'This is not the West attacking Islam. It is the West attacking terrorism'

War on terrorism: British Muslims
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The Independent Online

Shaziyah Afzal sits in her home in east London and ponders on how the events of 11 September, and all that has come after it, relates to her.

On the eve of Tony Blair's visit to Pakistan after General Pervez Musharraf severed links with the Taliban, Ms Afzal, born in Luton to parents born in Jhalem, Pakistan, is reluctant to take sides in what has become a "them-against-us" equation in the eyes of some British Muslims.

She slouches in a pair of loose-fitting trousers against a backdrop of photographs in which she appears dressed in traditional shalwar kameez and talks about the dual vision with which second-generation British Pakistanis view international affairs.

"I don't really feel fully Pakistani or fully British and I feel concern for my relatives in Pakistan such as my uncle who is in the air force, and those who are here and may be coming up against anti-Islamic feeling," Ms Afzal said.

"What has made me really angry is some media coverage, headlines like 'Go give them hell' which are so inflammatory and simplistic. They only serve in demonising Muslims and put us at risk."

Ms Afzal thinks what General Musharraf is doing is strategically wise. If Pakistan had not distanced itself from the Taliban, she says, it would only have found itself isolated as an "enemy of the West" and faced its wrath.

"I think the consequences for Pakistan afterwards would have been worrying. The country would find itself in a dangerous and vulnerable position," she said.

Another second-generation British Pakistani, Shazia Mirza, a secondary school teacher from London, is less compromising with her views. She is behind General Musharraf's decision to back Tony Blair because she views the events of 11 September as the twisted triumphs of terrorists, not of Muslims.

Ms Mirza, a practising Muslim who wears the hijab, says: "There is no justification for the attacks on America, and the Muslims who condemn Musharraf's actions, I feel, are ignorant, because they think it is the West attacking Islam, which is not so. It is the West attacking terrorism."

But Pakistani-born Azra Dar expresses her sadness at the position she feels Pakistan has been cornered into. Her marriage to Salim Dar, a businessman, brought her to London 18 years ago but her heart is still in Karachi. While she condemns the US attacks wholeheartedly, she feels saddened by General Musharraf's commitment to aiding Western military action.

Mrs Dar, 45, a member of the Asian Women's Group, Surma Centre, London, says: "We don't feel betrayed by Musharraf because Pakistan needs the shelter of America, but at the same time it's a sad thing that Afghan innocents may be killed. If Britain and America are the civilised forces that they say they are, they ought to demonstrate this by sitting down and talking about the root causes of terrorism and working out solutions in a civilised way."

But Mr Dar, 50, feels it is a battle of politics rather than religion, America showing its might over those who are supposedly harbouring terrorists.

He says: "There were many Muslims who died in the World Trade Centre attacks and on the planes that crashed so I don't think the issue is about Islam. It is all about politics."

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