CAIRO - A looming US-led war on Syria is dividing British Muslims, shattered between their distrust of the effects and intentions of any western military intervention and their desire to witness the demise of Bashar Al-Assad regime after two and a half years of civil war.
"I was in Oldham yesterday talking to a large crowd and people usually think, here we go again, another Muslim nation being attacked," Lord Ahmed of Rotherham, one of the UK's most senior Muslim politicians, told The Guardian.
"But here they see it is right for Syria's chemical weapons and air strike capability to be dismantled. People know that there's a real problem and that 100,000 people have been killed.
People can see millions of children being moved and being bombed. I have been talking to one charity working in Jordan and they have been dealing with women who have been raped and that is a very sensitive issue, Lord Ahmed added.
The US and UK have been beating war drums since last week's suspected chemical weapons attack near Damascus which killed more than 1300.
Last Tuesday, US Vice-President Joe Biden said there was "no doubt" that the Syrian government has used chemical weapons and that it must be held accountable.
He added that the US military is ready to launch strikes should President Barack Obama order an attack, and allies say they too are ready to act.
Despite British Muslims desire to see the demise of Assad regime, they expressed concerns about the level of the attacks and their effect on civilians.
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Wednesday that US action would be "a disaster for the region".
Russia, Assad's main arms supplier, has made clear it will not back any UN Security Council resolution of the kind which has given international legal cover to some previous wars - including the NATO bombing of Libya two years ago.
China, too, is wary of what it sees as Western interference in the affairs of others.
"On every occasion America has gone to war it has used the same argument that it will be selective," Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari, chairman of the East London Mosque, said.
"It doesn't wash with the Muslim community. By interfering in Syria it is going to antagonize Iran, Russia and China and open a Pandora's box that will take Syria into a darker age that will leave the Muslim world further divided."
Some Muslim leaders voiced a suspicion that the timing of the west's ratcheting up of tension was diverting attention away from the situation in Egypt, in which military forced the removal of first democratically elected president.
"There is skepticism about who has used chemical weapons and there needs to be a clear proof," Dr Abdul Bari, from East London Mosque, said.
"If it was chemicals why can't America convince China and Russia? Chemical weapons used against civilians is an atrocity.
If Russia, China and Iran are in a civilized world, they should take more action. If they took a strong stand Assad would be crippled."
Jehangir Malik, UK director of the aid agency Islamic Relief, said he agreed with Lord Ahmed that British Muslim anxiety about attacks is tempered by the feeling that something must be done.
"The Muslim community will be skeptical of this intervention, going in after two and a half years," he said.
"But no other Muslim country has done anything so what are the options?"
the fact that the war against Assad was not being sold as part of the "war on terror" gave it more acceptability among Muslims, "not as anti as with Afghanistan and Iraq".
Yet, Malik warned that any strikes could result in the conflict escalating and the humanitarian situation worsening.
"Above all we want to see stronger international action to negotiate humanitarian corridors to enable the safe and effective distribution of aid, to broker a ceasefire and to bring the warring parties to the negotiating table," he added.
Reproduced with permission from OnIslam.net