Muslim Gains Under Blair Overshadowed

June 25, 2007

Author: Staff Writer

Source: The New York Times

Wire Service: AP

DEWSBURY, England (AP) -- Under the shadow of a towering minaret in a Muslim enclave, veiled women stroll, shiny new cars line the streets and houses are being expanded.

It's an image of prosperity among British Muslims that didn't exist here before Prime Minister Tony Blair, who inspired hope of a better life among the religious minority when he came to power in 1997 -- and kept many of his promises.

Blair's Labour Party successor, Gordon Brown, will face tougher challenges with the Muslim community when he takes over Wednesday as Britain's new prime minister. Amid deep discontent over the Iraq war and a security crackdown, many Muslims say they've become Britain's new outcasts. They feel betrayed by Blair, and are wary of a future under Brown.

Materially, Muslims remain Britain's most deprived minority, but official figures provide compelling evidence that Blair's tenure helped their situation, though the economy showed signs of improving before he took office.

Unemployment among Pakistanis and Bangladeshis, almost all of whom are Muslim, fell 4 to 6 percent from 1991 to 2001, census figures show, although Muslims in general still have the highest unemployment rate in Britain at 12 percent.

In Kirklees, the district in which Dewsbury is set, unemployment among the 30,000 strong Pakistani population was cut in half during the same period.

Britain's Muslims -- who now number some 1.8 million -- have benefited in other respects.

State funding for Muslim schools was introduced for the first time, a religious hatred law was introduced and a much reviled visa requirement that led to the separation of families was repealed.