PRESS CONFERENCE GIVEN BY THE PRIME MINISTER, TONY BLAIR, 10 DOWNING STREET, LONDON, THURSDAY 27 SEPTEMBER 2001

MEETING WITH LEADERS OF BRITISH MUSLIM COMMUNITIES

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. 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 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 we are encouraging others to do the same. And of 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 tomorrow to Prime Minister Koizumi of Japan, 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 11 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.

ENDS

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