Prime minister says Britain needs debate about Islam 

tony blairSource AP

Prime Minister Tony Blair said Tuesday that Britain needed a debate about the position of Muslims, but that the faith also needed to decide how it comes to terms with modernity.

At his monthly news conference, Blair said he supported a local school authority's decision to bar a Muslim woman from working as a teacher while wearing a veil.  

He said, however, that should be just one issue in a broader debate about "the relationship between our society and how the Muslim community integrates with our society."  

"There's a second issues which is about Islam itself, and how Islam comes to terms with and is comfortable with the modern world," Blair said.


Similar debates, he said, were happening around Europe and in the Muslim world.  

Former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw caused controversy recently when he revealed that he requested that veiled women reveal their faces when they come to meet him at his constituency office.  

"(The veil) is a mark of separation, and that's why it makes other people from outside the community feel uncomfortable," Blair said.

"Now no one wants to say that people don't have the right to do it, I mean that's to take it too far."  

Blair acknowledged that it was a sensitive issue, but said all evidence showed that "when people do integrate more, they achieve more as well.

There is a reason why minority communities that have integrated well, then end up doing better, achieving more, attaining more."  

Blair insisted he was not saying anyone should be forced to do anything. "All I'm saying is that we need to have this debate on integration

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