Ashok Kumar, a North-East MP who was born in Asia, explains how, after much soul-searching, he has come to the conclusion that the war against Iraq is right.

I WRITE this article as a British Member of Parliament, and a Member of Parliament born in India. To me there is no conflict in this. I am a Briton, albeit of Asian origin and of a background rooted in the Sikh and Hindu faiths. I am a citizen of the UK, elected to represent my constituents in the United Kingdom Parliament and, as a Labour MP, working to support my Government and its policies for this country.

This includes support for our Government's approach to the Iraqi conflict and support for our troops now out in the Gulf.

This has been a difficult issue for me, as it has been for many people, but, after much soul-searching, I have come to the conclusion that the Government's course of action is the right one.

I have been pulled in all directions by the war, as have many others.

I was afraid that an all-out conflict could mean many civilian deaths or that it could escalate into a war where poison gas or biological weapons are used - and that this could spiral into a nuclear conflict.

But at the same time, I was concerned that if nothing was done, then over the coming years we could see thousands more deaths of innocent Iraqis who had in some way offended Saddam Hussein's regime. I have no doubt that this would occur.

Indeed, when I was at university several decades ago, I met many Kurds. They became my friends, and they introduced me to the horrors of Saddam's regime. I went on demonstrations with them, demanding Saddam's downfall.

When their studies were finished, they returned home - and were killed.

So, in the end, I had to support the war. I believe that right must always prevail. As an MP voting on whether or not our forces should go to war, I have had to recognise that this can sometimes involve pain. And that this was one of those occasions.

My support for the war may seem surprising to some, as a reading of British newspapers might suggest that attitudes to the war from those from the Asian sub-continent range from the lukewarm to the utterly opposed.

These attitudes are based on a belief that this is not a war for democracy and not a war against a dictator who almost certainly has, or possesses the means to have, weapons of mass destruction.

These attitudes are based on a belief that this is a war against the native Muslim population, and, by implication, a new crusade against the Muslim world.

I have to say to them that this attitude is totally wrong.

Firstly, the war is not a war against the Iraqi people. It is a war, purely and simply, against terrorism, dictatorship and murder.

We have to remember that Saddam Hussein is a man who has, over the years, killed many hundreds of fellow Muslims, has invaded neighbouring Muslim nations and has acted against the central tenets of the Koran, which stress the need for peace, harmony and reconciliation.

He is a dictator who bases his ideology and practice, such as it is, on Western lines, leading a pan-nationalist party - the Ba'ath Party - modelled to resemble National Socialist Germany or Stalinist Russia.

We also have to remember that we are also both explicitly and implicitly supporting the oppressed Muslim minorities within Iraq - the Shias, the Kurds and the Marsh Arabs - ethnic Muslim sub groups within a secular Muslim state.

Secondly, if the Western alliance is a new crusade, how do Muslim critics explain away the fact that, half a decade ago, the same Western nations took military action against a nominally Christian nation - Serbia - in the defence of Muslims in Kosovo. Again, this was a fight to eliminate a dictatorship that was practising ethnic cleansing against its own community and posed a danger to its neighbours. The same principles apply today, only this time we have to read Saddam in place of Slobodan Milosevic.

Thirdly, we have to remember that the UK (and, indeed, the US) is not a homogenous white Christian nation. The UK has one of the largest Muslim communities in Europe. Over two million Muslims have helped to make this country one of the most diverse and tolerant countries in the world.

The vast majority of British Muslims are integrated within our society, and making a vital contribution to the communities across the nation. Fair-minded people are grateful for the contribution that British Muslims are making to our health service, industry, science and learning.

Muslims are also making a vital contribution to our democracy. We have Muslim Members of Parliament. We have Muslim JPs. We also have many Muslim councillors - some of them elected to represent seats where the ethnic minority population is small. It means that they have been elected as community champions on the basis of what they can do for their community - and not always on the basis of religious belief or background.

The size and importance of the Muslim community is such that no British government can turn a blind eye to its domestic or international concerns. And I believe that the vast, quiet majority of British Muslims is as opposed to terrorism and dictatorship as the white British population.

The Muslim community has not been well-served by the extremists in their midst, such as the fanatics who effectively hijacked the Finsbury Park Mosque and who purported to be speaking for the Muslim community. Many people were, rightly, revolted by the belligerence, bigotry and bile of the so-called Muslim cleric Abu Hamza, but few people were told by a seemingly uninterested media that he, and his followers, were later expelled from that mosque by the vote of the vast majority of British Muslims living in North London.

I sincerely believe that those Muslims that seek to portray the war in Iraq as an anti-Muslim crusade are trying to bring down the roof of the temple on their own heads. There are those within our society who would be happy to see the struggle against Saddam reduced to such a base analogy. It is such people - like the racist British National Party - who feed on the utterances of Abu Hamza and his like. It is now time for British Muslims to say loudly and clearly that they cannot countenance the continued existence of a regime which is based on the endless vista of blood, death and violence, and which violates the core Islamic belief of order, peace and justice, and that full support must be given to our Government and our armed forces in their fight to uphold those universal beliefs.

* Ashok Kumar is the Labour MP for Middlesbrough South and Cleveland East