U.K. Report: Britain in Iraq Raises Terror Risks
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
The London bombings have made relations with Muslim communities a top priority for the British government. Part of the country's counterterrorism strategy is to mobilize moderate Muslims to work against extremists, but that strategy faces a number of challenges. As NPR's Anthony Kuhn reports from London, debate over the war in Iraq is one of them.
ANTHONY KUHN reporting:
A report today by the respected Royal Institute of International Affairs didn't say that British involvement in the Iraq War had motivated the London bombers, but it did argue that it had helped al-Qaeda's recruitment and heightened the risk of terrorists attacks on the UK. Foreign Secretary Jack Straw vehemently disagreed.
Foreign Secretary JACK STRAW (Britain): It is the terrorists who will seek any excuse whatsoever for their action, and it is the responsibility of people in the civilized world to stand up to that terrorism and not provide them with any excuse whatsoever.
KUHN: Today some 500 British Muslim scholars sighed a fatwa, or religious decree, condemning terrorism. Gul Mohammad, general secretary of the British Muslim Forum, read the edict.
Mr. GUL MOHAMMAD (British Muslim Forum): Islam's position is clear and unequivocal: Murder of one soul is the murder of the whole of humanity. He who shows no respect for human life is an enemy of humanity. We pray for the defeat of extremism and terrorism in the world.
KUHN: Tomorrow Prime Minister Tony Blair will meet with four Muslim members of Parliament. It's part of a long-term government counterterrorism strategy to reach out to moderate British Muslims and subsidize British-educated Islamic clerics. Abdel Bari Atwan, editor in chief of the Arabic language al-Quds newspaper in London, says that this strategy could backfire unless the government does it subtly.
Mr. ABDEL BARI ATWAN (Editor in Chief, Al-Quds): I think the government should actually avoid being seen as interfering in the Muslim community affairs and imposing certain imams or certain preaching, but they can do it cleverly and indirectly.
KUHN: Some observers point out that too much government support could be a liability for Muslim community and religious leaders. Speaking in a restaurant in central London, activist Bilal Patel says that people in his community don't appreciate being labeled by the government.
Mr. BILAL PATEL (Activist): I think the perception amongst the community is that Tony Blair is not very popular. In fact, he is part of the problem and not the solution. Therefore, anybody who falls behind him, in fact, is--the community leaders and Muslim MPs--are also part of the problem.
KUHN: There are groups that the government considers extremist but remain legal in Britain because they foreswear violence. One of these is Hizb ut-Tahrir. This international political party advocates replacing secular governments with ones which follow Islamic law. Psychologist Dr. Imran Wahid is the party's UK representative. Speaking in the courtyard of London's Regents Park Mosque he warns of the dangers of any state sponsorship of Islam.
Dr. IMRAN WAHID (Representative, Hizb ut-Tahrir Party): The government intends through all its proclamations to enforce a government version of Islam, government-trained imams and a version of Islam which is consistent with Western values and ideals even if that means twisting Islam from what it really is.
KUHN: Wahid, editor Atwan and activist Patel all insist that the problem is not just with the Muslim community, but also with Britain's foreign policy. It preaches democracy, they say, but practices oppression in Muslim nations. Wahid rejects any assertion of a double standard among those Muslims who condemn suicide bombers in London while condoning them in the Middle East. The difference, he says, is that people there are fighting foreign occupation.
Mr. WAHID: The view on the Muslim street, the view from the Muslim community and the vast majority of Muslim scholars is that that resistance is entirely legal and many say that, as far as that resistance, if suicide bombings are used as a tactic that is permissible.
KUHN: Wahid adds that, like many Muslims, he supports neither the terrorists nor the British government. Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, London.
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