Blair Stokes Debate on Religious Tolerance
Friday, December 8, 2006; 7:23 AM
LONDON -- Prime Minister Tony Blair stoked a simmering debate over religious tolerance and cultural assimilation on Friday, saying it was the duty of all immigrants to integrate into British society.
Blair announced plans to more carefully allocate funding to faith groups, saying grants would no longer be awarded to organizations that fail to promote understanding between different sectors of society.
"When it comes to our essential values _ belief in democracy, the rule of law, tolerance, equal treatment for all, respect for this country and its shared heritage _ then that is where we come together, it is what we hold in common," Blair told an invited audience at his Downing Street office.
He said he believed that it was the duty of all immigrants to embrace those values.
"Our tolerance is part of what makes Britain, Britain. So conform to it _ or don't come here. We don't want the hate-mongers, whatever their race, religion or creed," Blair said.
Blair said the four British-born bombers who killed 52 commuters and themselves in attacks on the London transport network in July 2005 had exposed clear problems in the relationship between religious communities.
"Their emphasis was not on shared values but separate ones, values based on a warped distortion of the faith of Islam," Blair said. "It has thrown into sharp relief, the nature of what we have called, with approval, 'multicultural Britain.'"
He said that the London attacks had caused, for the first time in a generation, "an unease, an anxiety, even at points _ a resentment," about Britain's tradition of offering refuge to people from across the globe and allowing people of all religions to practice their faith.
Blair said he had expected the initial reaction following the London bombs to be one of people sticking together.
"Our second reaction, in time, would also be very British _ we're not going to be taken for a ride," he said.
He said money allocated to faith groups would now be tightly controlled, called on all faith schools to team up with schools teaching a different religion and hailed laws that require preachers arriving in Britain from overseas to be able to speak English.