Tariq Ali doesn't speak for Muslims

These days my anger is directed at those carping lefties who were once my heroes
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The Independent Culture
IT IS truly remarkable that in all the weeks that the Nato bombings have been taking place, the views of British Muslims have been ignored. And yet most of us feel engaged in a deeply emotional way with the situation. We feel similarly affected by Bosnia, the sanctions against Iraq and the events in Yemen.

It is as if an invisible thread binds us unexpectedly and powerfully to an emerging pan-Islamic identity. Once, as with most diasporic people, the only connections that mattered were those with our countries of origin, such as Pakistan. Now, as we watch Kosovar children weeping on screen, these become our children because they are Muslim. Perhaps subconsciously we worry that one day it could be us.

This is why every Muslim I have spoken to recently supports the action taken by Nato. They cannot understand why there is this insane reluctance to use ground troops. Many are terrified that without Nato sorting itself out quickly, the objectives of the war will not be met. Losing the war, said one Muslim intellectual, would be worse than killing all Muslim Kosovars.

Tony Blair would have been gratified to hear how much faith British Muslims have in the moral stand he is taking. The view of Hussain, an LSE student, is representative of what I hear: "I don't trust Blair. I have never believed anything he has ever said, not even when he cried over Diana. Anyway I hate America especially, and the way Blair is Clinton's pet. But on this, I believe he is sincere. It is as if the real Tony has come out and this Tony is compassionate and really, you know, with principles."

I, too, perceive something genuine and moral about Blair's position. I am finding it hard to reconcile my distaste of the United States and the cynical politics of the West with support for the intentions of Nato. These days my anger is directed at those carping lefties - the Pinters and Pilgers of the world - men who were once my heroes but whose hatred of America has blinded them to the sufferings of the Muslim Albanians. How comforting their rhetoric must be to Milosovic.

Left-wing Muslims are positively traumatised by this betrayal by the left. Mohammed Zulfiquar is a die-hard socialist who not only is unable to forgive this treachery, but is worried that it is making it even more difficult for Blair and Co to go in with ground troops: "When people like Tony Benn, Tariq Ali and Germaine Greer speak out, they must have an effect on political leaders. So with their words they have created a wall which Blair must find harder and harder to climb over."

This is not to say that British Muslims are naive or uncritical in their judgements. The Muslim Council of Great Britain wants to stop the random dispersal of Kosovars. They have suggested the creation of a belt of "safe havens" in the border areas. The Muslim Solidarity Committee wants the KLA to be armed by the West. Muslim News has run sceptical editorials about why it is important to remain cautious and critical of the West while supporting the "overdue and welcome bombing of Serbia". Their editor, Ahmed Versi, is seriously worried about the illegality of the action. He also asks why Nato did not use the blitzing tactics that have been used again and again in Iraq, opting instead for a minimal, badly planned and managed campaign.

The other untold story is the massive contribution by British Muslims to relief work. pounds 2.2m has been donated by two Muslim charities, Islamic Relief and Muslim Aid. This money has been given by some of the poorest people in this country. Islamic Relief has set up camps in Albania to accommodate 5,000 refugees. In comparison with such humanity, rich Muslims such as the Sultan of Brunei, the man with a thousand cars, and the golden princes of the Middle East, come out rather badly. Saudi Arabia has sent some supplies but, as with Bosnia previously, a loud, shameful silence descends over such countries at times like this. Being rich is an expensive and complicated business I guess. Khatoon, a member of an Islamic relief group, believes: "These rich Muslim countries are all rubbish. They will watch us all burn and go to the night-club. At least here the leaders are doing something. We should be grateful."

Tariq Ali may thunder out his anti-war propaganda, but other British Muslims remain behind Nato and the Western Alliance. There is little real concern with whether the right procedure was used before the bombings started. They simply want the action to be tougher, better thought through and much more effective, and so committed are they to this cause that a number of them have told me that they would be prepared to join ground troops to save their "brothers and sisters" in Kosovo.

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