- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 9, 2006

LONDON — People wanting to settle in Britain must conform to its tolerant values or stay away, Prime Minister Tony Blair said yesterday.

Mr. Blair said the government would take a series of steps to encourage immigrants and minorities to mix with mainstream British society.

Migration had been good for Britain, and London’s hospitality to many nationalities had made it perhaps the most popular capital city in the world, Mr. Blair said.

“But we protect this attitude by defending it. Our tolerance is part of what makes Britain Britain. So conform to it, or don’t come here. We don’t want the hatemongers, whatever their race, religion or creed,” he told an audience that included academics, students and Muslim leaders.

Britain has been reassessing its attitude toward racial and religious minorities since last year’s bombings when four British Islamists killed 52 persons in suicide bombings on London’s transportation network.

The government has cracked down on radical Islamic preachers who the government says inspire suicide bombers. However, specialists say the government’s focus on Islam could backfire if Britain’s 1.8 million Muslims feel they are under attack.

Immigrants wishing to live in Britain will have to pass an English test, and ethnic or religious groups seeking government grants will have to show they promote integration, Mr. Blair said.

And Britain, without question, will not allow the introduction of religious law, he said.

According to recent press reports, some minority groups have their own courts in Britain, ruling on divorce and disputes between neighbors, and there is reported to be an unofficial Somali court in London dealing with criminal matters.

“We must demand allegiance to the rule of law,” Mr. Blair said.

To combat forced marriages, the government will consult on raising the age for people entering Britain to get married above the current minimum of 18, he said.

The British population rose by an average of 500 people a day in 2005 as the number of new immigrants dwarfed the total leaving the country, according to official figures released in November.

Mr. Blair said there was no need to scrap multicultural Britain, in which different communities live side by side.

“On the contrary, we should continue celebrating it. But we need — in the face of the challenge to our values — to reassert also the duty to integrate,” he said.

Race relations are under the spotlight in other European countries as well. France bans Muslim head scarves and other religious garb from state schools, while the Dutch government agreed last month to ban the wearing of Muslim face veils in public.

The debate over the use of full veils by some Muslim women has also gripped Britain.

Mr. Blair, who has previously called the veil a “mark of separation,” said yesterday it was common sense that when it is an essential part of someone’s work to communicate directly with people, being able to see that person’s face is important.

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