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Syria: what do British Muslims think? And could intervention there have domestic consequences?

By Paul Goodman
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British Muslims were strongly opposed to the Iraq War, as I remember from being in the Commons at the time.  Do they take a different view of British missile strikes on Syria - and on military intervention more broadly?  I spoke earlier today to Mohammed Amin, the Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Muslim Forum and a frequent contributor to this website (see here, for example), who doubts whether this is the case, though he stressed that he has neither been canvassing opinion nor seeking views.  "British Muslims' view of the Iraq war tended to be that it consisted of western non-Muslims bombing Iraqi Muslims, and there's no reason to think that their view of intervention in Syria would be different," he told me.

None the less, there is an important difference between Syria now and Iraq pre-invasion.  Saddam maintained his grip on the latter until the country was invaded.  Assad has lost his hold on parts of Syria, which is engulfed in civil war - one, furthermore, of an increasingly sectarian nature.  On the one side are Shi'ite Muslims, some better-off Sunnis, most Christians and the ruling Alawite clans; on the other are Al Qaeda, the Muslim Brotherhood, many poorer Sunnis and democratic liberals.  Saudi Arabia and Turkey are among the Sunni countries backing the opposition; Shi'ite Iran is the main Muslim supporter of Assad.  There are some signs that this polarisation between the two Islamic traditions is being felt in Britain.

Fiyaz Mughal, who is Director of TellMama (read his piece about it on this site here), said that in his view there is a "perhaps surprising amount" of Sunni support for intervention in Britain.  Haras Rafiq, a counter-extremism specialist and another contributor to ConservativeHome, is inclined to take the same view, saying that it would rise further were a broad coalition, including the Arab League, to effect any military intervention.  He stressed the inadvisability of Britain being drawn into the conflict: "Does David Cameron really want to line up with either Hezbollah or Hamas, which is effectively the choice?" he asked.  I suspect that any British Muslim support for intervention is volatile, and would be vulnerable to events.

In the absence of polling, we can only guess at the degree to which it exists, if at all. But whatever the answer to my original question may be, military action could well have knock-on effects here, like the conflict between Israel and Hamas or the tensions between India and Pakistan (both nuclear-armed).  Some 12 per cent of Britain's Muslims are Shi'ites, who are particularly concentrated in north-west and north-east London.  There have already been attempts by Sunni extremists to stir up anti-Shi'ite violence.  The Home Office and CLG will want to be watchful of the consequences of a missile strike against targets in Syria - and of any escalation of British involvement.


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