Cablegate: (U) Tensions Rise Between British Muslims and Hmg
OO RUEHBC RUEHDBU RUEHDE RUEHFL RUEHKUK RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHROV RUEHSR
DE RUEHLO #5958/01 2261717
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 141717Z AUG 06
FM AMEMBASSY LONDON
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 8261
INFO RUEHEE/ARAB LEAGUE COLLECTIVE IMMEDIATE
RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE IMMEDIATE
Monday, 14 August 2006, 17:17
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 LONDON 005958
EO 12958 DECL: 08/14/2011
TAGS PGOV, PTER, KISL, UK
SUBJECT: (U) TENSIONS RISE BETWEEN BRITISH MUSLIMS AND HMG
IN THE WAKE OF THWARTED TERRORIST ATTACK
REF: A) LONDON 5921 B) LONDON 5884
Classified By: PolMinCouns Maura Connelly, Reasons 1.4 (B, D)
1. (C) SUMMARY: Frustrated by the bruising that their community has taken after 24 UK-born Muslims were arrested in connection with the recently-thwarted air terrorist plot (reftels), prominent British Muslims sent an open letter to PM Tony Blair August 12 blaming his policy on Iraq and the Middle East for fueling extremism and putting British citizens at risk. HMG reacted angrily to the letter; in a series of meetings with Muslim community leaders August 14, government ministers planned to demand that the Muslim community itself do more to root out terrorists in its midst. At the same time, officials were scheduled to hold talks with leaders of seven UK localities where they judge unrest among Muslims may turn into street violence. Two British mosques have been set on fire since the story of the thwarted attacks broke, and UK police suspect revenge arson. Meanwhile, media sources are reporting that Blair has made contingency plans to return to the UK from holiday in Barbados if events warrant. END SUMMARY.
(U) BRITISH MUSLIMS ANGRY
2. (U) The arrest of 24 UK-born Muslims (one has since been released) in connection with the recently-thwarted air terrorist plot angered and frustrated Britain’s Muslim community. Most feel they are being unjustly blamed and stereotyped. “You cannot assume that Muslims are collectively responsible for the actions of a few,” Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) media spokesman Inayat Bunglawa said August 14. Many Muslims feel HMG is employing a double standard in dealing with Muslim suspects, pointing to the Bank of England’s decision to release the names of 19 of the suspects when their assets were frozen at the time of their arrest. (UK officials defend this unusual practice as necessary to ensure that all assets were properly frozen.) “It is important to wait until a thorough investigation has taken place before pointing fingers and drawing conclusions. It is important to maintain the legal principles we hold dear, namely the concept of innocent until proven guilty,” Federation of Students Islamic Societies (FOSIS) spokesman Wakkas Khan said August 11.
3. (U) The Muslim community’s anger is also fueled by continued resentment of HMG’s handling of the June raid on a home in Forest Gate in East London, when 250 officers arrested two Muslim brothers, shooting one of them in the process, only to release them without charge a few days later. Chairman of the Birmingham Central Mosque Mohammed Nassem said August 12: “With the track record of the police, one doesn’t have much faith in the basis on which people are detained. And it poses the question of whether the arrests are part of a political objective, by using Muslims as a target, using the perception of terrorism to usurp all our civil liberties and get more and more control while moving towards a totalitarian state.” (Note: The follow-up to the botched raid has irked some other Britons after the media reported that, since their release, the brothers and their families have been housed at a central London hotel at taxpayer expense while raid-related damage to the house is repaired, also at government expense. End Note)
4. (U) Prominent British Muslim leaders sent an open letter to PM Tony Blair August 12 stating that his policy on Iraq and the Middle East offers “ammunition to extremists” and puts British lives “at increased risk.” Appearing as a full page advertisement in newspapers August 13, the letter was signed by three of the four Muslim MPs, three of the five Muslim members of the House of Lords, and 38 Muslim organizations (for full text and list of signatories see para 10). Although the letter states specifically that “attacking civilians is never justified,” its signatories have used this sentence as a double-edged sword in defending the letter publicly, in effect equating civilian deaths in Lebanon with potential civilian deaths from terrorism. As MCB Secretary General Dr. Mohammed Abdul Bari told the press, “As Muslims, we condemn attacks on civilians wherever they happen. Civilians in the UK, the Middle East, and the rest of the world should all enjoy protection.”
(U) HMG ANGRY
5. (U) HMG reacted sharply to the letter. A spokesman for PM Blair (currently on holiday in Barbados), noting that al-Qaida terrorist attacks began well before Iraq, said, “To imply al-Qaida is driven by an honest disagreement over foreign policy is a mistake.” Home Secretary John Reid told the BBC, “I’m not going to question the motives of anyone who has signed this letter, but I think it is a dreadful
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misjudgment if we believe the foreign policy of this country should be shaped in part, or in whole, under the threat of terrorist activity if we do not have a foreign policy with which the terrorists happen to agree.” Transport Secretary Douglas Alexander echoed these sentiments, saying “No government worth its salt should allow its foreign policy to be dictated to under the threat of terrorism.” Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett said it would be “the gravest
SIPDIS possible error” to blame foreign policy for the threat of terrorism. “This is part of a distorted view of the world, a distorted view of life,” she said. “Let’s put the blame where it belongs: with people who wantonly want to take innocent lives.” Other ministers called the letter “facile,” “dangerous,” and “foolish.”
6. (U) Communities Secretary Ruth Kelly, along with ministers from her department and the Home Office, was scheduled to meet with representatives of various Muslim groups August 14. HMG has made clear that one message officials will deliver in these meetings is that Muslim leaders must do more to tackle extremism inside their community. Although the meetings also represent HMG’s stepped up efforts to engage with Muslims, Labour MP Sadiq Khan said the community feels “let down” by HMG efforts to date, particularly the “Preventing Extremism Together” task forces, which the Home Office created after the 7/7 attacks. Very few of the 64 measures recommended by Muslim leaders on the task force have been implemented, Khan said, creating an “air of despondency” and leading the community to believe that the entire exercise was just a publicity stunt. For its part, HMG is keen to show that a substantial action plan is already in place. Secretary Kelly has pointed to a new Commission on Integration and Cohesion to be launched later this month.
7. (U) Meanwhile, the media has quoted aides to PM Blair as saying that No. 10 Downing Street has made contingency plans for him to return to the UK from his vacation in Barbados if events warrant it. These aides have reportedly admitted that the PM would not have left for holiday if he had known that the police were about to arrest the alleged terrorist plotters.
(U) ELEMENTS OF UNREST
8. (C) Also on August 14, law enforcement officials were scheduled to meet leaders from seven communities - Newham, Hackney, Barking, Dagenham, and Waltham Forest in London, plus Birmingham and High Wycombe - where they judged the possibility for unrest might lead to street violence. Lord Ahmed of Rotherham warned, “The police on the whole have acted professionally and satisfactorily, but they must produce some evidence soon.” Meanwhile, fire fighters took almost two hours to put out a fire at the Al-Birr mosque in the town of Basingstoke in southeast England on August 13, and UK officials tell Embassy London they are seriously considering that the blaze was a revenge arson attack against Muslims. Another mosque in Blacon in northwest England was attacked August 10. Leader of white supremacist British National Party Nick Griffin, at a rally August 12, called for all Muslims between 15 and 50 to be banned from flying, and said there was “no such thing as a moderate Muslim.”
9. (C) COMMENT: Since 7/7, HMG has invested considerable time and resources in engaging the British Muslim community. The current tensions demonstrate just how little progress has been made. At the same time, the Muslim community’s reaction to the arrests of 24 of its own sons - a knee-jerk reaction blaming HMG - shows that its leaders too have far to go. That said, the Muslim community is not the only element in Britain blaming HMG’s foreign policy for inciting radical elements; the left in particular but even the mainstream press has expressed the belief, reportedly wide-spread, that homegrown terrorism is an “inevitable” response to the UK’s involvement in Iraq and reluctance to call for an “immediate ceasefire” in the Middle East. HMG’s rather heated response to the letter is undoubtedly aimed at swaying broader opinion.
(U) FULL TEXT OF LETTER TO PRIME MINISTER BLAIR
10. (U) Begin text of letter:
Prime Minister, As British Muslims we urge you to do more to fight against all those who target civilians with violence, whenever and wherever that happens.
It is our view that current British government policy risks putting civilians at increased risk both in the UK and abroad.
To combat terror the government has focused extensively on
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domestic legislation. While some of this will have an impact, the government must not ignore the role of its foreign policy.
The debacle of Iraq and now the failure to do more to secure an immediate end to the attacks on civilians in the Middle East not only increases the risk to ordinary people in that region, it is also ammunition to extremists who threaten us all.
Attacking civilians is never justified. This message is a global one. 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.
Such a move would make us all safer.
(Signed) Sadiq Khan MP, Shahid Malik MP, Mohammed Sarwar MP, Lord Patel of Blackburn, Lord Ahmed of Rotherham, Baronness Uddin, Association of Muslim Schools, British Muslim Forum, Bolton Mosques Council for Community Care, Confederation of Sunni Mosques, Midlands Council of Nigerian Muslim Organizations, Council of Mosques - London and Southern Counties, Council of Mosques Tower Hamlets, Da’awtul Islam UK and Eire, Federation of Muslim Organizations (Leicestershire), Federation of Students Islamic Societies (FOSIS), Indian Muslim Federation, Islamic Forum Europe, Islam Society of Britain, Jama’at Ahle Sunnat UK, Jamiat Ahl-e-Hadith UK, Jamiat-e-Ulema Britain, Lancashire Council of Mosques, Muslim Association of Britain, Muslim Council of Britain, Muslim Council of Wales, Muslim Doctors and Dentists Association, Muslim Parliament, Muslim Solidarity Committee, Muslim Students Society UK and Eire, Muslim Welfare House (London), Muslim Women Society (MWS), Muslim Women’s Association, Northern Ireland Muslim Family Association (NIMFA), Sussex Muslim Society, The Council of European Jamaats, UK Action Committee on Islamic Affairs, UK Islamic Mission, UK Turkish Islamic Association, World Federation of KSIMC, World Islamic Mission, Young Muslim Organization UK, Young Muslim Sisters UK, Young Muslims UK.
End text of letter.
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