Leading UK Muslims have united to tell Tony Blair that his foreign policy in Iraq and on Israel offers "ammunition to extremists" and puts British lives "at increased risk".
An open letter signed by three of the four Muslim MPs, three of the four peers, and 38 organisations including the Muslim Council of Britain and the Muslim Association of Britain, was greeted with dismay in Downing Street. It has courted the MCB and several of the signatories, such as key Labour MPs Sadiq Khan (Tooting) and Shahid Malik (Dewsbury), whom it believes can shape Muslim opinion.
The letter says: "As British Muslims we urge you to do more to fight against all those who target civilians with violence, whenever and wherever that happens. It is our view that current British government policy risks putting civilians at increased risk both in the UK and abroad.
"To combat terror the government has focused extensively on domestic legislation. While some of this will have an impact, the government must not ignore the role of its foreign policy.
"The debacle of Iraq and the failure to do more to secure an immediate end to the attacks on civilians in the Middle East not only increases the risk to ordinary people in that region, it is also ammunition to extremists who threaten us all.
"Attacking civilians is never justified. This message is a global one. We urge the prime minister to redouble his efforts to tackle terror and extremism and change our foreign policy to show the world that we value the lives of civilians wherever they live and whatever their religion. Such a move would make us all safer."
The signatories insisted they condemned those who planned the alleged attacks. Mr Khan told the Guardian that Mr Blair's reluctance to criticise Israel over the Lebanon attacks meant the pool of people from which terrorists found their recruits was increasing.
He said: "We simply cannot ignore the fact that our country's foreign policy is being used by charismatic [figures] to tell British Muslims that their country hates them. Current policy on the Middle East is seen by almost everyone I speak to as unfair and unjust. Such a sense of injustice plays into the hands of extremists."
Mr Malik said British foreign policy encourages the view in the Muslim community "where you forget about right and wrong, where you think two wrongs equals a right ... those events are diminishing my ability to put forward arguments against extremism".
Lord Patel of Blackburn said the US and British governments were applying "double standards" by failing to take on Israel.
Muhammad Abdul Bari, secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, said: "We hope the government will do more to ensure its policy doesn't allow people to believe that the lives of some civilians are worth more to it than others."
No 10 is frustrated by the letter, which it did not know about until last night. A spokesman said: "Al-Qaida starting killing innocent civilians in the 90s. It killed Muslim civilians even before 9/11, and the attacks on New York and Washington killed over 3,000 people before Iraq. To imply al-Qaida is driven by an honest disagreement over foreign policy is a mistake."
Two Muslim commentators blamed a lack of community leadership from foreign-born imams and mosque elders for the alienation felt by some younger Muslims. On the BBC's World at One Shiraz Mihir, a former member of the hardline Hizb ut-Tahrir group, said: "The mosques are not able to offer any effective leadership. At a time when there is a polarising debate about Muslim identity and how young British Muslims fit into the wider British society, there is a vacuum which is being filled by radicals and extremists."
Harris Rafique of the newly formed Sufi Muslim Council added: "We are seeing a huge politicisation of faith rather than (economic) circumstances. An ideology is taking hold of our youngsters."
Senior members of other faith communities voiced their practical support for a peace settlement in the Middle East. John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, announced that he was cancelling his holiday and would embark on a week of prayer and fasting inside York Minster.
Alan McDonald, moderator of the general assembly of the Church of Scotland, called for prayers for peace and donate to charities such as Christian Aid.
© Copyright Guardian Newspapers Limited 2006