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    UK Muslims divided on Rushdie protests

    Riazat Butt Duncan Campbell Martin Wainwright

    London (Guardian News Service): While some British Muslims protested against the award of a knighthood to the writer Salman Rushdie on Friday, amid reports of strikes and demonstrations in India, Iran and Pakistan, others distanced themselves from the effigy-burning and calls for violent reprisals.

    About 20 demonstrators protested at Regents Park mosque in London afterprayers on Friday afternoon. Men with their faces covered to avoididentification waved placards, one of which read "God curse the Queen", andshouted slogans.

    "We've come to demonstrate against the apostate Salman Rushdie," saidone. "He has insulted Islam and the Prophet Muhammad. Salman Rushdie isthe devil. We have a responsibility - he should be punished, he should beattacked. We should not be afraid of the kuffar [non-believer]. They sayTony Blair is going to be sent to the Middle East as a peace envoy. We hopehe comes back in a box."

    The protesters also burned a homemade St George's flag, to the cheers ofsome and the dismay others. "It is disrespectful to behave like thisoutside a mosque," said Mohammed Ahmed, a 24-year-old part-time charityworker. "This protest will do nothing to change the negative perceptionspeople have about our religion."

    Mosque staff also distanced themselves from the demonstration. "We do notsanction this protest or the views they are expressing," said a woman fromthe director general's office.

    The radical Muslim group Hizb ut-Tahrir condemned the knighthood butalso what it sees as cynical motives for some of the protests by foreigngovernments. "While some of the dictatorships of the Muslim world now rushto defend the honour of the Prophet Muhammad in order to protect themselvesfrom the wrath of the masses, they continually insult his memory byacquiescing in the murder of thousands of Muslim civilians in Waziristan,Iraq and Afghanistan at the behest of their masters," it said in astatement.

    In Bradford, where the original public burning of Rushdie's novel TheSatanic Verses led to images circulated worldwide, the city's Council forMosques condemned the knighthood as "extremely irresponsible", but twoformer lord mayors, Mohammed Ajeeb and Choudhary Rangzeb called for a calmresponse as the best way to make the community's point.

    Ajeeb said: "I would ask the Muslim community to demonstraterestraint. The circumstances facing Muslim communities today mean that anysort of demonstration in the streets is not going to help spread peace andharmony."

    In Srinagar, in India, shops and offices were closed on Friday in protest.In Iran, worshippers at Tehran university chanted "death to the English" asclerics claimed the fatwa against Rushdie was still in force.


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