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英国首相布莱尔99系列演讲之Speech to the Muslim Council of Britain - 5 May

2006-05-26 16:26

  Mr. Sacranie, Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you very much for your kind invitation to this reception with you today.

  I am delighted to be the first Prime Minister to attend a Muslim Council of Britain event. Your organisation, bringing together more than 250 local, regional, and national institutions is doing a lot of impressive work making the voice of the Muslim community heard.

  I am also delighted to see such a wide range of guests from all walks of life.

  I want to start in the only place I can start - with the terrible tragedy happening in Kosovo.

  On Monday I was in Macedonia.

  I was at the border where the refugees were arriving. It was one of the most disturbing, shocking few hours of my life.

  What I saw, the stories I heard, were of the most appalling barbarity. I saw thousands of refugees who had been on the move non-stop for a month. In 80 degrees of heat they were standing, sweltering in seven or eight layers of clothing - the only way they could transport their possessions. They stood surrounded by piles of rotting rubbish, swirling flies and dust - endless dust.

  But what hits you most is the line upon line of refugees as far as the eye can see - but with the total absence of young men. Every woman I spoke to had a harrowing story to tell of how her husband, or brother, or son had been taken from her and murdered. How bodies had piled up in the streets. How relatives had disappeared never to be seen again. These were haunted people scarred by all they had been through.

  They stood in silence - all of them. An eerie, prolonged, anguished silence. Drained of the last ounce of energy. In deep, deep shock. Mourning their lost family. Terrified about the future. Hungry after days without food. Exhausted from days on the run.

  They are the Muslim victims of a terrible crime - a crime that has haunted the 20th century - ethnic cleansing.

  They are the reason for our military action. Each one of the stories I heard from those refugees stiffened my resolve to continue until we have created a safe future for them. Ours is a battle to protect and strengthen the values and freedoms we hold most dear.

  On our doorstep no civilised country could stand by and watch such brutality without acting.

  And working tirelessly to help them have been not just aid workers from around the world but the British armed forces. They are not just in action fighting Milosevic's war machine, but are helping erect camps, provide shelter, warmth and food for thousands of refugees. I know you would want to join me in saluting their courage and compassion.

  The support of the Muslim community has been a constant source of strength. I thank you for it. But you have done more than offer support. You have raised a huge amount of money for the refugees. At the last count it was ??2.5m raised by Islamic Relief and Muslim Aid charities - to pay for food and accommodation for the refugees in Macedonia, Montenegro and Albania.

  That is a truly remarkable contribution.

  And the British government of course is doing all it can to help the Muslim refugees. This week we have doubled the amount of humanitarian aid from ??20m to ??40m. We have done as much or more than any other country to help deal with the humanitarian disaster.

  We are taking refugees in here in Britain. But we are well aware of the views of refugees and indeed the British Council of Muslims. You were right to warn in April that: "Whilst we welcome the overwhelming international response to bring relief to the victims of this unprecedented tragedy, we are also greatly alarmed by the policy of dispersing the Kosovan people away from their homeland."

  Your fear is that we won't see this through to the end - that the right of the refugees to return to their homes will be sacrificed in order to do a deal with Milosevic. I understand your concerns. Let me make it plain today. We will not stop, we will not rest until the refugees are able to return safely to their homes, protected by an international military force.

  So this is an anxious time for Muslims around the world. For Muslims in Britain that concern has been made worse by recent outrages closer to home. The bombing of Britain's minorities in London has shaken us all. The second of the three bombs to hit London happened yards from Brick Lane mosque. I know that it sent a shiver through the Muslim community, and other minority communities.

  The country is united in revulsion at these acts.

  And the police, led by Sir Paul Condon, who I am pleased is here today, have worked speedily and well in the last few weeks to deal with this appalling threat.

  When one section of our community is under attack, we defend them in the name of the whole community.

  But this government will do more. We are acting. This is the first government to make racial harassment and violence specific criminal offences. And we are listening to those in the Muslim community who want to make sure that they get the right protection under the law. As you know we are looking at the best way of achieving this.

  Through these tragic bombings our society has come together - sharing the values of tolerance, decency, justice.

  Those values of racial tolerance are very much part of the Muslim teaching. The Prophet Mohammed's Last Sermon included these words: "All mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab, nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over black nor black has any superiority over white except by piety and good action."

  And who could not be impressed by a religion where people fast for 30 days every year at Ramadan as a reminder of those less fortunate. A belief in helping others where it is obligatory to donate a proportion of your savings each year to charity through "zakaat". These are the values of a community that believes we achieve more together than we can alone.

  They are values you will find echoed by this government.

  You are a valuable part of the society that this government wants to build. A modern civic society - free from prejudice but bound by rules.

  You are a well established part of our multi-cultural nation. The first mosque was founded by the Liverpool solicitor Abdullah Quilliam in 1890. Today there are more than 1,000 mosques - making a vital contribution to the lives of Britain's 1.5 million Muslims up and down the country.

  But your contribution to the richness of British society often goes unrecognised. Worse than that, you are subject to a lot of abuse - what is sometimes called Islamaphobia. In too much of the media - and through it the rest of society - Islam is equated immediately with "fanatics", "extremism", "fundamentalism", and "a threat to the West".

  This is prejudice. Pure and simple. It can only be spread by those who have never come into contact with Britain's hard working, peace loving, generous Muslim community.

  One of the aims of the Muslim Council of Britain is to "work for a more enlightened appreciation of Islam and Muslims in the wider society." That task falls not just on you but every one of us.

  We can start by encouraging more Muslims to come into politics. At the moment the Labour Party has Mohammed Sarwar in the Commons and Lord Nazir Ahmed and Baroness Pola Uddin the first Muslims to sit in the Lords. But we must and will do better.

  In all that we do - education, tackling poverty, health, building a strong economy in which business can flourish - we must give people from all backgrounds the life chances needed to succeed.

  You, like us, share a passion for education. Education is our number one priority because through higher standards, competent reading and writing and adding up, and opportunities to learn throughout life we will build a society in which everyone can fulfil their potential.

  One way of ensuring that the Muslim voice is heard is our decision to include a question on religion in the 2001 census. This will give us the information we need to take fully into account the needs of Muslim communities.

  We have a long way to go both at home and abroad to promote tolerance, conquer racism, and give all religions, faiths and cultures the chance to thrive.

  But if anything is worth fighting for it is a society of shared values and a belief in human dignity.

  I hope you will always find in this government not just a sympathetic ear but a friend willing to do all it can to make Britain a safe and fulfilling place to live.

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