Breaking News -- United Kingdom

Middle East European Union Israel Germany Earthquakes, Disasters what's new  
United Kingdom Far East United States Russia   home breaking news
PM David Cameron defends letter to Islamic leaders
Mark Easton and Dominic Casciani - BBC

David Cameron has defended a letter urging senior Muslims to explain how Islam "can be part of British identity", amid criticism from leaders.

The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) criticised some aspects of the letter, including the "implication that extremism takes place at mosques".

Mr Cameron said the letter, written by Communities Secretary Eric Pickles, was "reasonable, sensible and moderate"

The letter was sent to 1,000 Muslim leaders after the attacks in Paris.

The prime minister said Mr Pickles was "absolutely right" to write the letter urging leaders to do more to tackle extremism.

"Anyone who reads this letter - and I've read the letter - will see that what he is saying is that British Muslims make a great contribution to our country, that what is happening in terms of extremist terror has nothing to do with the true religion of Islam," he said.

"It's being perverted by a minority who have been radicalised."

'Proud of your country'
In the letter, Mr Pickles stressed he was "proud" of the way Muslims in Britain had responded to the Paris terror attacks but added that there was "more work to do".

He wrote: "You, as faith leaders, are in a unique position in our society. You have a precious opportunity, and an important responsibility, in explaining and demonstrating how faith in Islam can be part of British identity.

"We believe together we have an opportunity to demonstrate the true nature of British Islam today. There is a need to lay out more clearly than ever before what being a British Muslim means today: proud of your faith and proud of your country. We know that acts of extremism are not representative of Islam, but we need to show what is."

But MCB secretary general Shuja Shafi said Mr Pickles' letter "could have been worded differently".

In his reply to the communities secretary, he wrote: "We take the point that your letter was written in good faith, and we agree with your assertion that British values are indeed Islamic values.

"However, we do take issue with the implication that extremism takes place at mosques, and that Muslims have not done enough to challenge the terrorism that took place in our name.

"This is why we responded to the media, and an assertion in some quarters, that you were somehow endorsing the idea that Muslims and Islam are inherently apart from British society. We reject such notions.

"We also reject suggestions that Muslims must go out of their way to prove their loyalty to this country of ours."

He said the MCB was working to "bring communities together and defy extremists of all kinds" - and this was being done "not out of apology, but because it was the right thing to do".

Ministers' attempts to reach out to British Muslims during heightened concern over terrorism have always posed political and cultural dilemmas.

For many years, the government worked closely with the Muslim Council of Britain - a self-appointed body which presents itself as representative of the wider community.

But about 10 years ago ministers began to seek out other more moderate Muslim partners, and when, in 2009, the MCB's deputy secretary general, Daud Abdullah, declared personal support for Hamas in Gaza, the then Communities Secretary Hazel Blears ended formal relations.

When David Cameron arrived in No 10, he also refused to do "formal things" with the council unless it distanced itself from Dr Abdullah.

This fragile relationship reflects the wider challenge for politicians who want to show they are taking the threat from Islamic extremism seriously.

The Home Office has cut counter-terror funds to many Muslim organisations as part of its reform of the Prevent strategy, and when police last year appealed to Muslim mothers to stop their children going to Syria, some criticised it for playing to the dangerous view that all Muslims are potential terrorists.

As Eric Pickles says in the opening paragraph of his letter to mosques, finding the right response to events is "a challenge for everyone".

Mohammed Shafiq, chief executive of the Ramadhan Foundation, said he was "dismayed" by Mr Pickles' letter, which was "typical of the government only looking at Muslims through the prism of terrorism and security".

"We do not need a patronising letter from ministers to tell us to campaign against terrorism, promote values and do more against extremism when all the evidence points to Muslims organisations doing just that," he said.

But Haras Rafiq, of the Quilliam Foundation think tank, said he was disappointed by the negative reaction of some Muslims.

"Whether we like it or not, there are some mosques, some imams who are preaching hate," he said.

The letter has been criticised by some other religious leaders. The leader of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, Cardinal Vincent Nicholls, said it should have asked "how Muslims can contribute to our values, not just have asked how Islam can be part of British identity".

Former Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks said he believed the government's letter was "well-intentioned" but he understood the frustrations of Muslim leaders.

"The truth is that Islamism, like all modern global political movements, is actually a global phenomenon - transmitted by the internet, transmitted by social media," he said.

UK police have said there is "heightened concern" about risks to Jewish people, following the atrocities in Paris.

On Sunday Mr Pickles joined Home Secretary Theresa May at a service in London, organised by the Board of Deputies of British Jews, to remember those killed.

Is hate crime on the march?
By Dominic Casciani, BBC home affairs correspondent

Time and again there are spikes in hate crime because of "trigger" events at home or abroad.

Police recorded 44,500 hate crimes in England and Wales during 2013-14 - that's up 5% on the previous year across race, religion, sexual orientation, disability and transgender.

Some of that will be better reporting of existing levels of hate.

But the breakdown shows there was a 45% jump in religiously motivated incidents to 2,300 - including a spike in anti-Muslim attacks after the Woolwich murder of Fusilier Lee Rigby.

A more recent trigger was last summer's fighting between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. Jewish security analysts recorded a surge in anti-Semitic incidents incidents to 500 across July and August. Most of the identifiable perpetrators were thought by the victim to be Muslim, rather than white racists.

But while one poll last week suggested almost half of British Jews thought they may not have a future in their home, another detailed but largely unreported survey contradicted those findings.

Mrs May said the UK had to redouble its efforts to "wipe out anti-Semitism".

She also said she never thought she would "see the day when members of the Jewish community" would be "fearful" of staying in the UK.

Education Secretary Nicky Morgan said it was "shocking" that Jewish schools were "having to worry ever more about their security" - and said she was "open" to discussing funding to cover extra measures.

Labour leader Ed Miliband said there was a "palpable sense of anxiety" in Britain's Jewish community.

"The best answer to this is to stand up loud and clear against anti-Semitism in all its forms," he said.

A total of 17 people died in France in a series of attacks by gunmen over three days, including four men at a kosher supermarket on 9 January.

It began with a massacre at the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo by militant Islamists, during which eight magazine staff, a visitor to the magazine and a caretaker also died.

Middle East terror ‘bigger threat to Europeans than Cold War’ – ex-MI6 chief

Geopolitical tensions stemming from conflict and terrorism in the Middle East pose a bigger security threat to European states than the Soviet Union did at the height of the Cold War, Britain’s ex-MI6 chief warns.

In his first interview since stepping down in November, Sir John Sawers told the Financial Times that brutal terror attacks on European soil are both more likely and more difficult to intercept than ever before.

The 59-year-old ex-spy chief said the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris alongside recent terror warnings and clampdowns on extremist activities throughout Europe indicate the true extent of the threat.

Sawers noted geopolitical tensions throughout the Cold War posed a serious set of problems for Europeans. But he argued the turmoil currently surrounding Europe – driven by unrest in Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen – pose more serious challenges.

The former MI6 director stressed terror groups' techniques are evolving, as they learn from previous experience and adopt more simplistic tactics.

He said Syria was the fulcrum of the problem, but warned that the wider Middle East had reached a critical crossroads.

Sawer was a senior diplomat and Middle East expert prior to his role in MI6. He is due to begin a new position as partner and chairman of a consultancy firm that analyses geopolitical risk.

On the issue of instability in the Middle East, the ex-MI6 chief argued the dissolution of governments in the region, a dramatic decline in the price of oil, fraught global negotiations with Iran, and the prospect of political uncertainty in Saudi Arabia were major concerns.

Emergent terrorism hotbeds
The former spy chief said Yemen and Libya had become emergent terrorism hotspots, as global attention remains fixed on crisis-ridden Iraq and Syria.

“At the moment, most of the conflict in Libya is internally focused … but obviously there is an environment there that could be conducive to terrorist organizations,” he said.

“There is a serious problem in the south. Every effort needs to be made to try to stabilize the country before that threat spreads elsewhere.”

Sawers warned, however, that Western governments’ options are limited.

“One of the lessons of the last 15 years is that the west can’t impose new solutions on these countries. They have to find their own way forward,” he said.

Last week, Europol director Rob Wainwright told the Home Affairs Select Committee that 5,000 European nationals have traveled abroad to fight alongside jihadists, and now pose a terror threat if they return home.

Wainwright warned MPs about a glaring “security gap,” where extremists are able to evade security services and police forces online by using highly encrypted messages on the so-called “dark net.”

On the question of whether national security should trump privacy rights, Sawers said encrypted communications that are inaccessible by state authorities should be subject to certain restrictions. But he emphasized the surveillance debate is merely one of a slew of challenges that will phase governments and large firms in years to come.

“The world is much harder to predict. It’s much harder to navigate your way through the fragmentation of power and politics and ideas,” he said.

“The volatility that we are seeing in global markets is linked to this fragmentation of global politics — and that is new. That is not something we have seen in the past century.”

Following Boko Haram’s recent massacre of thousands of Nigerian civilians, the West’s muted response was noted by critics.

Despite the bloodshed and carnage the terror group wrought in the West African country, the West’s attention remained largely focused on the Paris terror attacks, and further possible attacks in Europe.

In the case of the US administration, Washington’s failure to offer meaningful aid to Nigeria follows a simple logic of no oil, no security support, analysts suggest.

Nevertheless, Boko Haram has made considerable territorial gains in recent times, and poses a risk to the security of many Africans states.

The Islamist terror group, predominantly based in northeast Nigeria, launched military operations in 2009 with a view to creating an Islamic State in Africa.

UK's David Cameron is phoning Senators about Iran sanctions bill
CBS News

British Prime Minister David Cameron is appealing directly to some senators in the U.S. Congress to reconsider a bill that would open up the possibility of new sanctions against Iran.

"I have contacted a couple of senators this morning, and I may speak to one or two more this afternoon," Cameron said during a joint press conference with President Obama at the White House Friday. The prime minister arrived in Washington Thursday to meet with the president and his administration to discuss a range of issues.

Cameron said his calls were "not in any way... to tell the American Senate what it should or should not do." Instead, he wanted to tell the U.S. Senate that "it's the opinion of the United Kingdom that further sanctions, or further threat of sanctions, at this point won't actually help." The legislation, he said, "could actually fracture" the international coalition negotiating with Iran over its nuclear ambitions.

The United States and the rest of the so-called P5 +1, which also includes Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia, is currently embroiled in a series of negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program.

However, both Republicans and Democrats in the Senate have expressed support for legislation that would impose new sanctions on Iran should the negotiations fail by June 30.

Mr. Obama's message for Congress on Friday: "Just hold your fire."

Should Congress pass the bill, the president promised to veto it. He gave the same message to a closed meeting with Democrats earlier this week, he said.

"Nobody in the world, least of all the Iranians" doubts that the U.S. could impose new sanctions should negotiations fail, he said. "That's not a hard vote for me to get through Congress. I think the Iranians know that is certainly in our back pocket."

In the meantime, Mr. Obama said, "Why is it we would have to take actions that might jeopardize the possibility of getting a deal over the next 60 or 90 days? What is it precisely that is going to be accomplished?"

Conversely, should Congress pass, this bill, "the likelihood of the interim negotiations collapsing is very high," Mr. Obama said.

Under the interim deal that brought Iran to the table, he explained, the United States is not supposed to initiate any new sanctions. While the bill would technically simply set a timeline for new sanctions, "I assure you that is now how Iran would interpret it," Mr. Obama said.

The president added, "Congress should be aware if this diplomatic negotiation fails, then the risk and likelihood this ends up at some point being a military confrontation is heightened."

He stressed later, "I am not -- repeat, not -- suggesting we are at immediate war footing should negotiations with Iran fail."

Still, he said, "If in fact our view is that we have to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon then we have to recognize the possibility that should diplomacy fail, we have to look at other options to achieve that goal."

Mr. Obama acknowledged that the chances of reaching a diplomatic deal with Iran are "probably less than 50-50." But he called the coalition at the negotiating table "remarkable" and noted that they have already made some gains in rolling back some of Iran's nuclear stockpiles.

"If in fact we still have an opportunity to get a diplomatic deal that provides us verifiable assurances that they are not developing a nuclear weapon, that is the best possible outcome," he said.
(Disclaimer)        What to Look For in World Events:  Audio & Text  Video