Lifestyle & Belief

Britain's Muslims hold mixed opinions on Syria intervention


Protesters gather on Whitehall outside Downing Street to campaign for no international military intervention in the ongoing conflict in Syria on August 28, 2013 in London, England. Prime Minister David Cameron is due to Chair a meeting of the National Security Council today before Parliament's recall tomorrow to debate the UK's response to a suspected chemical weapon attack in Syria.


Oli Scarff

LONDON — Britain's Parliament on Thursday rejected taking part in any military action against Syria's Assad regime following last month's poison gas attack on civilians. But given the viciousness of the conflict, the matter will probably come up again.

The vote was a setback for Prime Minister David Cameron, who argued forcefully for action.

If you believe that the conflicting thinking about Syria is a dilemma affecting just presidents and prime ministers trying to deal with the Assad regime, you could be missing an important perspective.

Britain's Muslim community is facing the same struggle and having trouble reaching a collective view of the Syrian civil war.

There are currently eight Muslim MPs in a total of 650 members of the House of Commons — a small number, but still a record level of representation for the community. (By comparison there are two Muslims in the 435-seat US House of Representatives.)

The Muslim representatives in the House are split according to party affiliation—the two conservatives voted with Cameron, the six Labour MP's voted against him.

But the differences among the 2.7 million Muslims in Britain are much deeper than political party affiliation.

The community sees a double standard in Britain and the West's willingness to attack Muslim countries for abuses that they seem to ignore elsewhere in the world.

They were skeptical about the government's interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq. They were similarly angered by consistent British governmental support for US attempts to dismantle al-Qaeda using drones and extraordinary rendition to Guantanamo and other interrogation "black sites."

But according to an article in The Guardian, the Syria conflict is different.

Lord Ahmed told the newspaper, "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."

Ahmed is a mainstream personality, elevated to the House of Lords following an extremely successful business career.

But there is also a subgroup of Muslims, whose opinion is much more radical.

More than a hundred British Muslims are believed to have gone to Syria to wage jihad against the Assad regime.

They are not interested in creating a Syria that is modern and democratic. They are there to kill apostate Shia and make Syria the base for their long-dreamed-of Islamic caliphate.

The young fighters have no chance of achieving their objective but still, they draw some support from factions within the community.

The Guardian article also quoted Dr. Muhammad Abdul Bari of the East London Mosque—a mosque with a large congregation, but also with doors open to teachers of all brands of Islam, including the more radical interpretations.

Abdul Bari said that some of his mosque's members thought the proposed action was part of a plan to draw attention away from America's role, in their view, in the overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

Considering that 12 percent of British Muslims are Shia, some analysts have voiced concern about a spill over of sectarian violence from the Syrian civil war, which they say could reach Britain through extremist Sunni preachers, whose sermons are available online, based in Saudi Arabia.

That seems unlikely, however, because the Shia community in Britain is made up mainly of exiles from Iran. They do not support the Assad regime because it is such a close ally of the Islamic Republic's government.

Nevertheless, one truism about the British Muslim community is that its members are particularly attuned to the politics of the countries they emigrated from, as well as global Muslim politics. Their views bear watching as the conflict in Syria continues to burn out of control and public opinion in the region shifts and hardens in response to the Assad regime's fight to the death to maintain power.