British politicians are calling on the ruling Labour government to ban the entry into the UK of a radical Muslim cleric who has praised suicide bombing by Palestinians as "martyrdom in the name of God."
Egyptian-born Yusuf Al-Qardawi is due to address a public meeting in Manchester soon, but his critics say the man who once declared, "Oh God, destroy the usurper Jews, the vile crusaders and infidels", should be barred from the UK, just as he is barred in the US. Opposition Conservative Party vice chairman Andrew Rossindell, who is leading the calls to block Al-Qardawai's visit, said, "There has been a lot of tough talk from Mr Blair, but if he was a tough Prime Minister, he would have acted immediately to stop this man from coming into the country. I think Tony Blair should act now."
Adding her voice to the calls for an entry ban, former Conservative cabinet minister Ann Widdecombe said, "This man would not be allowed in if I was Home secretary. To say he condemns the London attack while advocating suicide bombing in Israel is being mealy-mouthed and just playing with words. There is a moral dimension to this and he should not be allowed to enter the UK."
The controversy about Al-Qardawi's forthcoming visit came ahead of Tuesday's meeting between Mr Blair and leaders of the British Muslim community. Among the items on the agenda were suggestions for Muslim clerics to start preaching only in English and banning the sale of extremist leaflets at book stores and malls near mosques.
In London a spokesman for Blair said, "It is not enough just to condemn. The Muslim community needs to act. Words, while welcome, are not sufficient. We need to have action within the community to take on in a reasoned argument the false propaganda."
The invitation to meet Mr Blair aroused a mixed response from Muslim community leaders. Inayat Bunglawala of the Muslim Council of Britain said, "Muslim youths are generally underachieving with high rates of unemployment." "There has been a clear increase in disenchantment," he added, pointing to a recent think tank report that asserted the Iraq war had made it easier for al-Qaeda to exploit a sense of grievance among the Muslim community. "It's fair the government should ask itself whether policies such as those involving the Iraq war have contributed to this", Mr Bunglawala said.
"We need a partnership between the government and Muslims to show people they are not being ignored and that their concerns will be heard," he said. Another British Muslim leader, Anjem Choudary al-Muhajiroun, said he was against any Muslim leaders meeting Mr Blair. Mr Choudary declared, "The British government wants to show they are on the side of justice whereas in reality the real terrorists are the British regime who have tried to divide the Muslim community into moderates and extremists".