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Talking Point Forum

Thursday, 11 October, 2001

The leader of the Muslim Parliament of Britain

The leader of the Muslim Parliament of Britain, Dr Ghayasuddin Siddiqui answered your questions in a live webcast on Thursday.

Tony Blair met religious leaders at Downing Street earlier in the week to discuss the attacks against Afghanistan and has been stressing again that the military action in Afghanistan is a war against terrorism, not against Islam.


As allied air attacks continue against the Taleban forces in Afghanistan I'm joined here in the newsroom by Dr Ghayasuddin Siddiqui, who's leader of the Muslim Parliament of Britain.

John Smith from Southampton asks: "What is the general consensus of feeling amongst Muslims in the UK at the moment?"

Ghayasuddin Siddiqui:
I think as far as the Muslim community's concerned they are against Taleban, they are against Bin Laden and they were all for action against terrorism. But I think they do not agree that the military operation against Afghanistan was the right way of containing - tackling terrorism. They thought that perhaps the best way would have been to allow diplomacy to play a much greater role and perhaps explore all the possible peaceful means before embarking on the military operation. You have got to remember that the Americans have lost credibility in the past when they attacked Libya, when they attacked Sudan - they said they had all the evidence but later on it turned out that there was absolutely no evidence. So I think it was in their interests that they should have tried to take the world public opinion with them to recover moral high ground and show the people that they are for rule of law and for justice. And if they had been seen to be going for military option after having explored all possibilities then the whole world would have sided with them.

Alusine who's in Guinea who asks: "Don't you think that Osama Bin Laden is trying to use the Islamic world in order to reach his own objectives?"

Ghayasuddin Siddiqui:
Everybody's trying to use - obviously it was President Bush who declared crusade first. He said it's a crusade. And quite understandably the Taleban responded declaring holy war against infidels. And also you must not forget, as far as the Muslim world is concerned Taleban and Bin Laden are at root the creation of America, CIA. It was they who discovered them, it is they who finance them, it is they who trained them and imposed them on us as our leader. So now having done all that we feel it's unfair that you should blame us for what their own mistakes. And nobody's talking to try some of them, to take legal action or any action against those politicians or CIA officials who have committed these heinous crimes for which we are having to pay the price in the form of innocent deaths and destruction of our land and people.

Are you also saying that, essentially, the problem is that Muslims around the world are being homogenised, they're being lumped together as a single entity, when one wouldn't make such generalisations for instance about the Christian faith?

Ghayasuddin Siddiqui:
Absolutely, absolutely it's true. I mean every Muslim society has its own priorities and interests and they basically want to live, behave and so on or conduct their affairs. In fact at the very root the feeling of the Muslim world is that you impose your solutions on us and when your solutions begin to fail - having done all the damage - beginning to make mistakes which are not in your interests then you go and do the demolishing work.

On the other hand many would say that Osama Bin Laden and others like him have drawn the mantle of the Islamic faith around them - they're the ones who do the actions they do in the name of Islam and therefore many would argue that's why this label is used - of Islamic fundamentalist terrorism.

Ghayasuddin Siddiqui:
No I think there is another explanation to this whole thing. You know, after the process of de-colonisation after the Second World War, you know, we had so many nation states and the leadership which was imposed was - whether they were generals or colonels or presidents or sheikhs or kings - they were all pro-Western elite. They were there to carry the white man's burden. And as a result you see the destruction of society - one of the things that has happened is the destruction of centres of learning and also people don't realise that the kind of religious thought that we have today is causing the trouble and driving people like Taleban - was supported, financed, by the current secular leaders - the monarchs of Saudi Arabia, sheikhs of Gulf and so on and so forth because it suited them so that they could divert opposition from themselves to somewhere else. So that is why. I mean we never believed, in Islam, never believed in terrorism, taking lives and these kind of things, so, this is a new territory.

A question from Paul Morris in Bristol who asks: "Under what circumstances can jihad be justified according to the Muslim religion?"

Ghayasuddin Siddiqui:
It's a very long story but at the very core again you had to have an Islamic state first. An Islamic state cannot be imposed, it has to come into existence as a result of a consensus within a society, within a country. Now we do not have a state where a leadership can make decisions on behalf of the people of that country. Their decisions will be applicable for only those people who live in that area. So there is no such thing that Bin Laden, who has been imposed on the people of Afghanistan by Americans, by CIA, by Pakistan intelligence and they'll begin to make decisions on behalf of all of us.

But jihad itself does not just mean war, it means struggle rather than war does it not?

Ghayasuddin Siddiqui:
Indeed, indeed. But I think at this stage - obviously you are absolutely correct - but at the moment our problem is with that part of jihad which involves a military operation.

How is it looking back at the attacks which were inflicted on the Americans, can you explain to people how it is that some people appear to believe, through the Islamic faith, that if they carry out a suicide bombing or whatever it may be they will somehow be rewarded in the land of milk and honey? Where does this idea have its roots - is it in Islamic text or not?

Ghayasuddin Siddiqui:
Not at all. I think Islam is very clear on this whole issue. It says, you know, Koran is very specific, it says the killing of one innocent person is like killing the entire humanity - so Islam is very clear. And I tell you when Bobby Sands and other people died in Ireland they were not Muslims.

He was an IRA hunger striker.

Ghayasuddin Siddiqui:
That's right, yes. Then of course there are people who have acted - committed suicide attacks in Sri Lanka - Tamils - they were Hindus, they were not Muslims. And of course some of the people have also been Muslims. So the point that I'm trying to make is that this is not peculiar to the people of Islamic faith. There are people, all over the world, perhaps they find, in a certain corner, in a kind of a situation and hopelessness and perhaps they feel at that moment, in their own understanding, that if they were to die why not we take few people with us.

So in that limited respect you would agree with Tony Blair's analysis that people who are using and harnessing and abusing the Islamic faith that is defiling the Islamic faith?

Ghayasuddin Siddiqui:
Absolutely, this has been very clearly understood by us. I mean we are having problems, for example, there have been many suicide attacks in Palestine for example. We say it's un-Islamic, it's not acceptable, but then Palestinians ask a simple question - what options do we have? When we are killed, dispossessed and our houses and orchards are uprooted by the Israelis, this is the when the world looks at the other side. What options do we have? If we are going to die we might as well take a few other people. So it is that kind of attitude which has created some kind of acceptability but at root the whole action is un-Islamic.

Let me bring you on to a question from Chris Turner in Sheffield in England. Do you accept that you have a responsibility, he asks, as a prominent Muslim leader to ensure that British Muslims do not react to al-Qaeda's statement and join them in a holy war against Britain and America?

Ghayasuddin Siddiqui:
Absolutely. In fact our Muslim community has been unanimous in this whole thing in condemning what happened in New York and Washington on 11th of September and also from the very beginning they have dissociated themselves from both the Taleban phenomena and Bin Laden. And I think we have to remember one thing: Muslim community in Britian is a very new community and vast majority of us come from a village background.

A community of, what? - two million approximately.

Ghayasuddin Siddiqui:
Two million or around that figure. And we come from a village background, the vast majority. And I think if you keep these two things in mind then personally I feel that the Muslim community and Muslim leaders have reacted in a very mature way, in a very responsible way, and I think we need to praise them rather than despise them.

Now a question from R. Mukhopadhay from Charlotte in the United States. Do you feel in any way concerned about the safety or freedom of Muslims living in the UK or the US? Do you feel that there will be a long lasting feeling of distrust towards people from the Arab nations? And how should they cope with this?

Ghayasuddin Siddiqui:
I think after what happened in America on September the 11th and the way the media covered and started calling it Islamic, Muslim fundamentalists - I mean they wouldn't call, if IRA was involved, that it was Catholic fundamentalism or if Israelis were doing something - which they do all the time in Palestine - they call it Jewish fundamentalists. Somehow people think, the media think - or at least a section of the media think that Muslims are the easy game, easy target, I think it's that thing which created the atmosphere of the climate of fear in United States and of course in Britain. And of course we have seen many cases of attack on mosques, Islamic centres and Muslims and people who look like Muslims have been attacked and abused. But I think one has to appreciate also the way the British media, newspapers and Prime Minister Tony Blair and his ministers have reacted to this danger and I think this has obviously had a tremendous effect and we see a tapering down of that kind of danger.

Well a number of questions that people have e-mailed in ask about the level of protection afforded to Muslims living in Britain and one from Mark McDonnell in London says: Can you say how in the event of any reprisal attacks against the UK by fundamentalists how we can, as one nation, ensure these people do not make a difficult situation into a dangerous one for the majority of peace-loving Muslims?

Ghayasuddin Siddiqui:
I think we have to recognise that Britain is not perhaps France or the United States. I think the whole atmosphere is very different. I don't expect anything of this nature happening in this country. I mean the vast majority of people - the common people, the activists, the mosque centres, everywhere - there has been such a strong condemnation for anything illegal, unlawful, savage, that I don't think anything of this nature can happen in this country.

Just picking up on the other aspect of Mark's question - the possibility of any reprisal attacks. We do hear comments in the media from some people who claim to be prominent Muslims suggesting this kind of thing might happen. Are those regarded by Muslims as a whole in the community in Britain as hotheads? How are they seen those people who make those types of comments?

Ghayasuddin Siddiqui:
They have no roots in the society. They have become our leaders because the media has given them too much column inches and airtime. Because they make good story. I'm quite sure this is the feeling of the Muslim community, that if these kind of lunatics existed in Jewish community or Irish community or other communities, they would not have received that kind of coverage as our lunatics have received. I mean they may have got one or two lines somewhere, but not the kind of full page and hours and hours long of airtime that they have received. I think if a media behaves in a responsible way then there is no problem, it is media's creating and imposing a problem on us.

Do you think that the government in Britain is handling this issue correctly in saying that it's keeping a very close eye on the kinds of comments that are being made to see whether they are incitement to violence or not? Is it adopting the right approach, do you think?

Ghayasuddin Siddiqui:
I think we have no problem, because if they feel that there are some people who are behaving that way they are most welcome to do that. But if they really want a proper solution then they should have a quiet word with the newspapers and other media people who have been going out to seek these people and giving them the coverage that they have received.

So you're saying it's a symbiotic relationship, it's partly fanned by the media?

Ghayasuddin Siddiqui:

Martin Adams in London is asking you on a wider issue: What do you believe is the single greatest Western policy, attitude, or approach that is causing the Arabs (or the Muslim world, he says) such concern or anger? Is it reasonable then to alter this policy or is it a core value of the West that cannot be altered?

Ghayasuddin Siddiqui:
No, no, no. I think that at the very core, what the Arab and the Muslim world feels is the injustice that has been done to Palestinians. That is at the very very core. There are a few other issues but I think this is the very core. And - you see, if this issue was attended to, a lot of problems would just disappear. I mean in 91/92 when the Americans went to bomb Iraq, they promised to all the Arab world that if you support us this time, we'll make sure that the justice will be done to the Palestinians. Well it wasn't.

I noticed actually in Osama Bin Laden's video message the other day that he was careful to draw in this issue of the Middle East and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Is that something he's been exercised about before or he was largely concerned about US troops on Saudi soil until then?

Ghayasuddin Siddiqui:
No, there are three issues. One is the Palestinian issue and justice for them. The second is sanctions against Iraq which has led to the killing of one million Iraqis, including innocent children and old people. And thirdly, of course, US presence in Arabian peninsula. So these are the three, perhaps in the same kind of order. But I mean I think if, for example, President Bush were to make a public declaration that he promises that by 2005 there will be a viable Palestinian state then things will cool down. And from next Monday or a week's time sanctions against Iraq will be lifted, you can see that the whole scenario will change and you will have demonstrations all over the world in support of the United States.




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