- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 4, 2006

LONDON — Prime Minister Tony Blair yesterday questioned the effectiveness of official public diplomacy in battling Islamic extremism, saying the government alone cannot heal the rifts with Britain’s Muslim community.

Mr. Blair was responding to criticism in Parliament that he had not done enough to engage the country’s 1.6 million Muslims a year after the July 7 terrorist attacks in London. A new poll showed that 13 percent of British Muslims regard the four suicide bombers who killed 52 persons that day as martyrs.

“Government itself cannot go and root out the extremism in these communities,” the prime minister told a parliamentary committee. “I’m not the person to go into the Muslim community and explain to them that this extreme view is not the true face of Islam.”

Moderate Muslim leaders and other prominent society figures outside the government have to do more to change attitudes, he said.

“I profoundly disagree that the problem here is that the government hasn’t acted,” he said. “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.”

Unlike the Bush administration, Mr. Blair’s government has not put a heavy emphasis on public diplomacy as part of its fight against terrorism. Last year, Mr. Bush tapped one of his closest friends and advisers, Karen Hughes, to be undersecretary of state for public diplomacy.

Mrs. Hughes, who had very limited experience with foreign affairs, has been traveling overseas and around the country, mostly meeting with Muslim leaders. Her efforts have received mixed reviews.

Mr. Blair was criticized by Sadiq Khan, a Muslim lawmaker from his own Labor Party, who said members of a Muslim task force set up after last year’s bombings were frustrated and “disillusioned” by the lack of progress.

Mr. Khan said Mr. Blair was “marching all these talented British Muslims up the hill of consultation and dialogue, only to march them down again.”

In the new poll published by the London Times, 7 percent said suicide attacks on British civilians could be justified in certain circumstances.

“It only takes one person to have those views to lead to devastation,” Mr. Khan told the British Broadcasting Corp.

Mr. Blair also said during yesterday’s hearing that he was likely to begin replacing Britain’s old nuclear power stations, though he noted he was not prejudging the outcome of a policy review by environmentalists, which will be published next week.

“It’s difficult for me to see, on the basis of the evidence now, that we can have secure energy supplies or tackle climate change effectively without replacing our nuclear power stations,” he said.

“Obviously, if the review had come out with evidence that showed this was a bad idea — we haven’t published the review yet, but the first cuts of it I’ve already talked about — then of course my mind would be differently made up,” he said.


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