Court the Muslim vote… just don’t bother!

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan

Hafsa KaraHafsa Kara-Mustapha is a journalist, political analyst and commentator with a special focus on the Middle East and Africa


 

Hafsa Kara-Mustapha says that the two main candidates for London mayor have concluded that they can treat Muslims with utter contempt because they know that Muslims have no collective strategy and will probably vote for them whatever they say.

At a panel discussion on the turmoil in the Middle East a few years ago one speaker was asked about the close relationship Western nations had with Israel, and why despite all of its violations of human rights and international law no government was prepared to openly criticise it.

Better still, why not push for an embargo against Israel just like Iran and Iraq had been subjected to embargoes? The panellist responded that the pro-Israel lobby was strong and few politicians would dare oppose Israel for fear of the inevitable consequences on their careers.

I then riposted that, mathematically, there were fewer pro-Israeli voters than pro-Palestinian ones so surely it would be more worthwhile for politicians to support the Palestinian cause instead of Israel.

“You’d think” came the laconic reply.

And think I did, or tried to. Yet whichever way I looked at the argument it failed to make any sense. What gets politicians into power are voters. The greater the number of voters the easier it becomes for them to be elected.

After all it’s just a numbers game. Or is it?

Minorities failed Ken Livingstone

Over the years,  Europe has become increasingly diverse. Where the electorate was once divided on the basis of class, today ethnic minorities represent a sizeable chunk of the electorate. So courting the “ethnic minority” vote should be important but as it turns out it really isn’t.

In London, the last mayoral contest finally provided the answer to why numbers were irrelevant. Ken Livingston had put great emphasis on ethnic minority issues – the revival of Rise, a black oriented project, contributed to a decrease in racist attacks in the capital by 35%; he also invested some £2.5m in projects aimed exclusively at the capital’s black minority for which he came under fire when claims of misappropriated funds were directed at his team. And while an enquiry cleared him, the stain on his record remained.

muslim voteAnd yet as statistics later revealed, black voters simply didn’t go out to vote for him.

Livingston had always been and still remains a champion of Palestinian rights, something important to London’s Muslim community. His robust condemnation of rising Islamophobia earned him the wrath of the notoriously bigoted right-wing press which labelled him an “Islamist” supporter, something which in the climate of the war on terror would later lose him precious votes.

Yet once again, as statistics revealed, both Arabs and Muslims failed to support him with many preferring the “so funny” Boris Johnson who’d openly accused Islam of spawning terror, and even supported Israel’s punitive measures of destroying houses belonging to any one related to Palestinians accused of terrorism.

Treating Muslims with contempt

This year’s mayoral election is around the corner and the two Establishment candidates – Sadiq Khan and Zac Goldsmith – have learned the lessons from the voting patterns that emerged from previous elections.

Khan, the “ethnic Muslim” candidate, has shown nothing but utter contempt for his own community. While he initially claimed he would be solely interested in London and not bring foreign issues to the debate – i.e. Palestine – he promptly gave an interview to the Jewish Chronicle where he condemned the peaceful BDS initiative and promised to be a champion for Israel as the capital’s mayor.

Because of course the interest of Israel is at the heart of Londoners’ concerns.

Zac Goldsmith has launched a smear campaign against Sadiq Khan
Zac Goldsmith has launched a smear campaign against Sadiq Khan

Having shown his clear desire to court the pro-Israel Jewish vote, he then went onto attack Muslim women, today at the forefront of Islamophobic attacks. Knowing full well that as visible representatives of their communities, hijab wearing women are at the receiving end of daily verbal and physical assaults, Khan stuck the boot in by implying that they came from households that should be viewed with suspicion.

Who needs Britain First and the EDL when a fellow Muslim offers up his sisters as cannon fodder for his own personal political ambitions?

The MP for Tooting could have supported some of the many family-run restaurants from his very own constituency, yet when quizzed  he told his thousands of followers that his favourite eatery was Israeli-owned chain Ottolenghi’s!

Meanwhile, his Conservative rival, Zac Goldsmith, has continuously thrown his religious background in his face like an insult.

Yet what opinion polls are showing is that despite all the insults and attacks many Muslims are still happy to elect one or the other candidate.

The Jewish vote

Contrast that with the Jewish vote and things couldn’t be more different.

In February 2005, on his way home from a party Ken Livingston was approached by a reporter for The Evening Standard called Oliver Finegold. Objecting to the actions of the pestering journalist, Livingstone accused him of acting “just like a concentration camp guard,” adding that he worked for the “reactionary bigots… who supported fascism” at the Daily Mail and General Trust.

The Israeli lobby holds a powerful sway over British public life
The Israeli lobby holds a powerful sway over British public life

Although The Evening Standard did not initially deem the comments newsworthy, they were eventually leaked to The Guardian, resulting in accusations of anti-Semitism against Livingstone from the Board of Deputies of British Jews.

Despite the innocuous remark that could have been levelled at anybody, Tony Blair, the London Assembly, a Holocaust survivors group and even Livingston’s deputy Nicky Gavron insisted that he should apologise to the harassing reporter.

The Standards Board for England asked the Adjudication Panel for England to deal with Livingstone on the issue, who in February 2006 found him guilty of bringing his office into disrepute and suspended him from office for a month.  While it seemed that an unelected board should not have the power to suspend an elected official, because of the importance of Jewish sensibility it did.  Although the decision was overturned at the High Court of Justice in October of the same year, the damage to his career proved to be irreparable and he lost to Boris Johnson in 2008 amid accusations of anti-Semitism.

Johnson’s Islamophobia, however, never dented his chances, not even with the Muslim community which laughed it off as par for the course.

What Muslim vote?

So with Khan efficiently carrying out his very own ethnic cleansing operation by distancing himself from everything “Muslim,”  the Establishment now looks set to back the Labour candidate. In levelling baseless accusations of extremism against him, Khan now appears the “beleaguered” candidate to support. Yet between Khan or Goldsmith the differences are paper thin, and both candidates will steer London in the same corporate-run direction.

When a Muslim candidate goes out of his way to support Israel and bash the Palestinian cause (something close to Muslims concerns) it becomes abundantly clear whose interests he will diligently serve once in office.

Ideally London should have a mayor for all its inhabitants, one who would be as concerned for Muslims as for Jews, Christians and non-believers alike. As things stand, London is going to have a pro-Israeli mayor who courts one voter and shows contempt for so many more others.

Still, on the bright side, Muslims will at least have the Tel Aviv festival which Khan and Goldsmith promised to organise with City Hall’s diminishing funds to look forward to.

Court the Muslim vote? Why bother, treat’em mean keep em keen.

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