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.”
Radical Muslims in France’s housing estates are waging an undeclared “intifada” against the police, with violent clashes injuring an average of 14 officers each day. As the interior ministry said that nearly 2,500 officers had been wounded this year, a police union declared that its members were “in a state of civil war” with Muslims in the most depressed “banlieue” estates which are heavily populated by unemployed youths of north African origin. It said the situation was so grave that it had asked the government to provide police with armoured cars to protect officers in the estates, which are becoming no-go zones.
AMSTERDAM – Radical Muslims are gaining influence over their moderate co-religious at an increasing rate in the Netherlands. This was the main finding of the fourth progress report on combating terrorism which Interior Ministers Johan Remkes and Justice Minister Piet Hein Donner presented to parliament on Wednesday. It said that ultra-orthodox Salafism in particular was making its presence felt in an increasing number of mosques. This is a radical branch that seeks to return to the “pure Islam” of the days of Mohammed. Adherents often shun western society and criticise efforts by other Muslims to integrate into Dutch society. The movement has been linked to the Wahhabism of Saudi Arabia. Followers of radical Islam have successfully used the internet and lectures to win over more followers and gain control of moderate mosques, Remkes said. Both he and his colleague said the ideological influences exerted by radical Muslims was a cause for concern. Conservative MP and Muslim critic Geert Wilders criticised Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands for her behaviour during a visit to a mosque in the Hague on 3 June. She removed her shoes on entering the Mobarak Mosque in The Hague and refrained from shaking hands with Muslim men there in accordance with their strict religious beliefs. The visit was to mark the 50th anniversary of the building of the mosque. Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende praised the Queen’s behaviour as an example of the type of religious tolerance needed in the Netherlands.
Milan — The guards, heavy brass keys swinging from their belts, open and shut the metal gates to each floor of the labyrinthine Bollate prison as the Muslim call to prayer echoes in the corridors. Prisoners rush to the makeshift mosques that have sprouted in every building. At the end of the hall on the fourth floor of Building 1, a hand-lettered paper sign proclaims, in Italian, “moschea” — mosque. Furnishings inside are sparse, just three green prayer rugs, pointing eastward, and on the wall a plaque with verses from the Quran. Abdelfattah Jendoubi, serving a sentence on drug charges, throws on a dishdasha shirt, pulls off his shoes and makes his way to the room. The 42-year-old Tunisian is joined by two other men. He is apologetic, saying turnout is better on Fridays. Generally, though, younger Muslims in the prison are not very religious, he says. He hopes to change that. “I want to teach the young beautiful things,” he says, but it is unclear whether authorities, who lack Arabic speakers to monitor his preaching, would agree with his definition of beauty. “They have to change their lives. God wants them to leave the life of crime.” Jendoubi’s mission is a difficult one: reaching out to the young men confined within these sterile walls on the outskirts of a city known the world over as Italy’s vibrant fashion capital. About 30 percent of the inmates in Bollate are Muslim, officials say; that’s in a country where Muslims make up just 2 percent of the population of 58 million, although there is a higher concentration of them in northern Italy around Milan. Their burgeoning numbers in prison are a reproach to Europe’s efforts to integrate its immigrants, and a boost to radical imams and hard-core militants who use cellblocks to attract followers and spread a doctrine of violence. Many of the Muslim inmates in Bollate arrived in Italy alone, sometimes as young as 14, hoping to find an uncle or a cousin, or even a distant relative, and burdened with the overly optimistic expectations of their family back in Morocco, or Tunisia or Algeria. Once in Italy, they can find themselves trapped in a vicious circle. Unable to obtain proper work and residency documents, they live on the fringes, perhaps turning to crime to survive. Marginalized in society, they are doubly marginalized in prison, outsiders in an institution where Italian clout and influence are supreme. Their hopes of sending money to families who sacrificed to send them to Europe are vanquished. They probably will be deported, and going home as ex-cons will bring shame. That fate probably awaits Bilel Sefir, an inmate with an air of quiet desperation. Sefir left his native Tunisia for France four years ago, when he was 17. After a couple of years he moved to Italy, thinking, mistakenly, that it would be easier to obtain residency papers. Alone but for a friend who had come with him from France, he found odd jobs as a plumber and was able to support himself for about a year, until he was arrested in a crackdown on drug dealers. “I made a big mistake,” he says in a voice barely above a whisper. Tall but slight, with wavy dark hair, Sefir received a relatively short sentence of 14 months and expects to be sent back to Tunisia after his release. Like Jendoubi, he takes some comfort in his faith. Sefir says he is able to pray five times a day, as devout Muslims do, with little trouble. In fact, he finds it easier to pray inside jail than outside, where mosques are far away and tolerance more rare. “I have the time,” he says. “Once in a while, other prisoners make fun of me and ask me why I do it the way I do and why do I keep praying. But most people are respectful. “I pray mostly that God forgives me for what I’ve done.” Jendoubi, in his quest to save souls, sees far more hardened cases in Bollate. A greater number of young Muslim men in the prison are like Mohammed Derrag, 23, a heavily tattooed Moroccan. He does not pray at all, saying, “This is not the moment.” Derrag is caught between his family and heritage, which he acknowledges he has betrayed with his criminal ways, and the gritty world in which he survives. “I was born a Muslim and always will be a Muslim,” he says. “But my family prays. Not me.” Even some young immigrants who seem destined for better things can get caught up in a hard-luck underground. As baby-faced as Derrag is tough, Yunis Qabili, 19, landed in jail after being caught with friends who had drugs. Unlike most other inmates, Qabili has lived more than half his life in Italy with his parents and siblings, who arrived legally from Morocco. The teenager, who says he speaks better Italian than Arabic, worked as a mechanic. But he fell in with a bad crowd, and now he just wants to do his time (a year), get out and finish high school. “The police will say they don’t (discriminate), but I think they look more for Moroccans,” Qabili says, narrowing his eyes and taking a long drag on his cigarette. Mirroring friction on the streets, relations between Italian and immigrant prisoners are often strained. A recent — and not uncommon — brawl landed several inmates in the infirmary. In the prison’s gyms, cafeteria and library, the inmates usually divide into cliques. Muslims lift weights and exercise together, and share pork-free meals. Bulletin boards advertise Italian lessons for Arabic speakers. The library has copies of the Quran — as well as works by the Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci, known of late for her anti-Muslim screeds. For a while, the prison employed “cultural mediators” who could translate both language and cultural sensitivities, but there’s no budget for them anymore. None of the inmates at Bollate talks about waging jihad; one youth recoils physically and begins to shake when asked. But authorities in Italy, Spain, Britain and elsewhere in Europe are all too aware of the ease with which prison populations have become fodder for militant networks operating in their midst. Throughout Europe, some suspects in notorious cases, including the recent London bombings, are said to have been radicalized in prison, and a number of terrorist plots are known to have been hatched behind bars. Muktar Said Ibrahim, an Eritrean immigrant arrested in a failed bombing attempt in London in late July, obtained British citizenship in September 2004 despite having served a five-year prison sentence for armed robberies. He found Islam in the same penitentiary where radical imams converted Richard Reid, the convicted shoe-bomber of Jamaican descent imprisoned in the United States for trying to blow up a Paris-to-Miami flight. And so the delicate balance for wardens such as Lucia Castellano at Bollate is allowing inmates to practice their faith without letting the institution be used to recruit and indoctrinate extremists. “I’m a little scared of the imams,” she says. “They don’t speak Italian, we can’t understand them, and in Milan that can be quite dangerous.” As a consequence, and in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, she has banned imams from outside the prison. Milan has long been known as a center of radical Islam, and one of its principal mosques was named by U.S. and Italian authorities as a likely European headquarters for al Qaeda. Instead, Castellano allows the Muslims in each cellblock to appoint an imam from among themselves. Still, the inability to understand the language being spoken in many cells is worrisome, says Castellano, a red-haired native of Naples, one of Italy’s toughest cities. Her office is decorated with Andy Warhol prints of Marilyn Monroe on one wall, a crucifix on another. “Each of my head guards can tell me who the boss (of the Muslim inmates) is on each floor,” she says. “It does not mean that they are terrorists, but they are organized. We are paying attention. We are watching.” But the warden and her guards can only guess at what devout prisoners such as Jendoubi are preaching. On the fourth floor of Building 1, Italian inmates are giving hard looks to the trio of Muslims gathered to pray in the room designated as a mosque. They keep their distance, smoking cigarettes. Jendoubi, the Tunisian, says he avoid
s the Italian inmates. But he praises the prison for allowing the Muslim inmates to pray. A carpenter by trade who has lived many years in Italy, he was not religious when he was sent to prison, he says, but has used his time in the three years since to study the Quran. Now he prays 12 times a day, sometimes rising well before dawn to do so. “I didn’t pray before,” says Jendoubi, who has a thin, graying beard. “But as I read more, I saw it was the right way.” On this particular midday, another Tunisian calls out the summons to prayer. He, Jendoubi and a third man then move inside the one-room mosque. The three men kneel on the small rugs and pray. They bow eastward, toward a window looking out on the cold gray concrete of the prison, and the walls topped with barbed wire.
By SHELLEY EMLING LONDON – Almost a month after suicide bombers killed 52 people on London’s transit system, Prime Minister Tony Blair said Friday Britain will move to deport foreigners who spout hatred, sponsor violence, or belong to radical groups. Using strong language, Blair announced plans for anti-terrorist legislation this fall that will tighten the country’s longtime policy of hosting foreign extremists, which has earned London the nickname “Londonistan.” “Coming to Britain is not a right. And even when people have come here, staying here carries with it a duty,” Blair said at his monthly news conference. “That duty is to share and support the values that sustain the British way of life. “Those that break that duty and try to incite hatred or engage in violence against our country and its people have no place here,” he said. Blair said a list of extremist Web sites, bookshops, centers, networks, and particular organizations of concern would be drawn up, and that foreign nationals involved in them may be deported. Those who have participated in terrorist activity would automatically be denied asylum. In a particularly controversial move, Blair said the new legislation would make membership in extremist Islamic groups a crime. He cited Hizb-ut-Tahrir, a movement that sprouted in the Middle East during the 1950s and which has called for the creation of an Islamic state in Central Asia. The group’s spokesman, Imran Waheed, called the organization a nonviolent political party and said it would fight any move to ban it in the courts. Blair also said he was prepared to amend human rights legislation if necessary in order to make the deportation of those involved in inciting terrorism “more straightforward.” He also said that citizenship rules already requiring those seeking British citizenship to swear allegiance to the country would be reviewed to see if changes were needed. The foreign Muslims who might face deportation under the new measures could include some of Britain’s best-known Islamic clerics. Blair pledged to include Muslim leaders on a commission that would help shape the new legislation. But his statements still prompted the mainstream Muslim Council of Britain to react with “concern and alarm.” “Banning Hizb-ut-Tahrir is certainly not the solution, and may well prove to be counterproductive,” said Iqbal Sacranie, the council’s secretary-general. “We understand that Hizb-ut-Tahrir in the United Kingdom are an avowedly nonviolent group. “If there are groups thought to be contravening our laws, then they ought to be prosecuted in courts of law, not driven underground,” he said. Shami Chakrabarti, director of civil liberties group Liberty, also expressed disappointment in Blair’s plans. “Shuffling people off around the globe is not an answer to national or world security,” she told BBC’s Radio 4. But Blair’s tough stance is sure to please critics who have long blasted Britain’s lax attitudes towards housing those who stir violence. In a recent editorial, the Daily Mail newspaper said that “the British state has taken an inexcusably relaxed attitude towards extreme Muslim sects and preachers, the worst of whom are anti-Semitic and homophobic and sympathetic to violence.” Other European countries have not been so tolerant. French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, for example, has wasted no time since the July 7 terrorist bombings in weeding out those who preach anti-Western hatred. France announced earlier this week that it would expel two radical Islamist leaders and plans to send home up to two dozen more by the end of August. Now it appears that Britain is set to follow suit. Blair pointed out that steps to tighten anti-terrorism legislation have met with fierce opposition in the past. “But, for obvious reasons, the mood now is different,” he said. “The country knows the purpose of terrorism is to intimidate and it is not inclined to be intimidated.” Indeed, many Britons applauded the hard-line stance. “I think (deportation) is a reasonable price to pay if someone has talked out against their country and incited others to act violently,” said Karen Pollock, a market researcher. “People who want to do harm need to be punished.”
By Tom Heneghan PARIS – The main mission of France’s Muslim Council is to protect France and its Islamic community from religious radicalism imported from abroad, its moderate leader said on Monday after being reelected for a second term. Dalil Boubakeur, rector of the Grand Mosque of Paris, said the victory of conservative and moderate mosque networks in elections for the French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM) showed a large majority of French Muslims rejected radicalism.
Nizar Trabelsi, Amor Sliti, Tarek Maaroufi and six other radical Islamists sentenced in September 2003 by the court in Brussels for preparing the attack on the American base in Kleine-Brogel (in the region of Limbourg, Belgium) and of being involved in the murder of an Afghan opposition leader in 2001, went on appeal.