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Monday, 24 September, 2001, 15:27 GMT 16:27 UK
Muslim Council for Britain's spokesman
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The UK's mainstream Muslim community has condemned a "tiny lunatic fringe" who have expressed controversial views on the terror attacks in the US.

Community and religious leaders say a small number of Islamic activists are endangering and embarrassing ordinary Muslims by supporting the atrocities.

The overwhelming majority of the two million Muslims living in the UK do not share the activists' extreme views.

Inayat Bunglawala is the spokesman for the Muslim Council for Britain. He answered your questions in a live forum.


Highlights of the interview:


Newshost:

David, UK: We are all well aware that the Muslim community of Britain is not responsible for the attacks on New York. How shall we work together to make everyone understands our solidarity against terrorism regardless of their religion?


Inayat Bunglawala:

I think this is a very important question. In the aftermath of this attack, all Muslims made it clear that this attack was absolutely unacceptable. In fact there was unprecedented unity amongst Muslim countries, even countries like Libya, Iran, which in the past America has accused of sponsoring terrorism - they all united to condemn this attack.

What we would like to see as Muslims is that this should be a war on all forms of terrorism, not just terrorism which - at the moment we don't have the proof - but seems to emanate from a radical Islamic fringe. We would like to see it to be a war on Israeli terrorism as well. Israel has been oppressing the Palestinian people for 53 years using American-made weapons - we would like to see an end to that.


Newshost:

How do British Muslims see the military build up to be aimed at Afghanistan? Do they see that as an attack on terrorism or as an attack on Islam?


Inayat Bunglawala:

Again the worry is while all Muslims would support an attack on the terrorists themselves - provided that there is proof that these people perpetrated this attack. The worry is because America possesses a very heavy military hammer, that it won't be just those who perpetrated this attack who will be caught but it will be many innocent civilians. This has happened in the past from our experience of Iraq. It was not just Saddam and his network that was hit, it was many innocent Iraqis and that is the worry here. The worry is that it will only lead to more bloodshed of innocent people.


Newshost:

So as long as the information is right, the proof is there, British Muslims and others will support these kind of attacks?


Inayat Bunglawala:

Absolutely. All Muslims have called for proof and provided the proof is there, we will all support the bringing to justice of these people.


Newshost:

Palwasha Khan, Peshawar,Pakistan asks: How are UK Muslims handling this crisis? Have there been any racial or violent attacks against them?


Inayat Bunglawala:

As soon as this tragedy occurred, we called a meeting of all the mainstream Islamic groups in the UK where we all signed a joint statement condemning this atrocity and demanding that the perpetrators be caught. So we moved very quickly on that issue. But regarding the attacks or any racial incidents - there have been a whole stream of incidents since 13 days ago when this attack occurred. But they have been isolated incidents so far and we are working very closely with the police and the security agencies here to minimise this and certainly reduce the level of tension in our community.


Newshost:

Bearing in mind where this questioner comes from, how do you see the problems of the demonstrations on the street there panning out for the Pakistani regime? Do you think that is going to be a big problem for them or not?


Inayat Bunglawala:

I think it will be a problem for Pakistan because Pakistan borders Afghanistan. Of course many Pakistanis helped the Afghans in their Jihad against the Russian invasion, when the Russians invaded Afghanistan. So many Pakistanis have a natural empathy and sympathy for these people - the Afghan people have gone through so much over the last 20 years. So no Pakistani wants to see America just come in and hit these people - there is a natural sympathy there.

But if America can provide proof of who has carried out this bombing and can say - look we are only targeting those responsible and it will not be a blanket attack on the Afghan people - I am sure we can keep Pakistan on board.
Newshost:

Amongst Britain's Muslims is there much support for the Taleban here?


Inayat Bunglawala:

The Taleban again comes from a particular understanding of Islam. So there is certainly sympathy for the Taleban in that after the Russians left Afghanistan there was bitter infighting in Afghanistan. There was a really dreadful internecine fighting between the various muhajadin factions. It was the Taleban who got together and decided they would disarm all other militias and now they have brought 95% of Afghanistan under their control. So in that 95% of Afghanistan that is under the Taleban control, actually it is quite stable - it is far better than it was prior to the emergence of the Taleban. So there is sympathy for the Taleban in Muslim communities.


Newshost:

Mark Taylor, London asks: Is it the time for right-minded Islamists to take it upon themselves to actively educate the wrong thinking Islamists about the reality behind the teachings in the Quoran?


Inayat Bunglawala:

This is a problem all faiths face in that we all have our fringe groups which distort the teachings of the faiths to pursue their own agendas. Now as far as Islam is concerned, certainly we all have a duty to present the true message of Islam - a message which is free from fanaticism. But it is not a problem that is exclusive to Islam unfortunately - all faiths have this problem with fringe groups.


Newshost:

Helen Spuy, Arlesford, UK asks: Can you explain why many Muslim people are seeing Bin Laden as a hero?


Inayat Bunglawala:

Again the history behind Bin Laden of course is that he came from a very wealthy Saudi family - a very well known family. The Bin Laden family has an enormous construction company in Saudi Arabia - it is a multi-billion dollar company. Bin Laden of course was born with a silver spoon in his mouth - very, very wealthy. But Bin Laden gave up his wealth, gave up his family ties to go to Afghanistan in 1979 when the Russians invaded Afghanistan. The Muslims who saw this person leaving his wealth, leaving his family to go and wage a battle that was not his own - it was thousands of miles away in Afghanistan - naturally this creates a lot of love, a lot of respect for the gentleman. He fought and he rallied many of the Arabs as well to come and fight in Afghanistan in the war of liberation against Russia. So there is enormous respect for what Osama Bin Laden did in the 1980s to free Afghanistan from Russian control.


Newshost:

Would that respect evaporate if the finger was truly pointed at him that he was behind the attacks in America?


Inayat Bunglawala:

Absolutely. If Osama carried out this atrocity against innocent civilians - if it is proven - then definitely that reservoir of goodwill will very rapidly evaporate because Islam does not tolerate any attack on innocent civilians. These people who died in the World Trade Center, who died in the Pentagon - they were absolutely innocent - they had families - they are not to be targeted at all in this sort of attack.


Newshost:

You mentioned that he gave up his wealth when he went to Afghanistan. There is a school of thought that believes he may have funded ultimately, albeit through third parties, the attacks on America and that he didn't give up his wealth.


Inayat Bunglawala:

From what I know, certainly Osama is in receipt of funds from the Middle East - people from the Middle East do fund Osama for his network. He has been receiving funding from certain individuals in the Middle East and I think that is what the Americans are now trying to put a stop to - they are trying to gather intelligence - how is this network financing itself - and that is what they are trying to stop.


Newshost:

Stephen Corry, London, UK asks: Why don't Muslims form a vigorous "anti-terrorist organisation" to voice their opposition to the lunatic fringe?


Inayat Bunglawala:

For a long time here in the UK, even though we know of the presence of the lunatic fringe, the mainstream Muslim community and the Muslim Council of Britain in particular, had a longstanding policy of not attacking them because we believe there are laws in this country and if any group - any individual - breaks those laws then they will bring the law down on themselves so there was no need to attack them.

But since the events of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon where some of these extremist groups have been openly supporting what happened - this rhetoric is highly dangerous for the community. It is basically giving the wrong impression that the community also supports these attacks. So for the first time we have been speaking out very vigorously - on the television, in the newspapers - against these extremist groups. We are saying they are totally unrepresentative of the British Muslim community. In fact there are 800 mosques here in the UK - of the 800 only two are run by these particular extremist individuals. That is a message that is not well known and that is one which we want to make more widespread - only two mosques out of the 800 are controlled by this extremist fringe.


Newshost:

Do you think, in a sense, you are maybe paying the price for an ambiguous position in the past by not coming out and attacking these fundamentalist groups? Whereas if you had done maybe the British population and other populations in other countries might have said that Muslims are nothing to do with these attacks in America.


Inayat Bunglawala:

With hindsight - it must be remembered that the leadership in the British Muslim community has been generally those Muslims who came over as immigrants from other countries. It is only now that you are seeing a generation which was educated here in the UK, that went to the universities here in the UK - second or first generation British Muslims who understand the media better, who understand how better to communicate with the wider public and they are certainly taking a far more vigorous role in exposing these fanatics.


Newshost:

Monica, London asks: While I appreciate the difficulties you face, I would like to ask what you are doing on the ground to reach the young Muslims in Britain who adopt and adhere to extremist views? I am just adding on here - and who might regard somebody like Bin Laden as a heroic figure?


Inayat Bunglawala:

As far as the Muslim youth go, we have certain problems here in the UK of disenfranchisement, of perhaps lack of education - certainly in the northern towns where we witnessed riots earlier this summer. What we have done is we have gone to the Government with our concerns - we have said there needs to be regeneration of these communities. If people grow up thinking there are no jobs for them, they will turn to radicalism, they will turn away from the mainstream. So this is a huge programme - we need to work with the Government to ensure that hope is always there for youngsters - that if they get a decent education there will be a decent job at the end of it.


Newshost:

Of the people you have been speaking to, you said earlier that the vast majority of Muslims have condemned outright what happened in America - do you sense a slightly harder attitude among the young Muslims, particularly here in Britain?


Inayat Bunglawala:

Yes, it must be remembered there is an ambivalence here - a slight ambivalence amongst the youth because America is not the most favoured country amongst Muslims in the UK. America is seen - in its foreign policy certainly - as being a little heavy-handed, certainly with respect to Palestine and certainly with respect to Iraq. It is important we make this clear that all human life is precious - American lives are precious but so are Iraqi lives and those Iraqi civilians who have been dying in their thousands because of the American-led sanction regime - their lives are also precious. Just as we feel for those Americans who died, we also feel for those Iraqis. Sometimes there is a perception amongst Muslims that here in the West we don't value all life equally - that perhaps we pay more attention to Americans who die rather than the Iraqis and that is a very widespread concern.

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