Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, I am grateful for the opportunity to set the scene for this conference which is looking at one of the most challenging issues of our time, namely the relationship between the Islamic world and the West and how we counter the negative perceptions which threaten to undermine our mutual security and prosperity.

May I thank Isobelle Jacques and her colleagues here at Wilton Park and Professor Ihsanoglue, Secretary General of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, for bringing together so many experts to debate this theme of such fundamental importance to us all.

I make no apologies for being blunt about the extent of the challenge we face. The importance of this issue demands it. The highly negative image which many in the western world have of the Islamic world and vice versa is obstructing political and economic development, particularly in the Middle East, sewing the seeds of mutual distrust and hatred and driving disaffected and alienated people into the arms of radicals and extremists bent on terror and destruction.

A recent survey in Spain, a country with deep Muslim roots, found that 90 percent of Spaniards believe that Muslim countries are ’authoritarian’; 96 percent described them as ’male chauvinist’; 79 per cent as ’intolerant’ and 68 per cent as ’violent’.

Skewed and ignorant views can paint a dangerously inaccurate picture of both Muslims and Islam.

We have to act urgently if we are to bridge this divide and reverse this gulf of ignorance. If we fail I have no doubt that extremism and the violence and bloodshed associated with it will grow.

So how and why have we got to this point?

It is not as though non-Muslims and Muslims are strangers. Quite the reverse. Our histories have been intertwined for centuries through governance, commerce, culture and - not least - faith. Today Europe is home to 15 million citizens of the Muslim faith. They are certainly no less European than other citizens and, I hope no-one would argue, no less Muslim than those outside Europe.

The Muslim community in Britain, now nearly 2 million, plays an integral part in our political, business and social life. There are an increasing number of Muslims in the Armed Forces, the Police and Parliament. Just ten years ago there were none in either the House of Commons or Lords.

Yet, as we learned at such great cost last July, young Muslims, born and brought up in this country and participating fully in the life of this country, were prepared to kill themselves, to murder their fellow citizens and many others in the name of an extremist ideology so completely at odds with the tolerance and compassion which are the hallmarks of any civil society.

I believe that there are two central issues: the one international, the other domestic. By that I mean, on the one hand areas of conflict in the Muslim world and on the other, the absence of political, economic and social opportunity for Muslims both in Muslim countries and in countries in the West.

It may be the case that a misreading of events over recent decades allows a perceived lack of even handedness in the international approach to the Arab Israel conflict, the massacre of Muslims in Bosnia, the conflict in Chechnya and intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq to persuade millions of Muslims that the West, in its broadest sense, is engaged in some sort of co-ordinated vendetta against Islam and that our foreign policy is deliberately anti-Muslim.

So we, the international community, need to make absolutely clear, through our actions as well as our words, that this is totally untrue. It is a myth peddled by extremists to justify violence and terrorism.

The reasons for action in Afghanistan and Iraq had nothing to do with the faith of Islam but with the political and security issues that these countries posed.

I acknowledge that the decisions to intervene were, and continue to be, controversial. I genuinely understand and respect the views of those in the UK and in the international community who disapproved of the action taken. But to say that action was taken because these countries are Muslim is utterly absurd.

But I also have to question why governments and people in the region did not exert more and earlier pressure for change in support of the people suffering under those regimes. The international community has a duty to protect not only our own citizens but also those who are subjects of brutal regimes and militias that have no respect for fundamental and universally agreed standards of human rights. Where this does not happen, we must act.

Building lasting peace in the Middle East is at the top of our international agenda as it is for the whole international community. We remain fully committed to the Middle East Peace Process and to supporting the Palestinian Authority and people. Indeed the UK, the EU and the US are the largest donors by far to the Palestinians. Last week we announced a further £15 million of aid for humanitarian purposes bringing our total assistance since 2001 to £147 million.

We will continue to support the governments of Afghanistan and Iraq, at their request and in accordance with UN resolutions, in their efforts to bring peace and build democracy which, as elections in those countries have shown clearly, is what the vast majority of Afghans and Iraqis want. However painful the process citizens of Afghanistan and Iraq, like people everywhere, want a say in how their country is governed and the opportunity to determine its future.

In the Darfur region of Sudan, where amidst a tragic tangle of deadly conflicts Muslims are fighting Muslims, we are giving our full support to the African Union and other international efforts to resolve this conflict in which so many innocent people have lost their lives and which is debilitating the country.

The overwhelming generosity of the British people towards those who lost so much in the Asian tsunami and the Pakistan earthquake, debunked completely any ill-conceived myth that people in Britain or in any other western country are in some way against Islam.

In total, over the last five years, bilaterally and through other organisations, the British Government has provided well over £5 billion in development assistance to much of the Muslim world.

And let us not forget that it was NATO intervention in Kosovo, a largely Muslim country, which averted a humanitarian catastrophe not seen in Europe since the Second World War.

And, I believe, there is no more important proof of our support for the development of the Muslim world than the agreement of the EU to open accession negotiations with Turkey. This was a key objective for the UK during our Presidency last year and one to which we remain fully committed. Turkey’s membership of the EU would show conclusively that Muslim and non-Muslim share the same values of justice, tolerance and respect for individual rights.

The help that materially developed countries like mine can give to those across the Muslim world is vital if people are to feel engaged with the political and economic process and not marginalised or alienated.

Here in this country and elsewhere in Europe we need to address similar issues of alienation in respect of housing, employment and identity.

So we have, among other action, increased levels of Ministerial outreach to Muslim communities, set up online hate crime reporting mechanisms and established a Faith Communities Capacity Building Fund to support work to further strengthen community cohesion. We need to ensure that the engagement between government and our Muslim communities is sustained and I am leading an active programme of Foreign Office engagement with British Muslims and the wider Muslim world. We are not shying away from the issues, but debating them and listening to concerns. I know the OIC Secretary-General admires the UK’s record on multiculturalism. It has stood us in good stead following the July bombings in London. Islamophobic attacks did increase in the immediate aftermath. They cannot be justified and are to be condemned. But they were from a relatively low base and figures quickly declined. Indeed the reaction throughout the country was, for the most part, united and dignified.

Ambassador Orhun, the OECD’s Special Representative on Islamophobia, has commended the responsive action taken by the government, authorities and the British public following the bombings. He particularly praised the leadership and partnership between the government and British Muslim leaders and our common rejection of any stigmatisation of Muslims. I hope the UK’s overall approach of inclusiveness, multiculturalism and partnership with communities can, as Ambassador Orhun suggests, contribute to best practice across the OECD and beyond.

The forthcoming report by the EU Monitoring Centre on perceptions of Islamophobia within the EU should help stimulate debate and action and we need it. The cartoons issue has led to much needed introspection about European attitudes to minorities, including those of the Muslim faith. Muslim communities are also recognising the importance of engaging with wider society and integrating more fully. This needs to continue.

The mainstream within Islam must be seen and heard if the ignorance of the extremists, be they Muslim or non-Muslim, is to be countered. They must have the partnership and support from the wider community, governments and the broader Muslim ummah.

We are doing just that in support of a number of Muslim organisations. Their programme – and I stress it is their programme – brings to the UK a range of Islamic thinkers from all over the world to engage in public debates that combat extremism and ignorance and they are drawing audiences of thousands throughout the country.

We are also facilitating dialogue between British Muslims and their counterparts on the continent and with European governments. With the Dutch Government, the UK has initiated forums to share best practice in fostering better engagement and relations with its citizens of Muslim faith. We are in full support too of the OSCE’s work to increase mutual tolerance and understanding. We need the wider Muslim world to play its part.

As a politician and a Minister, I understand too well the power of the media, for good and for ill. It is a powerful tool for knowledge and accountability. We fund a number of programmes to help countries build an independent media which is integral to good governance and the promotion and protection of fundamental freedoms.

However, the media can also be guilty of bias, inaccuracy and the creation and entrenchment of stereotypes. I do not believe in state control of the media. But I do believe that governments must constantly remind the media of its responsibility to provide balanced, accurate and sensitive reporting.

For many, the publication of the cartoons was an abuse of that responsibility. Many Muslims, and non-Muslims, were rightly offended. But the violent reaction from some and the existence of anti-western and anti-Jewish media and material in the Muslim world, some of it in state owned press, undermined as hypocritical the moral indignation that was expressed. Headlines, such as those which appeared in certain sections of the media in Pakistan, that hundreds of mosques were burnt to the ground in the aftermath of the London bombings was not only factually wrong but an example of how inaccurate, slanted and sensationalist media can contribute to increasing tensions at a particularly sensitive time and symptomatic of much knee-jerk anti-westernism.

So I welcome initiatives such as the Xenophobia and Racism in the Media conference, to be held under EuroMed auspices later this month, as an opportunity to open both the media and all our societies up to scrutiny.

This conference has a focus on issues surrounding Islamophobia, particularly in Europe. It is right that this issue is addressed. Europe must be more open about these issues. But, I also welcome the session later in the conference on what OIC governments and Muslim organisations can do to address Islamic interpretation or issues of governance in the wider Muslim world which negatively impact on the image of Islam in Europe and beyond.

The Taleban’s rule, with its horrific approach to human rights and medieval treatment of women did much to shape western perceptions of Islam in practice.

But there are also examples today, including support for a Taleban-type legal and social system, which contribute to an image of some of Muslim countries being out of step with the rest of the world.

I’m afraid, also, without singling that country out for special criticism, recent statements coming out of Tehran do nothing to promote tolerance or a positive image of the Muslim world. There is little understanding of practices in some countries that segregate and subjugate women.

And reports of raped women being punished and stoned; restrictions on other religions, including death sentences pronounced on Christian converts, poor human rights records and authoritarian, undemocratic environments all have a negative impact which we cannot ignore.

I recently heard of a number of clerics in Sudan who had pronounced against the administration of polio vaccine because, they claimed, it contained a virus implanted by western-backed Jews. Then there is the insulting claim that 9/11 was all part of a CIA plot used as an excuse for the West to wage war on Islam.

The predominance of anti-western and even extremist preaching, literature and media, including on the internet, across the Muslim world is deeply worrying.

Aggressive, sometimes violent ant-western demonstrations and language, with some support from governments, do nothing to reduce extremism on either side and add to a perception for some that Muslims are somehow inherently against non-Muslims.

The OIC Special Summit in December last year asked introspective questions of the Muslim world. Governments, scholars and civil society seem to have decided that it is time to confront issues of extremism and political and socio-economic development that are damaging the image of Islam and the prosperity of the people who follow that great faith. The OIC Secretary-General’s mantra of ’modernisation and moderation’ seems to neatly encapsulate what should rightly be the Muslim world’s own answer to some of the challenges facing it. The real challenge of course is to follow through the rhetoric with action.

We will press our international partners to take action against extremist material which incites hatred and terrorism, as called for under UN Security Council Resolution 1624 which was an initiative of the UK and adopted unanimously by the Security Council last September.

We are working closely - and will urge other governments to do likewise – with multilateral organisations and NGOs to monitor and raise awareness of extremist material and to counter it with material which promotes tolerance and multiculturalism.

We need also to explore better ways of reaching out to and involving civil society and the young, with a particular focus on improving education and knowledge. Many OIC Member State governments, as reflected at the OIC Summit, recognise that improved standards, quality and breadth of education is key to promoting modernisation and moderation. Some, such as Malaysia, have long recognised the value of such education for economic and human development, particularly in a globalised world.

Good, broad state education has knock-on effects, preventing the emergence and challenging the effects of inadequate educational institutions that can produce narrow-minded and unemployable young people. I have seen examples of both in recent visits – madrassas where the curriculum is worryingly narrow compared to a community project in Afghanistan to build a new school for local girls supported by our Department for International Development and what a wonderful sight that was.

As the Arab Human Development Reports have pointed out, the Arab world has some of the lowest rates of educational achievement of any region in the world. Unemployment among wrongly-skilled and poorly developed youth is high.

I welcome the self-acknowledgement among the Arab world that it must act now to regain its illustrious reputation as a major contributor to scientific, creative and philosophical thought. I highlight and respect the efforts of people in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, freed from the confines of a restrictive state and religious establishment, to build modern education systems, drawing as appropriate on the support and expertise of countries like the UK and others in the international community.

It is by increasing knowledge, raising standards of education, using innovative modern technology based on inclusive governance and free societies that we can best connect with our citizens to produce the tolerant societies to which we aspire.

It is time that we were honest and not let political niceties that hinder debate or the traditional game of blaming the other serve as tired covers for the real issues. Don’t get me wrong. We don’t have all the answers and have many challenges of our own we must address.

Europe too needs to recognise and address its challenges, including Islamophobia and the concerns of its citizens of Muslim faith. This does not mean giving up identities or strong values but, in this context, re-engaging with a Muslim identity that has influenced Europe since at least the 7th century. We need increased interaction with our Muslim communities and to work in partnership with them in response to the challenges we face. It should be an opportunity for Muslims of Europe to open up seemingly closed communities and further engage with the currents of wider society.

The Muslim world can exercise its right to be critical of policies pursued by the UK, US or EU. There may be some justification. But continuing to blame the West for all the ills of the Muslim world is an act of self-denial and contrary to the important steps that were taken by the OIC last December.

It is time for action on moderation and modernisation, time to reject cultural influences or authorities that excuse inaction on human rights, time to speak out against extremism and anti-western invective. It is time also to challenge those who peddle the conspiracy theories which can be so dangerous for us all and to entrench the universal principles of democracy which contribute to stable, prosperous and tolerant societies.