12 February 2011
The sister-in-law of former Labour prime minister Tony Blair has said a rise in the number of Muslims in Britain would be “good for the country”. Journalist Lauren Booth – sister of Mr Blair’s wife Cherie – converted to Islam last year.
And she told a conference in Colchester, Essex, that since becoming a Muslim she was a “better worker” and a “better mother” to her two daughters. She told the University of Essex’s annual Islamic Conference that Britons were “seeking not to be afraid” of Muslims and wanted Muslims “to be happy”.
Ms Booth was asked how Mr and Mrs Blair had reacted to her conversion and said: “My sister … recognises that it is a great faith that people follow. Tony Blair is Tony Blair.”
“If the number of British Muslims increases you should know it will be only good for the country,” Ms Booth told the conference, in a lecture entitled My Journey to Islam.
The resignation of Britain’s top policeman has stunned the family of an innocent man shot dead by police officers who mistook him for an Islamic terrorist: Although the controversy surrounding Sir Ian Blair – who quit as commissioner of the Metropolitan Police in London at the end of last week – remained focused yesterday on claims of political interference, there have long been doubts that he could have survived in his job after an inquest into the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes. The inquest into the death of the 27-year-old Brazilian, who was working in London as an electrician when he was shot eight times as he sat on a tube train after being mistakenly identified as a suicide bomber, began just over a fortnight ago and is expected to end in the next three to four weeks. Immediately after the July 22, 2005 shooting, which occurred two weeks after four young Muslim extremists had detonated suicide bombs on London’s transport system killing 52 commuters, Mr Blair said during a press conference that Menezes was “directly linked” to a second group that had tried, but failed, to cause other explosions on buses the day before. In fact, as The Times, of London, pointed out last week, “everyone in Scotland Yard seemed to know that they had shot the wrong man – everyone, that is, except the man at the top”. David Sapsted reports.
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Tony Blair will today spell out why he believes faith and young people can solve the problems of the world and will call on religious leaders to work together to “awaken the world’s conscience. In his first major speech in the UK since leaving Downing Street last year, the former Prime Minister will address the whole area of faith in a global context, a subject about which he is passionate. Mr Blair is expected to be greeted by anti-Iraq war protesters when he speaks this evening at Westminster Cathedral, the UK’s Roman Catholic flagship and Mr Blair’s spiritual home for his time in London as Prime Minister. The cathedral has attained even more significance since his conversion to Roman Catholicism shortly before Christmas last year. Mr Blair, a Middle East peace envoy, will use the speech to flag up the work of his new Tony Blair Faith Foundation which he will launch officially next month. He has high earning capacity as a popular and charismatic speaker. Earlier this year he earned $300,000 for a speech to the banking giant Goldman Sachs in Florida, and last year he earned _240,000 in Dongguan, southern China. Ruth Gledhill reports.
Tony Blair has unveiled plans for a new generation of Muslim imams, trained in the UK, to help counter extremism. In an attempt to reduce the number of overseas clerics teaching in British mosques, Mr Blair announced funding would be available for those studying in the UK. Overseas clerics have been accused of fuelling radicalism and failing to understand modern multicultural Britain. Some speak poor English and struggle to engage effectively with young people born and brought up here.
Tony Blair says he wants the “voice of moderation” among Muslims to be heard, as $1m funding was announced to boost Islamic studies at UK universities. Ministers hope the money, announced as a report criticised teaching quality, will help train more imams in the UK. At a conference on Islam, Mr Blair also called for closer links between Islamic schools and mainstream state schools. Critics said the London conference had excluded Muslim groups opposed to government policies. In a speech at the conference, hosted by Cambridge University, Mr Blair said British politicians must listen harder to the “calm voice of moderation and reason” of the majority of the country’s Muslims.
Tony Blair yesterday told radical Muslims that they had a “duty to integrate” into British society and warned them they could not be allowed to override what he described as the country’s core values of democracy, tolerance and respect for the law. “Our tolerance is part of what makes Britain, Britain. Conform to it; or don’t come here. We don’t want the hate-mongers, whatever their race, religion or creed,” Mr Blair said. In a speech to an invited audience in Downing Street, Mr Blair offered his most explicit support yet of attempts to limit the wearing of the Muslim veil in public and said ethnic and religious groups who want grants from the state would have to show they were promoting cohesion and integration. While endorsing the concept of multiculturalism – which has been criticised by, among others, Trevor Phillips, chair of the Commission for Racial Equality – Mr Blair argued: “For the first time in a generation there is an unease, an anxiety, even at points a resentment that our very openness, our willingness to welcome difference, our pride in being home to many cultures, is being used against us; abused, indeed, in order to harm us.” Faith schools are to be required to abide by guidelines on teaching tolerance and respect for other faiths, and will be encouraged to twin with schools from different religions. The Equal Opportunities Commission is also looking at how to address the ban on women in some mosques, and the government has announced a crackdown on foreign imams by requiring them to have a proper command of English before they are allowed to enter the UK. Mr Blair admitted that “the 7/7 bombers were integrated at one level in terms of lifestyle and work” and that “others in many communities live lives very much separate and set in their own community and own culture, but are no threat to anyone”. Religions had a “perfect right to their own identity and religion, to practise their faith and to conform to their culture”. But he said: “When it comes to our essential values – belief in democracy, the rule of law, tolerance, equal treatment for all, respect for this country and its shared heritage – then that is where we come together, it is what we hold in common. It is what gives us the right to call ourselves British. At that point no distinctive culture or religion supersedes our duty to be part of an integrated United Kingdom.” Mr Blair sympathised with Jack Straw, the leader of the Commons, who provoked controversy by announcing that he asked Muslim women to remove their veils when coming to his constituency surgeries in Blackburn. He offered firmer support for Kirklees council in west Yorkshire, which sacked a classroom assistant after she refused to do the same when teaching. “It really is a matter of plain common sense that when it is an essential part of someone’s work to communicate directly with people, being able to see their face is important,” Mr Blair said. The prime minister said that in the past money had been “too freely awarded” to groups representing different religions and racial groups, as “very good intentions got the better of us”. In future, grants would “promote integration as well as help distinctive cultural identity”. But Mr Blair also offered an upbeat assessment of the progress made in race relations in the UK in the last 40 years. He praised David Cameron for delivering a turning point in political debate. “I think it is great that in British politics today no mainstream party plays the race card. It is not conceivable, in my view, that this leader of the Conservative party would … misuse the debate on immigration and that is both a tribute to him and to the common culture of tolerance we have established in this country today,” Mr Blair said. Muhammad Abdul Bari, secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain, told Mr Blair that he could not “agree more” with his positive remarks on multiculturalism and integration. But in a statement he added: “It was disappointing to see that the PM continues to see the phenomenon of terrorism as a clash of values rather than being prepared to examine whether some of our misguided policies in the Middle East have contributed to gravely exacerbating the threat from extremist groups. It was also worrying to see the PM using emotive language such as Britain ‘being taken for a ride’ or its good and tolerant nature being ‘abused’. That can only help reinforce a ‘them and us’ attitude, when the reality is that there are a tiny group of people – from various different backgrounds – that commit criminal acts and should be dealt with firmly using due legal process.”
There has been a mixed response inside and outside Muslim circles in Britain to Prime Minister Tony Blair’s call for educationists and the media to recognise the _true face’ of Islam, and for Muslims themselves to speak out against extremism. Mr Blair, as part of his _farewell tour’, was on the programme alongside senior academic and faith leaders at a conference organised by the University of Cambridge (and held at Lancaster House, London) on the global role of Islam. The gathering opened with a video message from the Prince of Wales, and included a reception hosted by Gordon Brown. Tory leader David Cameron also spoke, having been asked to do so by Mr Blair, and so did the Anglican Bishop of London, Dr Richard Chartres. Also involved were Shaykh Ali Gomaa, the Grand Mufti of Egypt, and Mufti Mustafa Ceric, the Grand Mufti of Bosnia, along with Mona Siddiqui, professor of Islamic studies at the University of Glasgow, and Communities minister (and prominent Roman Catholic laywoman) Ruth Kelly.
By Arshad Sharif Prime Minister Tony Blair on Wednesday backed the controversial Terrorism Bill which would allow the British law-enforcement agencies to detain terrorist suspects without a charge for up to 90 days. The Terrorism Bill, which proposes to increase the limit of detention without a charge from 14 to 90 days, was published in full by Home Secretary Charles Clarke within hours after getting support of the prime minister in the Commons amidst strong opposition. Formulated in the aftermath of July 7 London bombings, Mr Blair expects to get a majority support to pass the Bill by the year’s end despite opposition from civil right groups, political opponents and many in the Muslim community who believe it would be targeted against the Muslims. Giving support to the Bill before it was made public, Mr Blair said: I have to say that I, for the reasons the police have given, have found their request for this power absolutely compelling. Addressing parliamentarians at prime minister’s questions in the House of Commons, Mr Blair said, What I have to do is to try to do my best to protect people in this country and to make sure that their safety and their civil liberty to life come first, and that is what I’m going to try to do. Earlier, Tory leader Michael Howard said he was yet to be persuaded over the 90-day proposal and called for a more fundamental examination of the criminal justice system. The prime minister’s official spokesman told a regular briefing at Westminster, If you have to arrest people at an earlier stage of investigation because of the possibility of suicide bombs and the devastation that causes, therefore you do need to give more time to the police to gather evidence. That is the crux of the argument. The Terrorism Bill also made glorifying or indirectly encouraging terrorism an offence carrying up to seven years’ imprisonment.
LONDON – Ninety-five percent of Muslim students are unhappy with British foreign policy, particularly on Iraq, and 66 percent feel it contributed to the London bombings, an opinion poll released on Wednesday said. Half of respondents to the poll for the Federation of Student Islamic Societies said they had experienced Islamophobia, and nine out of 10 objected to the way Muslims were portrayed in the media. The figures were based on feedback from 250 students, with 500 responses expected by next week. Federation president Wakkas Khan said the results undermined Prime Minister Tony Blair’s assertion that the London bombings were unrelated to his decision to take Britain into the Iraq conflict. It is important now for Mr Blair to accept that foreign policy is a serious concern and to start to do something about it rather than being seen to brush it aside, he said. Fifty-six people were killed, including four apparent suicide bombers, when three Underground trains and a double-decker bus were targeted on July 7 in the worst terrorist attack ever on British soil. Three people have been charged with attempted murder, and a fourth is awaiting extradition from Italy, in connection with a failed attempt on July 21 to repeat the attack.