British Muslims are in an anguished position over Syria, with profound distrust of western military intervention clashing with a desire to see the demise of President Assad. “I was in Oldham yesterday talking to a large crowd and people usually think, here we go again, another Muslim nation being attacked,” said Lord Ahmed of Rotherham, one of the UK’s most senior Muslim politicians. “But here they see it is right for Syria’s chemical weapons and air strike capability to be dismantled. People know that there’s a real problem and that 100,000 people have been killed. People can see millions of children being moved and being bombed. Charities working with women who have been raped and that is a very sensitive issue.”
“On every occasion America has gone to war it has used the same argument that it will be selective,” added Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari, chairman of the East London Mosque. “It doesn’t wash with the Muslim community. By interfering in Syria it is going to antagonise Iran, Russia and China and open a Pandora’s box that will take Syria into a darker age that will leave the Muslim world further divided.”
“There is sceptism about who has used chemical weapons and there needs to be a clear proof,” he said. “It if was chemicals why can’t America convince China and Russia? Chemical weapons used against civilians are an atrocity. If Russia, China and Iran are in a civilised world, they should take more action. If they took a strong stand Assad would be crippled.”
Jehangir Malik, UK director of the aid agency Islamic Relief, said he agreed with Lord Ahmed that British Muslim anxiety about attacks is tempered by the feeling that something must be done.” The Muslim community will be sceptical of this intervention, going in after two and a half years,” he said. “But no other Muslim country has done anything so what are the options?”
Malik said the fact that the action against Assad was not being sold as part of the “war on terror” meant feeling was “not as anti as with Afghanistan and Iraq”. But he also warned that any strikes could result in the conflict escalating and the humanitarian situation worsening.