STEVE INSKEEP, host:
British Muslim leaders have signed an open letter to Prime Minister Tony Blair. They say his policies in Iraq and the Middle East provide ammunition to extremists. This letter appeared on Saturday as a full-page newspaper ad days after the British authorities said they have foiled a terror plot. Nearly 40 Muslim groups signed this letter, including a leader of the Institute of Islamic Political Thought whose director is Azzam Tamimi. He's on the line. Welcome to the program.
Mr. AZZAM TAMIMI (Director, Institute of Islamic Political Thought): Thank you.
INSKEEP: Let me get right to at here, are you suggesting that British policies were the motivation for the people who were arrested last week on charges of plotting to blow up airliners?
Mr. TAMIMI: First of all, we are not sure that this plot is real. It happened so many times before that the intelligence services here spoke about plots and turned to be total hoax. However, we do accept that there is a threat to this country, and that is the products of its foreign policy. Britain was never targeted before by Muslim groups; it never had this problem before. This problem started when our troops joined American troops in invading Iraq and causing a mess throughout the region.
INSKEEP: Well, if what you say is true, should Britain be intimidated into changing its foreign policy then?
Mr. TAMIMI: It's not a question of Britain being intimidated. It's a question of revising a policy, which has (unintelligible) to be totally wrong. What has Britain benefited from this war, which has caused mayhem and chaos and anarchy in Iraq? It hasn't improved the situation, and it has increased the threat to this country.
You see, if there is a problem somewhere, we have to go to the roots of the problem in order to be able to solve it. The government of Tony Blair kept insisting that this was an ideological problem. We don't accept this. People don't do this because of ideology, although ideology may be resorted to as a pretext or as a source of legitimizing the act. Because there is a political crisis, people are driven to desperation, and elements, whether within the community here or elsewhere, might be tempted to use force in order to avenge the killing of what they believe to be their brothers and sisters elsewhere in the world.
INSKEEP: Do you think that there is significant support in the British Muslim community for using violence to express opposition to British policies?
Mr. TAMIMI: Not at all. The majority of Muslims are absolutely opposed to the use of violence. It's illegitimate; it's not acceptable. But no Muslim individual or Muslim group has total authority over the minds and the hearts of every single individual in a community like this, especially that we live in a liberal society wherein people are independent entities. We have a responsibility to explain this to our youngsters, that they cannot result to force. But at the same time, we need the government to admit that its foreign policy has created a crisis.
INSKEEP: You said that you have a responsibility. Of course, Tony Blair, at the same time you're criticizing him, he has pressed Muslim leaders to do more in this regard. Do Muslim leaders need to do more to educate the Muslim public in Britain about what is appropriate?
Mr. TAMIMI: We've already been doing this. It's part of our education curriculum, part of our lectures. We keep saying this. But it doesn't help if the government does not admit its share of responsibility. The government went to war in Iraq on false evidence. The government has been seeking to change the laws in this country under the pretext of a potential threat, and that potential threat is because of its foreign policy. When the government sends smart bombs to the Israelis to bomb the Lebanese and the Palestinians, Muslims get angry.
INSKEEP: Azzam Tamimi is director of the Institute of Islamic Political Thought, which is a think-tank in London. Thank you, sir.
Mr. TAMIMI: Thank you very much.
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