Prime Minister Tony Blair
Press Conference with Muslim Community Leaders
September 27, 2001
@2:30 P.M. GMT
PRIME MINISTER TONY BLAIR: First, I would like to welcome leaders of
the Muslim communities in Britain to Downing Street. We have just had a very
good meeting, and today Britons of all communities are united in their response
to the tragedy in America. And I'd like to start by making one thing absolutely
clear: what happened in America was not the work of Islamic terrorists. It was
not the work of Muslim terrorists. It was the work of terrorists, pure and simple.
We must not honour them with any misguided religious justification.
Those were people who have no compassion for their fellow human beings. People
prepared to kill innocent men, women and children. People prepared to kill indiscriminately,
including killing many Muslims. The perpetrators of those attacks in America
contravened all the tenets of Islam. It is, as people here much more qualified
than myself can say, explicitly contrary to Islamic law to kill innocent civilians,
to murder women and children and non-combatants.
And also, let me underline also very forcibly to you: our fight is not with
Islam or indeed with the people of Afghanistan. Our fight is with those who
planned these terrible atrocities and those who harbour them. Islam is a peace-loving,
tolerant, religion. Many of the world's religions, indeed including Christianity,
draw from the same spiritual heritage. We share the same values, and the same
respect for the sanctity of human life.
That is why people of all faiths have come together to condemn the atrocities
in America. That is why the Islamic states have voted with the rest of the world
in the United Nations to do the same. These people, and indeed the people here
today, not the terrorist networks, are the true voice of the world's Muslims.
That is also why I condemn unreservedly, and urge everyone to do likewise, the
despicable attacks on people in this country simply because of their religions
or the colour of their skin. We should not overstate this. The vast majority
of Britons have responded with dignity to the attacks in America, proud like
I am of our diverse and multicultural society. But there is a minority who are
only too happy to use recent events as a convenient cover for racism. We have
already seen a father left paralysed, a mother attacked, Sikhs and Muslims abused.
I say, and I believe I speak for the vast bulk of the people in this country,
such acts and such attitudes have no proper place in our country.
At our meeting today, we also discussed our next steps. I do not want, and indeed
cannot comment on the military situation except to say that the deliberation
of our preparations underlines one thing, our determination to bring those responsible
for the attacks in America to justice.
But we are also drawing up those plans mindful of the humanitarian crisis in
the region, and it's that what I want to concentrate upon today. The desperate
plight of the people of Afghanistan is a consequence of some 20 years of war,
three years of drought, seven years of Taliban misrule. Over four and a half
million refugees had already fled Afghanistan before 11 September.
The same lawlessness and ceaseless conflict that has bred terrorism in that
country has for decades also destroyed the lives of millions. What we are seeing
now, tragically, is the latest influx in the long tide of refugees forced to
flee that country.
Britain has pledged money, a further £25 million on top of the £35
million we gave Afghanistan last year, more I may say than any other European
country, and why we are encouraging others to do the same. And if this aid,
some £15 million has already been distributed to UN agencies and the Red
Cross. Most of this has gone on food aid, which is still getting in to Afghanistan
across the northern and western borders.
But I don't think anybody is in any doubt that we need to do more. So what would
I say to you today is that just as we have built a political and military coalition
following the events in America, now we have also to build a humanitarian coalition
to deal with the humanitarian crisis in that region.
I have already spoken to Kofi Anan, earlier today I spoke to Ruud Lubbers, the
head of the UN High Commission for Refugees. We agreed to work together to put
together a concerted aid programme to cope with the short, medium and long-term
implications of the humanitarian crisis. Later today I will be speaking to Chris
Patten to discuss how Europe can play its role, and also to Prime Minister Koizumi,
tomorrow I will be speaking to him, who has also pledged additional aid to Pakistan
to cope with the latest refugee influx. And I will be stressing throughout the
importance of a massive assistance programme going hand in hand with the diplomatic
and military options.
Perhaps I can just say one final thing: Of course these are difficult times.
We are engaged in a fight against terrorism on all fronts, diplomatic, political
and military, and people in this country ask what should they do at a time like
this. The answer is that people should go about your daily lives. To work, to
live, to travel and to shop, to do the things that people did in the same way
as they did it before the 11th of September. We will be vigilant. But we must
not let these events shake our confidence in ourselves, in our country and in
our way of life. Thank-you.
The Prime Minister then answered a series of questions from journalists
QUESTION: Prime Minister earlier in the week you spoke very forcibly
about the Taliban, there is some confusion at the moment as to whether the Taliban
government is itself a target for Western response to the events of the eleventh
TB: The Taliban regime has a very simple choice, either it ceases to
harbour and protect those that were responsible for these attacks in America
or inevitably they become part of those that we pursue. So that is their choice,
it is very, very clear indeed, they have known that, it was repeated by President
Bush in the speech he gave to Congress. That is the choice that they have to
make and they must make it. John.
QUESTION: Prime Minister you have mentioned this question of confidence
in the economy, how much do you think it reflects real concern or how much do
you think people are affected by the general mood of uncertainty in the international
TB: Well I think that is a very good question. I mean the, the truth
is that no one could be quite sure what the impact of the attacks are going
to be. I mean there are obviously certain industrial sectors that have been
affected by it, the airline industry for example. But in general terms the most
important thing is that we carry on with confidence in the basic strength of
the economy and in our basic way of life because the actual objective fundamentals
of the economy have not altered. And I think that provided we approach this
in the right way and have the right co-ordination of policy then we will get
through this. And as I say in the end this is a matter of confidence as anything
else and there really is no reason why we cannot carry on being confident in
the basic strength of our economy and in the things that we normally do. And
I would echo the sentiments made by industrial leaders just the other day that
this is something where it is important that if we have the confidence in ourselves
that will communicate itself to others too. Yes, yes, sir.
QUESTION: Prime Minister are you concerned that statements about the
superiority of west, Western or Christian value would inevitably offend Muslims
around the world? And consequently hinder attempts to build up an effective
coalition against terrorism?
TB: Well I haven't actually studied the, the remarks that I have just
heard about but what I would say to you is that I think one of the strengths
of the support that we have got is that it has come from people of all democratic
political persuasions. From nations right round the world in every continent
and from people of all faiths. And in particular as I said just a moment or
two ago I think some times we, we forget that there is a common heritage too
in many of our faiths. And I think if we concentrate on that we would see how
much we have to gain by working together and by stressing the shared values
of, of our faiths. Because I believe those are very strong indeed. Yes, Adam.
QUESTION: This is a point made by the Taliban and by dissenting voices
in the Islamic world and indeed in your own Labour Party. Why are you so sure
that Osama bin Laden and Al-Quaida are responsible for the attacks on America?
And indeed sure enough to order British forces in to action?
TB: Because there is the clearest evidence that we have. And I don't
think anybody who has studied it can doubt it, that the originators and perpetrators
of these attacks were indeed bin Laden and the network of terrorism there. And
I think it is extremely important as I said right at the very outset that we
proceed according to the evidence, that the evidence is clear. And I think that
one thing that is worth stressing as well is that if you look back over the
last few years there have been a whole series of terrorist acts organised by
the same people. And that is something that following the events of the eleventh
of September we simply cannot tolerate. Yes, sir.
QUESTION: (UNCLEAR)'condemn what has happened on the eleventh of September,
there are a lot of people, many people in the Arab world who still believe (UNCLEAR)
contribute what happened to the mishandling of American foreign policy in the
Middle East. Have you ever spoken to President Bush about it? Have you, Britain
has a lot more experience in the Middle East dealing with the Arab Muslim communities,
have you tried to draw their, their attention to the double standard policy?
TB: I think first of all I, I have to say to that I don't think there
should ever be though any moral ambiguity about this. I mean what happened in
the United States of America can never be justified, no cause could ever justify
it, no set of circumstances could ever justify it. Of course we want to make
sure, both ourselves and our, our allies that we approach all the issues in
the world in the right way. One of the reasons why right at the very outset
I think in one of my first statements on the whole crisis I said that it was
important that we reinvigorated the Middle East peace process rather than let
it wither and decline. It is precisely because we recognise the importance of
moving forward on, on all fronts and that is what we want to do. But I think
it is, it would be a very serious mistake if we ever thought that there was
anything that could justify what happened. And I am sure you, I know you don't,
you don't believe that but it is important that that message goes out loud and
clear right round the world. And from people from every faith too. (UNCLEAR).
QUESTION: You have been saying for several days now that Taliban have
a choice. As yet no retaliation has been launched, is that because you want
to give them more time and is there a limit on how much time there is? Or is
it that we don't haven't identified where he is or indeed got enough evidence
yet, that you want still more evidence that you can publish before launching
TB: Well I do believe that the Taliban know perfectly well what is expected
of them. It has been made clear on many, many occasions. Of course all the way
through we have wanted to say to people our purpose is to bring those responsible
to justice. Our purpose is not to fight people in Afghanistan, to fight the,
the ordinary civilian population of Afghanistan and the Taliban themselves have
a choice right from the very outset as to whether they co-operate and help as
they should do. Indeed as the United Nations called upon them to do sometime
ago. I mean this is, this is something that has been in front of the United
Nations where a resolution was passed I think going back maybe a year or a couple
of years. Where it was made quite clear that the bin Laden network and other
terrorist networks inside Afghanistan were unacceptable. Because whatever the
position in relation to these particular attacks as I was just saying a moment
or two ago, the history of these networks and what they have done is very clear
to everybody. Yes.
QUESTION: Have, can I just clarify? Have there been plans to attack Afghanistan
prior to September eleventh? Because there are Pakistani officials claiming
that the US did speak to Pakistani officials about invading Afghanistan and
secondly are there any plans to share this evidence with the Taliban which they
have been asking from day one? And also since we are democracy are you going
to share the evidence with the people?
TB: In respect of the first part I mean I have simply no knowledge of
that at all. In respect to the second part yes, I think it is important that
we try to state to people very clearly in so far as we can because some of the,
some of the evidence that we have is obviously very sensitive. But as so far
as we can we, we will make it clear to people why it is we say that bin Laden
QUESTION: Prime Minister, just to follow up on a question from our friend
from the Asian Newsletter, Mr Burlesconi made his remarks yesterday in Berlin,
he very specifically spoke in a most contrary term to that which you deployed
at the beginning of your news conference. He has talked about the supremacy
and superiority of European Christian based civilisation over Islam. He, he
has not retracted any of those words and if our own officials have not briefed
you on it, should you not actually take him to task on this?
TB: Well Jon, you know each leader must make their remarks in their own
way. But I think what I have said to you today is very clear. I believe that
people of all faiths condemn this as is represented by the people here today
and I think what we should do following the terrible events of the eleventh,
eleventh of September is build greater support and understanding between the
faiths rather than cause divisions between them. After all that is what those
people who committed the terrorist acts of the eleventh of September want to
do, they, they want to, they want to pull people apart. I think it is important
that we are brought together and that we recognise too which is correct as I
say that there are, there are people here today that are scholars in the Islamic
faith and therefore infinitely more qualified to talk to you about this than
I am. But anybody who even reads part of the message of, of the, of the Koran
will realise that Islam is a peaceful religion and that the values that underpin
it are the values that we as Christians would recognise very easily indeed.
Sorry, actually I will take from this gentleman here in the (UNCLEAR).
QUESTION: Prime Minister, just to take up the same point. It is not only
the Prime Minister of Italy who has said this, we have also President Bush using
words like crusade, saying that this attack is against our values, Western values,
Western civilisation as if the rest of the world, the Muslim world has got different
values to the rest of civilisation. So we see, it seems that you know, we are
taking all the comments like him going to the Mosque and saying something nice
about Muslims, we are taking that with a pinch of salt. Because on the one hand
you are talking about civilisations and therefore the right to attack the other
civilisation. And by, by saying those nice things, you know, it doesn't make
TB: Well you know, I was present when as, as you know, when President
Bush made his speech to Congress and he went out of his way then to describe
Islam in the same terms that I have just used. And I think it is important to
realise, I mean as I say every person has to speak for themselves in this. But
I have spoken to not just our Muslim colleagues in this country but also to
Muslims in different parts of the world and their support and solidarity for
America against these attacks has been just as great as anyone else's. And also
there, there are many Muslim victims of these attacks, there will be many Muslims
that will have died on the eleventh of September and there are acts of terrorism
committed around the world in respect of, of which Muslims suffer. So I think
that you know there, there will, I mean I haven't studied the particular remarks
made. And if you know, if you will forgive me I have learnt enough in my time
in politics to, not to comment in detail on remarks that are reported until
I have read the actual remarks themselves. But I think you can tell from what
I am saying exactly where I stand on this. And I think it is important to stand
there because if, if there is any, you know I suppose what, what everyone searches
for in a, in a situation that is as serious and as tragic as this is well, what
hope can be brought out of it? And I think you can see as I was saying to, to,
to people the other day, you can see certain things changing round the world.
There are signs of potential hope for the future, new alliances being formed,
countries that we weren't talking to that we are talking to, countries coming
together in a different way. One other part of this should be as we were just
discussing a far greater understanding of what the faith of Islam is about.
And you know, you wouldn't want, I say this to colleagues here of, of the Christian
faith, we wouldn't want those people who commit acts of terrorism some of whom
have disfigured the politics of Northern Ireland and associate themselves with
particular parts of the Christian religion, we wouldn't want them to be representative
of the Christian religion. Well in exactly the same way neither do, do the people
of the true Islamic faith want the representation of that faith to be with the
terrorists. Now I just think there are a whole, whole series of things that
if we are intelligent about it and we get the space and time frankly within
the media to explain, then people can see, see again of course the common heritage
that there is between the various faiths. I mean this is something that I think
people would find of interest and also find of help in this situation. I will
take a couple, Trevor.
QUESTION: Prime Minister you have mentioned several times the outside
chance of the risk of weapons of mass destruction. What can you say and more
importantly what can the government do to reassure those people who have been
made very nervous by pictures of atom, atomic blasts and people running round
in chemical and biological warfare suits?
TB: Well I think that again is a very good question Trevor. That we must
be vigilant, we must be extremely careful, there is no doubt at all that these
terrorists who committed this attack will stop at nothing. However, we know
of no specific threat in relation to this country and it is important that we
are not alarmist about it. And I mean frankly some of the reports have been
alarmist. So I think that it is important that we go about our business, our
normal life in the way that we have done. We are doing everything we can to
guard against any potentiality. But I do stress to you that we have no evidence
of any specific threat and it is important at the same time as we are vigilant
that we aren't alarmist. Right I will take one more I think if can and then,
QUESTION: Prime Minister, when we go to war what will be the process
with the draft? Will Muslims be excused from the conscription? Will they be
TB: Well we, we have got no plans for a conscription I can assure you
of that and I think that probably goes in also the category of some what alarming
things. OK, is there anything else you would like to add?
Muslim Community Leader: I think yeah, just to the point there. There
is certainly no contradiction being Muslim and being a British citizen, so I
must emphasise this. That Muslims in this country are just as equal, just as
British as every single one of us here. The, the other problem which the Italian
President, Prime Minister the crush of civilisations, I think what it should
be now is it should be a new world order based on justice and indeed with the
UN taking a lead in this particular matter.
TB: Thank you very much indeed. OK, thank you, thanks.
YOUSUF BHAILOK, SECRETARY GENERAL, MUSLIM COUNCIL OF BRITAIN: Thank-you
Prime Minister. First let me thank the Prime Minister for listening to the concerns
of the Muslim community. The Prime Minister has been most reassuring in quite
clearly distinguishing between Islam and terrorists, and I think the media and
all press also need to be more forceful in getting this message across. We are
united in the campaign against terrorism and, indeed, we have made this quite
clear universally. In this country, community relations between the communities
should not be affected. We have had a lot of support from the inter-faith groups
and, indeed, from many parts of the community, but still more can be done to
ensure that there are good community relations. The point we made to the Prime
Minister, that we are a civilised nation and we need to apply the due process
of law. The Prime Minister mentioned also the diplomatic measures. We still
need to look at all the options. He mentioned the humanitarian coalition. We
welcome that wholeheartedly. The Prime Minister and nobody here has any grievance
against the Afghan people and the civilians, so we welcome that whole - totally
wholeheartedly. Thank-you Prime Minister.
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