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US official's courtship with Indian Muslims raises eyebrows

New Delhi: Indian Muslim circles have questioned the US policy towards the Islamic world. The visiting director of the policy planning staff in the US state department, Richard Haass, had to face embarrassing moments when Muslim leaders in the national capital asked him pointed questions. Haass was at a loss as to how best to explain his government's stand over the issue.

Mr. Haass interacted with prominent Muslims at a meeting organised at the residence of the US ambassador to India Robert Blackwill, reported the popular newspaper Asian Age here on October 31. An exhaustive discussion on issues ranging from US foreign policy to terrorism took place, the newspaper said.

The US policy towards the Islamic world was sharply questioned by those invited for interaction with Mr. Haass. However, nearly all the invitees were unanimous in making it abundantly clear that it is the US alone which fostered terrorism in the past. 

Osama Bin Laden and Saddam Hussain were projected as examples of the US follies and the subsequent torture which Muslims are facing worldwide because of the derisive US policies. Muslim leaders pointed out to Haas that even today the US was a strong supporter of dictatorships and authoritarian regimes in many countries of the world.

Those invited for the meeting by the US embassy included former federal minister Arif Mohammad Khan, editors Shahid Siddiqui and M. Afzal, Chancellor of Jamia Hamdard Saiyid Hamid, member of Parliament K. Rehman Khan, columnist Zafar Agha and others.

On one occasion the US ambassador had to express his deep resentment over the remarks of a prominent (Saiyad Hamid, according to MGs information) invitee who remarked, "Your President (George W. Bush) combines the attitudes of 'pride' and 'prejudice' (referring to Jane Austen's novel), although in his case pride has taken the shape of arrogance and prejudice the shape of rancour." He also condemned the present role of US in the Islamic world.

"We are an open society but we are not used to the kind of language used against my President here. I deeply resent it," said Mr. Blackwill. 

However, when Mr Blackwill sought an apology from the said prominent invitee regarding his comments on the American president, all the invitees objected to this, saying unanimously that this is unwarranted and the need for an apology does not arise since the concerned invitee had been requested to present his viewpoints, which he did honestly. 

When it was pointed out that the Sufi influence was largely responsible for keeping Indian Muslims away from terrorism, one of the invitees contradicted the view. "Terror has no place in Islam," he asserted. At the same time, he however, regretted that the argument overstating the role of the Sufi movement gave the impression that other forms of Islam sanction terrorism. Indian Muslims were very supportive of the war against terrorism as they too were the victims like others, he said.

"Autocratic regimes in the world survive because of you. Rulers who deny their people basic human rights, we find them standing by your side," the speaker said pointing out obliquely to some of the oppressive regimes in the world which whole-heartedly find US support.

Some participants also effectively dispelled the notion that the US policies were casting their favourable influence on Indian Muslims.

One of the participants said, "Not as Muslims, although we were invited on the basis of our religious identity, but as Indians." 

"The US had been very supportive of Muslim interests in Bosnia, Palestine and other parts of the world," Mr. Haass painstakingly tried to explain along with Mr. Blackwill.
The invitees were prodded to explain their viewpoints on why Indian Muslims were not enamoured of terrorism, what they felt about US foreign policy, what was their reaction to the war against terrorism, their views about the government's policies on Gujarat and other issues. They were, however, not enlightened about the motives of the interaction with Mr. Haass. 

All invitees were asked not to speak of the meeting with the US embassy. They refused to confirm or deny the event, the Asian Age reported. Till the time of reporting, the Indian foreign office maintained a studied silence.

Ever since the United States battered Afghanistan in its fight against international terrorism, the entire Muslim world had shown its distaste for the US foreign policy. The rage among the Muslims is being seen as resentment to what they call as the launching of a "Crusade" by the United States. In fact the US president had used the word "crusade" when he talked about fighting "Islamic terrorism." 

However, to save its ties with Muslims, the United States had debunked the theory of launching a "crusade" and claimed that its only expressed intention was to rein in a renegade Muslim outfit Al-Qaeda which had been sheltered during the Taliban regime, and not waging a war against Muslims. 

The recent meeting with Richard Haas is the second such American meeting with leaders of the Indian Muslim community. On December 6 last year the US embassy arranged a similar interaction of Muslim editors in Delhi with Donald Camp, deputy assistant secretary of state for South Asia. During that meeting too Muslim editors were unambiguous about their criticism of US policies.

MG Correspondent

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