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Friday, September 25, 1998 Published at 13:34 GMT 14:34 UK


UK Muslims: from relief to outrage

Not all Muslims supported book-burning or the fatwa

By BBC News Online's Matthew Grant

For some British Muslims, the main reaction to Iran's decision to distance itself from the fatwa against Salman Rushdie is relief that the saga finally appears to be coming to an end.

To young liberals the affair has become an embarrassment, highlighting only stereotypes of fundamentalism and contributing to a growing tide of Islamophobia.

Most still believe the author insulted their faith and God in such extreme fashion that it outweighs his right to freedom of speech. But talk of death threats and book burning are equally unwelcome.

[ image: The Queen may visit mosques but many Muslims still feel excluded]
The Queen may visit mosques but many Muslims still feel excluded
This means those with less extreme views are often reluctant to express a view, for fear of being cajoled and bullied to give what the media often seems to expect.

Bashir Abrahim Khan, a press officer for Central London Mosque, said: "Our reaction is no reaction. I can't elaborate on that - there is no need to justify my answer."

A highly emotive issue

Yasmin Ahmed, a London solicitor, said: "Every sort of person who's like me doesn't want to talk about it. I've had conversations in the past that have become so emotive and people end up accusing you of defending the fatwa.

"It's also quite embarrassing, because once again it gives the extreme, fundamental version of Islam. There's a lot more to the subject, but the conclusion's been this fatwa and hence people don't want to talk about it. It's all just been so messy. People are just fed up."

Iqbal Sacrani on Nicky Campbell's 5 Live phone-in: "Offence in the name of artistic expression"
Others, such as the leader of the Islamic Party of Britain, David Musa Pidcock, say Salman Rushdie intentionally engineered the whole fuss as a feat in self-promotion.

"The fatwa was ill-advised," Mr Pidcock said. "It achieved the objective. He knew precisely what he was doing. It was his desire to create contention."

Suspicion of economic motives

Despite this, he is sceptical about the declared end to the threats against the author.

[ image: Rushdie: The Satanic Verses considered blasphemous by almost all Muslims]
Rushdie: The Satanic Verses considered blasphemous by almost all Muslims
"I don't think it's over," he said. "It's all about oil and gas in the Caspian area and has nothing to do with free speech.

"Genuine Muslims recognise it for what it is. But a large proportion of Muslims are quite simple and have no understanding of the real politick. Of course, fundamentalism is really a sign of doubting and Islam is extremely tolerant.

"The whole thing is demonising Islam. Our economic system requires an evil empire. Russia is gone and Islam has to be next."

Rushdie supporter Lady Antonio Fraser: "Celebrate a great day for a free society"
But there are still those who are happy to provide the type of reaction so despised by more moderate followers of Islam.

'Rushdie's life at greater risk'

[ image: Mecca: A common focus for diverse attitudes]
Mecca: A common focus for diverse attitudes
Omar Bakri Mohammed, a judge in the UK Sharia Court and a leader of Al Muhajiroun, said Iran has no right to withdraw the threat hanging over Salman Rushdie's life.

"I think his life will be more at risk now after this high profile agreement," he said.

"Muslims endorsed the fatwa not because the Ayatollah Khomeini said it or because Iran said it but because God said it. The fatwa will stand. I believe there are many Muslims who have an opinion and who can carry it on.

"We always said Iran is not an Islamic state and now Iran will lose its credibility. This would be particularly significant in light of the deteriorating situation between Afghanistan and Iran and the latter's need for international recognition and support in the event of a conflict."

The man at the centre of the row, Salman Rushdie, does not believe these sorts of view are representative of Muslims in Britain.

"I have always believed that there has never really been any kind of threat towards me from members of the British Muslim community.

"I would expect that most British Muslims will be delighted by the news, not necessarily because they're fond of me but because they'll want to get this off their back - it's been a stick with which they've been beaten and I'm delighted its no longer there."

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