» Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Muslim Leaders Meeting

The Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman (PMOS) outlined to journalists the outcome of the Prime Minister’s meeting with Muslim leaders. There was a decision to set up a task force, or network, led by the Muslim community with the full support of Government. It would look, in part, at how we could take the debate forward in religious terms, in part, at political engagement and, in part, at a community level to deal with issues such a social exclusion. They had requested, and it was agreed, that they would meet the Met Commissioner, Sir Ian Blair next week. The group of 25 Muslim leaders that attended would also be meeting amongst themselves this evening to draw up an action plan ahead of their meeting with Charles Clarke tomorrow. So there was real follow through in the process. There was also universal praise for the Met police and the way in which they had handled events since the bombings.

Asked who would be attending the meeting with Charles Clarke tomorrow, PMOS said that it would be the group that attended today’s but he was not sure if all 25 would be attending the meeting tomorrow. People should speak to the Home Office for details. Asked what was meant by taking the debate forward on religious terms, the PMOS said that was for them to decide on how to take that forward, but he imagined it was, for example, how they got the message across in Mosques, but it was a matter for them to talk about. Asked who would be in the task force, the PMOS said that the task force would probably be a smaller group than the 25, but that was for them to decide rather than us. Asked if there was any indication or floating of possible practical steps, the PMOS said that was the purpose of the action plan they hoped to draw up this evening ahead of their meeting with Charles Clarke. Asked how representative of the Muslim community was the group and what was the view of the Evening Standard report was in the meeting, the PMOS said he was not even sure the Evening Standard piece was considered in the meeting. The important point was that they were universal in their condemnation of the bombing. Equally they accepted that it was not just enough to condemn the bombings they also had to act. This was the beginning of that process. That was a welcome step forward and one that the Government supported. We had not claimed that this was an absolute representation of the Muslim community but it was as good a representation of moderate Muslim opinion as we could get whilst keeping it to a reasonably small number of people thus ensuring a meaningful discussion. The important thing was what action flowed from that meeting. One meeting would not resolve anything but it was a start.

Asked for the Prime Minister’s views on the theological reform of Islam and whether he thought Islam and democracy were compatible, the PMOS said that the Prime Minister was not a theologian, he was elected as Prime Minister and his view was that of a politician. However his view was shared by the reality of life in Afghanistan, for instance, where there was a democracy, where there was an elected President, where there would be Parliamentary elections in September. Also in Iraq where, despite all the difficulties, where there was a democratic election and an electoral process going on. Also there were people and a process going on to draft a constitution despite attacks such as we had unfortunately seen today on those trying to draw it up. That was what the Prime Minister’s view was about how we moved forward.

Asked in relation to the New York Times story published today what JTAC was and why with this leak as well as the Chatham House report along with the intelligence services having said that the war on Iraq would increase the threat from terrorism why we continued to dismiss so bullishly an increasingly pointed at analysis, the PMOS said that we were very proud of JTAC because of the way it brought together the security services and police. The chief argument in regard to terrorism was what was the root cause. This was an argument that we had put forward consistently, both before and after the London bombing. It was that Iraq had not marked the start of this kind of terrorism, neither had Afghanistan, neither as President Karzai rightly pointed out today had 9/11. This kind of terrorism stretched much further back. That there had been attacks in 26 countries in 12 years underlined that. Therefore the suggestion, or implication that in some way Iraq was responsible for a new kind of terrorism was wrong. As such in terms of the kind of terrorism we were facing Iraq did not mark the start of that. Pressed further that Iraq had made the UK more at risk, more susceptible and a breeding ground for terrorism, the PMOS said that the Prime Minister had two points in answer to this, which he had outlined at his press conference with President Karzai. First, we should be absolutely clear, the UK was already at risk from terrorism before Iraq and was already at risk before Afghanistan. Second, the logic did not follow through that you should in some way allow the threat of terrorism to change your foreign policy. The Prime Minister did not believe that was right. Nor did not believe that you should abandon the search for democracy in Iraq or Afghanistan because of the threat of terrorism. As the Prime Minister said the danger in allowing the threat of terrorism to divert your policy was that you were entering the mindset of the terrorist and therefore you found yourself in a situation where you were allowing them to dictate what you did. He would not allow that to happen.

Put to him that by invading Iraq we had increased the likelihood of an attack and that it did not seem a difficult connection, the PMOS suggest that people should remember there had been a threat before Iraq. People should think back further and ask themselves what was the reason for the 9/11 attacks. Put to him that whilst everyone accepted that the UK had been a target for terrorism before the invasion in Iraq, the invasion had raised the likelihood of attack, the PMOS said that the Prime Minister’s point was simple. It was wrong to imply and to suggest that in some way we were not a target before Iraq. We were. It was equally right to acknowledge, as the prime Minister had at lunch time today, that people would use Iraq, Afghanistan or Palestine or any number of other issues, as an excuse in their terms, to try and justify their actions. They would do that come what may. It was however wrong, in the Prime Minister’s view to try and link a foreign policy with a threat from terrorism. That threat existed beforehand, that threat would seize on anything to try and justify its actions. That did not mean however that the threat had been fundamentally altered. The root cause of the threat was not Iraq, the route cause of the threat was not Afghanistan, the root cause was the perverse ideology that resulted in 9/11, Kenya and all the other attacks.

Put to him that given these terrorists had been British that it would be conceivable that they were primarily motivated by the injustices in Iraq, the PMOS said that he had to be careful, but he would simply point out that history suggested that there were people who went abroad, before Iraq and so on. Put to him that regardless of the moral character of the terrorists and those who supported them, our actions had increased their popularity, the PMOS said that surely that underlined that it was the underlying ideology, not the war in Iraq, which was the cause of their actions. As the Prime Minister had said in his speech on Saturday where his main point had been that these people were mainly interested in stopping democracy in Iraq and stopping democracy in Afghanistan. They wanted to do so because they wanted to impose a Caliphate, they wanted to stop the West and democracy having any role at all in their world.

Asked about the increase of civilian casualties in Iraq, the PMOS said that we had had this dispute before. He referred journalists to the official casualty lists that came from the Iraqi Ministry of Health. They showed that the number of civilian deaths since the April 2004 to April 2005 was 6,600 civilian deaths. Parts of the Oxford Research Group report made little sense frankly because they mixed up statistics from the military action with the post-war insurgency. They also categorised deaths from kidnappings as not terrorist related but criminal related, which seemed a bit strange. The obvious point was that the vast majority of the deaths civilians had been suffering at the moment were as a result of action by terrorists and nobody else.

Asked if a possible alternative reason for the London bombings might be the perceived injustices suffered by Muslims in the UK, the PMOS said that we did not know what the motivations of these people were. Nor would he get into speculation about that. What we did have to recognise was that there was a perverse and extreme ideology that tried to justify these kinds of attacks. Therefore there had to be a mobilisation of moderate opinion with the support of government against that ideology.

Asked why the Prime Minister had not gone to speak to a large Muslim audience yet, the PMOS said that it was a fair question and there might be opportunities for that in the future but we would have to wait and see. At this stage the Prime Minister thought that the most important thing was to mobilise opinion within the Muslim community itself because that was the community most likely to be effective at making the case against extremists. However equally as we had seen in his press conference with President Karzai, he was not afraid to make that case himself. At the same time we should also recognise that democratically elected presidents such as President Karzai had particular relevance in this sort of situation. Put to him that it might be seen that the Prime Minister saw the Muslim community as something separate from the rest of Britain, the PMOS said the fact that meeting today was held not just with representatives of the Muslim community but also with the leaders of the opposition sent a very clear message that we were an integrated community and that we did speak with one voice against these extremists.

Put to him that the fact that since we had selected those Muslim leaders taking part in the task force they might be perceived as being co-opted by the Government, the PMOS said that equally the task force included four elected MPs as well and therefore there was an elected element to it. In terms of the community, these were people who came from very diverse backgrounds within the Muslim community and therefore we believed that they were representative.

Briefing took place at 17:45 | Search for related news

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