THE REAL damage done by Salman Rushdie has not been the ridicule of a religion - few religions would be deflected or destroyed by such abuse - but the campaign by a bandwagon of his defenders seeking to attack Islam and Muslims rather than to protect Mr Rushdie ("The itch of guilt won't got away while Rushdie remains condemned", 23 July). Statements in defence of free speech have adopted a clearly anti-Islamic stance which has legitimised activities from "Paki- bashing" to "ethnic cleansing". Militant Hindus in India to nationalistic Serbians have used the Western liberal concentration on Rushdie to justify atrocities perpetrated on Muslims.

Muslims today see themselves as embattled in a world which has become less tolerant of differences in belief and deviance from a fashionable lack of belief or principle. Internationally, Muslims see examples - Chechnya and Bosnia are only the most recent - of their being denied a proper participation in political activity and nationhood in states where they are a majority. This denial appears connived at or condoned by the Western democracies. There are other priorities than the fate of Mr Rushdie, however uncomfortable that may be.

Raymond T Ham

London N10