument.  As he had said on Saturday, the problem with what the extremists were saying was the fact that they were not putting forward a negotiable set of demands.  What they wanted was the abolition of Israel and the complete withdrawal from Arab countries by Western forces.  These were clearly completely non-negotiable. 

Asked if the Prime Minister was concerned that he might not be the right person to take on the extremist arguments, the PMOS said he would have thought it odd that a democratically elected leader, whether it was President Karzai or the Prime Minister of Great Britain, should somehow be disenfranchised by the views of extremists.  That was an illogical suggestion to make.

Asked what the Prime Minister was expecting Muslim community leaders to do, the PMOS said that it was important not to underestimate the action which the Muslim community had already taken, such as the resolution announced by the Imams yesterdays.  That should get as much public attention as the views of one or two notorious individuals.  Today’s meeting was an opportunity for the Prime Minister and the leaders of the Opposition parties to listen to the Muslim community and also to underline that although words of condemnation were welcome, we needed further action on the ground.  Asked to expand further, the PMOS said that he did not want to pre-empt the outcome of the meeting.  It would have more strength if it were the Muslim community leaders themselves who took the initiative within their own communities.  Obviously we would help them in whatever way we could.  Put to him that those attending the meeting were not people who could reach out to disaffected Muslims, the PMOS pointed out that as well as MPs and Peers, other attendees included business people, those involved in education and community workers.  The list had been drawn up with the idea of being as representative of the Muslim community as possible.  He emphasised that today’s meeting was by no means the end of the process.  It was only the start.  Its aim was to establish a dynamic and a momentum which would reach out into the Muslim community.  Put to him that some newspapers had been waging a campaign against extremists for some years and that it had taken four bombs two weeks ago to get the Government to take action – and even then, only an hour was being devoted to the issue this morning, the PMOS repeated that today’s meeting was not the end of the process.  Moreover, he would point out that the Government had talked about the action it would take against extremism in its election manifesto. 

Asked about the agenda for the Prime Minister’s meeting with the police and security services on Thursday, the PMOS said that now that the initial stage of the investigation into the London bombings was over, it was important to assess where we were.  That would include discussions about whether the police and security services had enough resources and the necessary powers to do their work.

Briefing took place at 11:00 | Search for related news


  1. All very well if the loud obvious extremist voices were the ones doing the organising and bombing – but they’re not! I can guarantee that none of the London bombers was a loud-mouthed extremist, yelling out their nihilistic mantras from the pulpit; I’m equally sure that none of their organisers or handlers was either.

    "What they wanted was the abolition of Israel and the complete withdrawal from Arab countries by Western forces. These were clearly completely non-negotiable."

    Granted, the abolition of Israel is not going to happen – although they SHOULD be forced to withdraw to the original borders (1967? 1973? the date escapes me right now…) However, we know that isn’t going to happen either. And morally and ethically, Western forces SHOULD be withdrawn from Arab countries – the only reason we have forces there in the first place is to secure oil supplies and to help the local governments keep their populations well and truly downtrodden in order that they don’t use up too much of the oil wealth themselves. At least, that’s how it seems; in the past century we haven’t done a very good job of persuading the peoples of the Middle East that that ISN’T the case.

    "Asked if the Prime Minister was concerned that he might not be the right person to take on the extremist arguments, the PMOS said he would have thought it odd that a democratically elected leader, whether it was President Karzai or the Prime Minister of Great Britain, should somehow be disenfranchised by the views of extremists. That was an illogical suggestion to make"

    Democratically elected?! Don’t make me laugh! A good 2/3 of this country didn’t want Tony Bliar, and Labour lost the overall popular vote in terms number of votes for the party – where is the democracy in that?!

    Comment by PapaLazzzaru — 19 Jul 2005 on 6:42 pm | Link
  2. Democracy, it is a long time since that existed in Britain!!!!!!

    Comment by Peter Fordham — 19 Jul 2005 on 7:12 pm | Link
  3. – Well that depends on which kind of Democracy you are discussing, of course. We do currently have a form of Democracy, but it is not very well, Doctor.

    Probably we need a New Democracy to go with the New Labour party………

    Comment by Chuck Unsworth — 19 Jul 2005 on 8:45 pm | Link
  4. God forbid???

    Comment by jk5 — 20 Jul 2005 on 6:23 am | Link

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