The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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US still villain, but Saddam no longer hero

Bhopal, March 23: The protest rallies across the country against the US-led war on Iraq are different from those of 1991, when Operation Desert Storm was on.

From Bhopal to Jaipur and Srinagar to Thiruvananthapuram, the present rallies underline a distinct post-9/11 disquiet and unease in the Muslim community and a need for introspection.

The sentiments are still against the US and its allies, but there is no mob frenzy in favour of Saddam Hussein this time. On Friday, when more than 10,000 people marched across Bhopal, there were no Saddam posters, no cries of “Death to America” or any picture showing the Iraqi dictator as the ultimate winner.

The seeming lack of warmth towards the Iraqi regime has to do with the Muslim clergy’s disillusionment with Saddam. International outfits such as the Jamiat-e-Islami, the Tabligi Jamat and the Akhwans (International Brotherhood) and sister organisations are deeply upset with Saddam’s Baath Party and its curbs on religious activities in Iraq.

According to these organisations, Saddam’s “Islamic” image is the result of careful cultivation by the West and the western media, which routinely shows the Iraqi dictator offering namaz in a desert.

Most Muslim religious organisations in India get funds or donations from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, the UAE and Iran. As all these countries have an axe to grind against Saddam, their bitterness towards his regime is reflected in the organisations’ stand.

The organisations are clearly more worried about the safety of millions of expatriates and the fate of their remittances running into crores. The community’s collective concern is driving the dominant Muslim opinion favouring a quick end to the war. For them, Saddam’s ouster is a foregone conclusion. Their main concern is Iraq’s future. The question doing the rounds is about the US’ and the UK’s ability to ensure the safety of Iraq’s oil reserves and their continuance in the hands of the sons of the soil.

The community is also concerned about getting a “credible” regime in place in Iraq and preventing it from going the Palestine way.

The reports of a section of the Turkish army sneaking into Iraq have already disturbed the community leaders.

In private, they discuss the larger implications of the negative aspects of the Taliban-al Qaida brand of fundamentalism and the dictatorial regimes of West Asia bringing disrepute to the spirit of Islam.

There are few takers for the clash of civilisations theory; the focus, instead, is on democratisation of and gender sensitivity in Islamic societies. The general feeling towards the West is, of course, one of suspicion and distrust.

Yet Muslim opinion-makers are more inclined towards an inter-faith dialogue and economic development and integration based on the Malaysian model than a bloody confrontation.

A scrutiny of the protesters’ profile shows a pattern. Among the most vocal are the hard-core Leftists with their own anti-US agenda. Most of the free posters, placards and handbills for the rallies come from them.

They are also busy dubbing President George W. Bush’s “just war” another act of the US’ hegemonistic and imperialist designs.

Among the other protesters is the majority who say they cannot but show solidarity with their Iraqi “brothers”, who have been caught in the US-Saddam crossfire for over a decade.

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