UK Muslims Link Terror Threat With Foreign Policy, Drawing Backlash

July 7, 2008 - 8:17 PM

(CNSNews.com) - British Muslim representatives reacted to news of a foiled plot to blow up U.S.-bound aircraft with what has become a standard response -- blaming their government's foreign policies. But this time the maneuver sparked a backlash.

In an open letter to Prime Minister Tony Blair released Saturday, Muslim leaders said Britain's policies -- specifically relating to Iraq and the Mideast crisis -- were providing "ammunition to extremists who threaten us all."

The six Muslim lawmakers and representatives of 38 Muslim organizations said they believed "current British government policy risks putting civilians at increased risk both in the U.K. and abroad."

Although the broad range of signatories to the letter is unusual, Muslim organizations in Britain frequently have responded to terrorism or threats of terrorism in the West by drawing attention to the government's involvement in the Iraq war or its support for U.S. Mideast policies.

A minister responsible for a new government department tasked with promoting "community cohesion and equality," Ruth Kelly, was due to meet with senior Islamic leaders and clerics Monday.

News reports said Kelly was expected to criticize community representatives for not doing enough to combat extremism among Muslims.

The Muslims' letter to Blair brought a strong response from government ministers and other politicians. Home Secretary John Reid, whose portfolio covers law and order, called it "a dreadful misjudgment."

"No government worth its salt would be supported by the British people if our foreign policy or any other aspect of policy was being dictated by terrorists," he told the BBC. "We decide things in this country by democracy, not under the threat of terrorism."

Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett called attempting to draw a link between government policy and the threat of terrorism was the "gravest possible error."

"This is part of a distorted view of the world, a distorted view of life. Let's put the blame where it belongs: with people who wantonly want to take innocent lives."

Beckett's subordinate, Foreign Officer Minister Kim Howells, warned against trying to rationalize terrorism.

"I have no doubt that there are many issues which incite people to loathe government policies - but not to strap explosives to themselves and go out and murder innocent people," he said.

"There is no way of rationalizing that. I think it is very, very dangerous when people who call themselves community leaders make some assumption that somehow that there's a rational connection between these two things."

A spokesman for Blair said it should be remembered that terrorism affecting the West had been happening long before "our decision to support democracy in Afghanistan and Iraq."

Criticism also came from the senior Conservatives, with former party leader Michael Howard saying the letter had itself given "ammunition" to extremists.

Howard said it was "completely misconceived to suggest that we should change our foreign policy because it might cause some people to take up arms against us. That's a form of blackmail."

A former Scotland Yard police commissioner, John Stevens, weighed in with a hard-hitting column in a Sunday mass-readership tabloid, asking when the Muslim community in Britain would "accept an absolute, undeniable, total truth: that Islamic terrorism is their problem?"

"They own it. And it is their duty to face it and eradicate it."

Stevens, who retired last year, urged Muslims to "stop the denial, endless fudging and constant wailing that somehow it is everyone else's problem and, if Islamic terrorism exists at all, they are somehow the main victims."

Senior Muslim leaders among the signatories defended the letter over the weekend, saying it enjoyed widespread support in their community.

Separately, Britain's national Muslim News publication issued a statement expressing alarm at President Bush's remark last week, in response to news of the airline plot, about the U.S. being "at war with Islamic fascists who will use any means to destroy those of us who love freedom, to hurt our nation."

The comment "implies that America is at war against Islam and Muslims," said editor Ahmed Versi. "Bush is evoking that aspects of Islam are fascist and provoking more hostilities towards Muslims."

He urged Blair to use his influence with the president "to temper Bush's language and prove that he is not a mere mouthpiece [of Washington] as many have claimed."

'Threat remains severe'

Meanwhile, the Home Office said early Monday that the threat level had been lowered from "critical" to "severe," meaning that security agencies believed the threat was still highly likely, but no longer imminent.

Reid said in a statement the decision was taken because police believed that the main suspects in the alleged plot to blow up airliners had been arrested last week. Twenty-three Muslims, described as British-born citizens of Pakistani descent, remain in custody after one suspect was released without charge.

Reid stressed that the threat had not gone away.

"The public needs to know that there may be other people out there who may be planning an attack against the UK. That is why there are a number of other Security Service operations underway."

The decision to downgrade the threat level also brought a slight easing of restrictions imposed last Thursday on airline passengers, although all liquids remain banned from hand luggage, apart from prescription medicines and baby milk and food, which will be verified as authentic.

The restrictions have caused severe disruption at airports in Britain, with spin-off effects in many other parts of the world.

The alleged plot involved plans to smuggle liquid bomb ingredients onto a number of flights headed for the U.S., making up the explosive mixture in the air, and then causing explosions that would down the planes.

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