The dismissal of the former Mayor of Tower Hamlets, Lutfur Rahman, was a fine example of how the British establishment will not tolerate any Muslim with political aspirations unless they conform to its state sanctioned-secular liberal values, writes Jahangir Mohammed.
Politics can be a dirty game. Anyone who has had any real experience working with British politicians understands that. So judge Richard Mawrey’s rulings and comments in the trial of Lutfur Rahman betray a lack of experience of how politics operates in Britain.
During a long career working with local government, I have seen politicians engage in behaviour much worse than that Lutfur Rahman has been accused of. Electoral fraud with voter identities is of course rare. However, the attempt to portray British politics (white politicians ) as holier than thou, and Lutfur Rahman as somehow behaving outside the norms of acceptable standards conforms to the worst racist stereotyping of black and Asian candidates (and senior officers) as cheats, despots and engaged in corrupt practices.
Such accusations have regularly been levelled against black and Asian candidates and officers when they attain positions of power.
The “damning” charges against Lutfur Rahman
The truth is that most of the behaviour that the former Mayor of Tower Hamlets has been accused of is pretty common amongst politicians.
Take for example the charge of making false accusations, such as racism against opponents. Judge Mawrey appears not to listen to politicians talking much. Don’t they accuse others of something or another, and most of the time, often totally untrue? Do they not play the “race card,” or any other card for that matter, to get the support of voters?
If we analysed politicians’ statements for honesty we would probably find very few honest politicians.
What about the practice of rewarding your supporters, community centres and mosques that support a particular party with funding? That too has been a regular feature of party politics in Muslim areas. There may be an officer-led process for awarding funds, but I can tell you from experience that politicians often influence those decisions to their advantage. And what about the House of Lords, does that not have amongst its midst those who have favoured one party/politician or other with donations or other support?
What about the charge of “treating” or providing benefits such as dinners to win people over? Is the judge seriously telling us that the main parties in and out of power don’t do that and engage in more serious conflict of interests? Think of all the business, financial and political interests that politicians are linked to.
Somewhat surprising is the ancient charge of “spiritual influence”; using religious backing to gain support for a candidate or party. Again there is nothing unusual about this practice, Judge Mawrey has obviously not heard of the “Labour Party” mosques that many of us in our localities have become accustomed to.
Here’s the irony, 100 business leaders can openly support David Cameron and his party to gain the business vote and that does not constitute unfair “business influence,” but 100 religious leaders cannot come out and do the same.
The ruling by Judge Mawrey does not make sense if seen from a purely racist and lack of understanding of reality political perspective (a charge which can sometimes be labelled at judges).
I cannot accept he is so divorced from reality that the he does not know what takes place in British politics.
A decision made by the establishment?
That leaves us with an alternative explanation. That Lutfur Rahman’s dismissal was a political decision made by the establishment; in relation to a perceived threat to the status quo and the system (judges also act in the interests of the State at times).
The British State is a secular state but at the same time its values are considered Judeo-Christian. It sees the rise of an Islamic/Muslim identity with some semblance of Muslim organisation (in this case around the Muslim vote) as a genuine threat to those values. Just as it saw the emergence of a strong independent Black identity in the 1970s and 1980s as a threat and acted to dilute its identity and organisation.
Both with the elections of George Galloway and Lutfur Rahman Muslims have shown the potential to mobilise around their perceived interests outside of the main party system.
If Lutfur Rahman had been engaged in the same behaviour for the Labour Party few would have complained. His crime was that unlike Galloway, he is a Muslim who began to identify with Islamic organisations and engage them within the system. He had also moved the Muslim community beyond the Labour party and current status quo politics.
The fear of the “Muslim vote” or Islamic identity?
With many constituencies with large Muslim populations, theoretically it is possible to organise independently outside of the main political parties, and with their own agendas; so the establishment fears not the Muslim vote, but the ability of the Muslim community to create a strong Muslim identity and inject its own values and identity onto its Judeo-Christian secular system.
This judgement sends a clear message to Muslim candidates and Muslim organisations, who believe that they can enter British politics and retain a strong Islamic identity and organise as a community to enter and influence it.
The British State will intervene to prevent those types of Muslims and organisations from entering mainstream politics. The only Muslims and organisations who will be allowed to progress will be those who think, act and behave in accordance with the ideology and values of the political status quo.
Furthermore, this rule applies not just to politics but also to the education system (that’s what the “Trojan Horse” trial was all about) and the legal system (that’s what the campaign against Shariah law and courts is all about).
This is what is meant when politicians talk about stopping “entryism”. The campaign against “entryism” is not a fantasy of an obsessive journalist but an official state policy.
The Lutfur Rahman ruling is not just a judgement about a political figure and misuse or abuse of power, it is much more. It is a judgement that will affect all Muslims. It is about setting the limits on the role of Islam in British political life.
At a time when Muslims are increasingly organising and mobilising around their faith and religious identity, it sets limits on Islamic influence in the realm of British politics and a secular political system. It sends a message to Muslims that if you wish to engage in British politics leave your religion and Islamic values at your doorstep.
And if you want to organise and mobilise the Muslim vote forget your Muslim identity and beliefs, you can do so but you must subscribe to one of the political ideologies of the West. The only values that are acceptable are the secular liberal Judeo-Christian values of Britain.
The British State and establishment, unlike its people, has always been very intolerant of strong independent identities and self organising communities. Its entire colonial history has been spent on breaking up and fragmenting communities and identities that can become strong enough to challenge its unjust and colonial policies.
What we are increasingly seeing with the British State’s policies towards Muslims, and politically-motivated judgments is the emergence of colonial policies implemented towards its own citizens. In reality, it is nothing short of domestic colonialism.
Jahangir Mohammed is the Director of the Centre for Muslim Affairs