Cablegate: Indian Muslim Resentment Smoldering Over Lebanon and Gaza
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C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 06 NEW DELHI 005470
E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/04/2016
TAGS: PGOV PREL PHUM PINR PTER KISL SCUL EINV IN
SUBJECT: INDIAN MUSLIM RESENTMENT SMOLDERING OVER LEBANON AND GAZA
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Classified By: Charge Geoff Pyatt for reasons 1.4 (B,D)
1. (C) Summary: Events in Lebanon and Gaza have attracted considerable attention in India, but are of particular concern to the country's 130 million Muslims. The Urdu press has treated Lebanon/Gaza events in great detail. Editorial opinion --some planted by Iranian agents-- is uniformly anti-Israel and anti-US. Despite this, Muslims have just started to demonstrate. Islamic firebrand preacher Kalbe Jawad held an anti-US rally in New Delhi on August 3 and numerous Islamic organizations are expected to demonstrate after Friday prayers on August 4. Our Muslim contacts assert that there is growing anger against the US and Israel, with demonstrations and violence possible. Generally pleased with the GOI condemnation of Israeli actions and its support for an immediate cease-fire, they agree that if a cease-fire proposal is tabled soon, with the possibility of enactment in a manner of days, it would take the wind out of the sales of planned protests. However, Indian Muslims are angry and could still be mobilized in the streets should hostilities continue. Seeking to manage this reaction, the Foreign Ministry has issued several strong condemnations of Israeli action, conveniently overlooking the increasingly tight security and technology relationship between the two countries. End Summary.
Following Middle East Events
2. (C) Our Muslim contacts confirm that India's Muslims are following events in Gaza and Lebanon with great interest, and that the Urdu press has devoted much more space to these issues than English and Hindi language newspapers. Indian media (both print and electronic) have made some of the same points emphasized in other countries with sizable Muslim populations, pointing to the increased prestige accorded to Shias and Hizbollah through its ""resistance,"" and the increased importance of Islamic groups in Lebanon and Palestinian areas. Shias are a small minority among Indian Muslims, but the conflict between Hizbollah and Israel has focused Muslim attention on this Shia organization, with Sunnis expressing admiration for a Shia group they once held in contempt. Following the outbreak of Israel/Hezbollah hostilities, the US has been repeatedly identified within the Muslim community as the power behind Israeli ""aggression,"" while US calls for a ""new Middle East"" and a sustainable cease-fire have been subjected to ridicule.
What the Urdu Press is Saying
3. (U) A July 26 editorial in the Urdu daily ""Jadeed In-Dinon"" called for the ""Islamic world to stand united against Israel,"" and accused the US of ""double standards"" and ""hypocrisy"" by ""providing sophisticated arms to Israel"" while ""the entire world community is silent over Israeli aggression against Lebanon and Palestine."" The editorial then claimed that Israel is acting as a stalking horse for the US to ""test the courage and spirit of Iran, which has been creating lots of trouble for America for a long time."" A July 27 editorial in the Urdu daily ""Munsif"" praises ""Shah Abdullah of Saudi Arabia"" who ""has once again shown courage by warning Israel of a possible war spreading over the entire West Asian region."" and points out that ""as the custodian of the two
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holy mosques and the ruler of the biggest (sic.) Islamic country, the statement comes as a resurgence of the slumbering Arab conscience."" On July 25, another Urdu newspaper ""Dawat"" criticized the US as the ""self assumed leader of the world"" and warned that the US could be subject to a ""public onslaught in the event of a worsening situation in Palestine and Lebanon."" ""Rashtriya Sahara,"" the Urdu newspaper of the powerful Sahara business combine on July 29 described Israel as a nation ""drunk with power and might,"" which has ""oppressed and wreaked havoc on innocent civilians and helpless citizens."" It urged the US, ""the patron force behind Israel,"" to stop the war at once.
More Demonstrations Expected
4. (C) Muslim demonstrations in India center around the Friday prayers. July 28 was largely quiet. The big exception was at Old Delhi's Jamma Mosque. In his Friday sermon, Imam Syed Ahmed Bukhari told the congregation that Israeli actions in Lebanon ""had the full backing of the United States,"" and was part of a continuing pattern of Israeli and American attacks against Lebanon and Palestine. Bukhari pointed out that the GOI had long been sympathetic towards the aspirations of the Palestinian people, but had now changed its tune, as it had become ""US-centric."" He accused the GOI of taking a muddled stance on the Lebanon issue in response to American pressure. Muslims paraded through the old city after the prayers waving Palestinian flags and shouting anti-Israel slogans. Our Muslim sources tell us that Muslim organizations are planning large anti-Israel and anti-US demonstrations after the Friday prayers on August 4, which they expect will be much more widespread and virulent than on July 28.
Views of a Leading Maulvi
5. (C) Poloff met with Imam Bukhari on August 1 to sound him out about the Lebanon situation. He predicted that August 4 would be a quiet Friday and that we should expect a quiet weekend. Noting that he had already made a statement on the issue, Bukhari said he had no intention of bringing it up again. He pointed out that the large anti-US demonstrations that took place during the POTUS visit were motivated by the controversy surrounding the Danish cartoons and that Indian Muslims did not look at the Lebanon issue in the same light. Without that emotional catalyst, he maintained, there was little likelihood of a massive spontaneous outburst. According to Bukhari, Indian Muslims look to their leadership to organize a successful agitation, and in this case no ""trusted leader"" has stepped forward. He claimed that several organizations had approached him to lead demonstrations on August 4, but he declined.
Support for Lebanon Not Hizbollah
6. (C) This does not mean, however, that Indian Muslims are not angry. Bukhari emphasized that there is universal support for Lebanon and against Israel. Despite this, Muslims in India are inherently ""weak"" and incapable of concerted action without direction from above. Bukhari also pointed out that Indian Muslims do not widely admire
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organizations like Hizbollah and the Taliban, as they are ""always preaching war."" Most Indian Muslims have concluded that ""there is something wrong"" with the Jihad approach to Muslim problems. There is a perception that Jihadis are not ""blessed by Allah."" Instead, Indian Muslims look for a ""positive approach."" He asserted that despite the media hype, there has been no appreciable increase of support for Hizbollah in India and that Indian Muslims are tired of the Sunni/Shia divide and look at sectarian organizations like Hizbollah with suspicion.
But Tempers Could Blow
7. (C) Bukhari warned, however, that Muslim sentiments will become roused if the Lebanon situation goes on much longer, as ""oppression of innocents unites Muslims."" He noted that the onus is on the US and the UN to end this ""oppression"" before sentiments get out of hand. He asserted that Indian Muslims are universally unhappy with the Bush administration's support for Israel, stating that you can ""ask any Muslim and they will tell you they are unhappy with Condaleeza Rice's statement that Israel has the right to defend itself."" He confirmed that Indian Muslims will ""blame the US"" for Israel's actions. Conceding that ""Hizbollah is not a great organization,"" he lamented what he called Israeli over-reaction, saying ""you cannot fight a fire with more fire."" Bukhari urged the USG to sponsor a conference on the Middle East in which prominent Muslims could sit down and discuss US foreign policy with a USG representative, saying that this would go a long way towards cooling tempers.
Barelvi Maulvi Less Complacent
8. (C) Qari Mian Mazari, a leading Maulvi politician from the moderate Barelvi school, was less complacent than Imam Bukhari. He maintained that Muslim emotions were being fired-up by a steady stream of propaganda from the Urdu press. He pointed out that there are over 100 Urdu newspapers in India with an enormous influence over Muslim attitudes. Mazari claimed that the Iranian Embassy had paid for the placement of 15 anti-Israel/anti-US articles in the Urdu press since hostilities began in Lebanon and planned to continue to spending large sums to play up the Lebanon story. He was particularly angry with the Urdu newspaper ""Nai Duniya (New World),"" which is published by Shahid Siddiqi, a Muslim MP from the Samajwadi Party (SP). Mazari noted that Siddiqi had published a special edition of the paper with 24 pages devoted to the glorification of Hizbollah and had distributed 50,000 copies free of charge throughout India. He claimed that the entire project was funded by Teheran.
9. (C) According to Mazari a loose group of ""wahhabi"" organizations including the Jamaat-Islami, and Jamaat-i-Ulema-i-Hind and the recently-founded ""Peoples' Democratic Front"" of firebrand Shia cleric Kalbe Jawad, have organized protests to follow Friday prayers on August 4. Although these organizations are well-funded, he noted, they have only limited appeal. Mazari agreed with Bukhari that Muslim groups that ""go for the negative"" do not fare well in India. He asserted, however, that Kalbe Jawad's Lucknow following would ensure a sizable turn-out in the Uttar Pradesh capital.
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Muslim Cross-section Angry and Adamant
10. (C) On August 2, Poloff met with six Muslims, including a Deobandi Maulvi, a Secretary in All Indian Congress Committee, the leader of a Muslim NGO, and several journalists and Congress party workers to discuss Lebanon/Gaza developments. They expressed happiness with UPA handling of Middle East developments, pointing out that 18 Muslim MPs from various parties met with both the Prime Minister and Sonia Gandhi to discuss the Lebanon/Gaza issue. In the meeting, the MPs purportedly told the PM and Party President that they unanimously condemned the Israeli actions and urged India to push for an immediate cease fire and for a resolution of all disputes through negotiations rather than armed conflict. The MPs were said to be pleased with their reception and the reassurances provided by Mrs. Gandhi and the PM, who agreed that a committee of Muslim MPs would provide ""advice"" to the GOI on Middle East policy.
11. (C) The group were unhappy with the Urdu media, accusing Urdu newspapers of ""exploiting the feelings of Muslims to encourage sales."" They pointed out that ""educated Muslims"" did not rely on emotions and took a more detached approach to the issues. All agreed that Muslims in India viewed events in Lebanon as a clear case of Israeli aggression. They noted that Muslims may not take out mass processions and protests, but were angry and ""protesting"" in myriads of ways, such as letters to the editor, speeches during Friday prayers and statements in Parliament. They also stated that in Muslim eyes, the US was ""protecting"" Israel and this was increasing anti-US sentiment. They noted that the popular view is that the UN and world opinion had condemned ""Israeli aggression,"" but the US had ignored these developments and ""encouraged Israel to act immorally."" This ""double standard,"" they asserted, had negated all USG Muslim outreach efforts of the past year.
Overlap With the Left
12. (C) Muslims are not the only group that has focused on events in Lebanon. India's Leftists have an historic animosity against Israel, routinely link the USG with Israeli policy, and do not want to see New Delhi and Washington growing too close. Their attitude was summed up in a July 26 editorial in ""The Telegraph,"" by veteran journalist KP Nayar, who has close ties to Left. Nayar asserts that the Israeli action against Lebanon mirrors the US policy in Iraq and that both will backfire. He predicted that the Israeli ""aggression"" will destroy Lebanon's nascent democratic government, while increasing the prestige and power of both Hizbollah and Syria. This, he asserted, will reconfigure opposition to Israel into a strict Islamic mode, and Israel will face ""a formidable, wholly radical Islamist enemy in Palestinian territories.""
13. (C) Nayar maintained that this will have a huge impact on Indian Muslims, who will become energized against the US and the budding US/India relationship. As proof, Nayar pointed to a June 22 meeting between two Muslim Congress leaders from Kerala and Party President Sonia Gandhi in which they purportedly ""emphasized to her the need for the UPA to
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demonstrate to India's minorities that the country was not cosying up to America."" Nayar asserted that ""from Malaysia to Morocco, for Muslims, America is the number one enemy today. To ignore that sentiment in a country with around 140 million Muslims is to ignore a sizable segment of public opinion.""
But No Intention to Rock the Boat
14. (C) In an August 2 meeting, veteran journalist Zafar Agha opined that while the Left has traditionally staked out a pro-Palestine stance, it was not going to press the Lebanon/Gaza issue this time. Agha noted that there is a growing consensus among the Left parties that it does no good to overly antagonize the US. This, claimed Agha, stems from the increasing stake that the Left has in managing West Bengal and Kerala and the lack of economic alternatives. The pro-investment camp has purportedly determined that foreign policy issues should not be allowed to endanger foreign investments. Agha maintained that the Left leaders, like the rest of the Indian upper middle class, send their children to study in the US and expect them to land good jobs in American multinationals afterwards and don't want to endanger their future. Thus, he emphasized, the Left will make common cause with the Muslims on Lebanon, but only up to a point and not enough to endanger the status quo.
15. (C) Agha also maintained that the Muslims will ""lie low,"" as they are still reeling from the aftereffects of the Mumbai terrorist attack. The attack focused unwanted attention on the Muslim community and encouraged Hindu nationalists to link Muslims with terrorism. The security apparatus also supposedly engaged in wholesale roundups of Muslims in Mumbai, arresting 2,000 innocent Muslim males and holding them on suspicion, many because they wore skullcaps and beards. Agha stated that with the Mumbai bombing such a recent occurrence, Muslims would not prefer to take to the streets over Lebanon and attract a feared backlash. Describing the Indian Muslim leadership as a ""bunch of mercenaries,"" Agha was all but certain that the GOI/UPA had paid off most prominent leaders to maintain peace, leaving only those on Iran's payroll to sponsor demonstrations.
Has an Impact on the GOI
16. (C) Imam Bukhari asserted to his congregation on July 28 that the GOI was rudderless when it came to events in Lebanon as it had grown too close to the US. Stung, and mindful of the electoral clout of Muslims, the GOI moved quickly on August 1 to dispel such notions. In a statement by its official spokesman, the MEA asserted that, ""India strongly condemns the continued irresponsible and indiscriminate bombing of Lebanon by the Israeli military, ignoring calls for restraint. Particularly outrageous is the bombing this morning of a building in Qana in South Lebanon."" The MEA statement went on to call for an ""immediate and unconditional cease-fire."" In addition, Parliament on July 31 passed a unanimous resolution strongly condemning ""the large-scale and indiscriminate bombing by the Zionist Regime on Lebanon,"" and calling for an ""immediate and unconditional cease-fire to prevent further destruction in Lebanon."" These overt condemnations of Israeli policy have yet to have an impact on
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burgeoning India/Israel ties. The GOI's quiet, but growing technology and security relationship with Israel continues unabated.
Limited but Noticeable Impact on PA Programs
17. (C) The conflict in Lebanon has had a direct impact on some PA programs, while others have proceeded normally. PA speaker Akram Elias, a Lebanese-American (Christian) in India and part of a program on ""Religious Diversity in the US,"" had two of his speaking engagements canceled due to opposition to US policy in support of Israel. ""Islamic Voice,"" a moderate Muslim magazine in Bangalore canceled his program after receiving letters of protest and threat saying is was inappropriate to have a US-Lebanese speaker now. Saifia College, a Muslim college in Bhopal, also canceled a program citing scheduling problems, although an official informally informed the Embassy it was due to US policy supporting ""Israeli aggression.""
18. (C) Separately, a media outreach program with US speaker Dr. Wais, a scholar on the Urdu language, has proceeded normally in Moradabad (UP), with a DVC with Kashmir University in Srinagar, and a lunch for Muslim Urdu editors in Delhi. Finally, 15 students from Jamia Millia University in Delhi backed out of a planned ""town hall"" meeting with A/S Boucher citing their opposition to US policy in Lebanon.
The Muslim Factor
19. (C) Congress came to power on the strength of its oft-proclaimed ""secularism."" It contrasted its attitude towards ""minorities"" (meaning Muslims) with that of the Hindu nationalist BJP. Many commentators have asserted that with the strong overlap in economic and foreign policy between the two parties, this was one undeniable difference. Since coming to power, Congress has tried to win back the Muslim voter from the regional parties to which most Muslims currently claim allegiance. Indian Muslims have demonstrated time and again that they are opposed to the US tilt towards Israel and have strong sympathies with Palestine (and now the people of Lebanon). In the crucial state of Uttar Pradesh (UP), the ruling Samajwadi Party has determined that the best way to maintain Muslim allegiance is to adopt a pro-Iran, pro-Hizbollah, anti-Israel, anti-US stance. While Congress would like to win over the Muslims, it is constrained as to how far it can go, as it does not want to risk alienating the US. At the same time, the Left wing of Congress and the Communist/Socialist parties of the Left front share a deep animosity to US Middle East policy. This has forced the GOI to play a delicate balancing act.
20. (C) Much will depend on the reaction of Indian Muslims to Middle East events. So far, while Muslims are smoldering, their deep resentments have not burst into flame. Demonstrations and public outpouring of emotion have been few. We should expect more demonstrations on August 4 and perhaps throughout the weekend.
21. (U) Visit New Delhi's Classified Website: (http://www.state.sgov.gov/p/sa/newdelhi/)