LONDON (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Tony Blair said on Tuesday he was trying to engage with Britain’s Muslim community but Islamic extremism could not be defeated by the government alone.
Blair came under fire for failing to improve relations as a poll showed 13 percent of Britain’s 1.6 million Muslims think the four Islamic suicide bombers who killed 52 people in London last year should be regarded as “martyrs.”
The prime minister said moderate Muslim leaders had to do more to change attitudes.
“Government itself cannot go and root out the extremism in these communities,” he told a parliamentary committee. “I am not the person to go into the Muslim community and explain to them that this extreme view is not the true face of Islam.”
Blair was also criticized by one of his own Labor lawmakers, who said members of a Muslim task force set up after the bomb attacks on July 7 last year were frustrated and despondent at the lack of progress.
Sadiq Khan, a British-born Muslim, said Blair was behaving like the nursery rhyme character the Duke of York — “marching all these talented British Muslims up the hill of consultation and dialogue, only to march them down again.”
He said some Muslims – already “some of the most disillusioned and … disenfranchised members of our community” – would feel yet more alienated.
A poll conducted by Populus for The Times newspaper on Tuesday showed 13 percent of Muslims said the bombers should be seen as “martyrs” and a further 7 percent said suicide attacks on civilians in the UK could be justified in some circumstances.
Khan described the poll’s findings — published ahead of Friday’s anniversary of the attacks known to Britons as 7/7 — as “alarming and distressing.”
“It only takes one person to have those views lead to devastation,” he told BBC radio.
Seven working groups were set up in the wake of the July 7 attacks to form a “Preventing Extremism Together” task force.
They reported back to the government last November with 64 recommendations, including a call for a full public inquiry.
Blair said the government had acted on many recommendations but did not agree there should be a public inquiry.
He added: “I profoundly disagree that the problem here is that the government hasn’t acted.”
“We are not having a debate of a fundamental enough nature within the community, which is where the moderate majority go and stand up against the ideas of those people, not just their methods.”