Kelly urges imams to tackle extremism

Communities secretary Ruth Kelly is holding a series of talks with Muslim leaders today to urge them to step up their efforts against extremism.

The discussions were organised in the wake of Wednesday’s arrests over an alleged plot to blow up several flights in mid-air, and come after a letter signed by several Muslim groups yesterday warned Tony Blair that UK foreign policy was encouraging extremists.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) said today’s talks were aimed at agreeing how the government and the Muslim community “can work together to tackle extremism”.

But reports suggest Ms Kelly will take a tough line, arguing that imams and community leaders have just not done enough to stop extremist literature circulating and young people becoming radicalised.

The talks come after home secretary John Reid yesterday rejected claims made by three Muslim MPs and a number of Muslim organisations that the UK’s foreign policy is to blame for the terror threat facing the country.

In an open letter to the prime minister, the Muslim groups warned that the “debacle” of Iraq and the failure to secure an immediate halt to the attacks on civilians in the Lebanon and Gaza “is ammunition to extremists who threaten us all”.

“We urge the prime minister to redouble his efforts to tackle terror and extremism and change our foreign policy to show the world that we value the lives of civilians wherever they live and whatever their religion,” they said.

Mr Reid said it was a “dreadful misjudgment” to suggest that foreign policy should be shaped in part or in whole, “under the threat of terrorism activity”.

Shadow home secretary David Davis also rejected the letter’s argument, telling Sky News that while foreign policy may be part of the catalyst for extremist attacks on the UK, “to explain this is not to excuse it”.

“There are plenty of people with legitimate arguments with the government’s foreign policy on Iraq and Afghanistan, in Lebanon and the Middle East, but none of them take the stance of attempting to murder many thousands of their follow citizens,” he said.

In an interview with the The Times this morning, the new head of the Muslim Council of Britain – one of the signatories of the letter – said the UK was one of the best places to be a Muslim, but warned that Mr Blair must listen to people’s concerns.

“Britain may be one of the best places in the world to be a practising Muslim because Britain has a long legacy of accommodating people,” he told the newspaper.

“Many Middle East countries are dictatorships. When it comes to politics there are issues, and that should make us all the more determined to become involved in the political process.

“It isn’t just Muslims. The fact is that our prime minister is not listening to his own people, not even to his own MPs. The image of Britain as an honest broker for peace in the world has been tarnished.”