Dr Shazad Amin argues that it is imperative for British Muslims to vote to remain in the European Union.
Ramadan is a time we look to switch off from the hustle and bustle of normal life, and look to renew ourselves with extra acts of worship, reflection and forgiveness. It is thus tempting to ‘withdraw’ somewhat from what is happening in the world. However we cannot and should not completely switch off from ‘once in a lifetime big events which will affect us, and our children’s lives, for years to come. Such an event is the European Union (EU) Referendum on 23rd June 2016.
But what has the EU got to do with my life as a British Muslim?
Probably more than you think. Many people believe that the EU is only something that affects people involved in politics, or it makes strange laws such as determining how straight bananas should be. However it is an institution that, like it or not, affects our lives as British Muslims.
In a poll conducted by YouGov in June 2015, Muslims were the second least tolerated group in seven European countries (including the UK), with between 36-45% of people having a negative impression of Muslims. Islamophobia is thus a European problem and thus it makes sense to tackle it across nation states. Muslims across Europe also suffer appalling Islamophobia, in some ways worse than in the UK. Have we forgotten the concept of an “ummah”, do we not have duty to stay together to help each other?
In 2015 The EU has appointed a Coordinator on Anti-Muslim Hatred, David Friggieri, to show it is taking Islamophobia seriously.
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Contrast that with the approach our Government has taken which is to worsen the problem with a raft of policies such as Secret Courts, the ‘Snoopers’ Charter’ and Prevent, not the mention the shameless smearing of Sadiq Khan and Shaykh Suliman Ghani by our very own Prime Minister in the London Mayoral Election campaign recently.
The EU has undertaken a lot of research on anti-Muslim hate crime and has put its money where its mouth is by spending £338 Million between 2014-2020 to tackle Islamophobia and other forms of discrimination. One of the growing areas of anti-Muslim hate speech is online on social media. In June 2016 the EU launched a programme to more effectively tackle on-line hate speech, including anti-Muslim hatred, with Microsoft, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
Protecting Human Rights
The EU has a long history of promoting equality rights. The Equality Act 2010 says it is now illegal to discriminate against someone on the grounds of religion, so we have good protection as Muslims in the workplace. However did you know that this law came from an EU Directive (like an Order) to member states, in 2000? Obviously as Muslims we want this kind of protection in all walks of life, not just at work. The Equal Treatment Directive, currently being negotiated within the EU, will aim to offer this. This will be a major landmark in Muslims getting full protection from being discriminated against.
The EU also does a valuable job in overseeing compliance with Human Rights law across European countries through the Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) . If we leave, we will lose the benefit of the FRA’s work on improving equal treatment for Muslims across Europe.
Much of the leave debate has centred on the negative aspects of EU migration. However it is worth remembering that the vast majority of British Muslims are immigrants or the descendants of immigrants. This country has been built on waves of immigrants over the years and it would seem hypocritical if British Muslims, who have enjoyed the freedoms and benefits of living in the UK, now seek to restrict this for others seeking a better life in the same way as our forefathers did.
The impression given is that EU migrants represent the ‘worse aspects’ of society – criminals coming here to scrounge our benefits, taking precious school places and using scarce hospital resources.
However the facts are that EU migrants are hard-working people who pay more than they take out; they contributed £20 billion to the economy from 2000-2011.
Some have argued that leaving the EU will mean more people can be given work or visit visas from places such as the Indian Sub-Continent. This is a false argument – the EU does not control who comes to the UK from outside the EU, the UK Government can give visas to whom it wants. Do we really think that if we vote to leave the EU this Government is suddenly going to open the doors to Bangladeshi builders or Indian cleaners to come to the UK?
Improving Security & Counter-Terrorism
As Muslims we know only too well the impact of terror attacks across the world. We pay a double price; not only are we likely to be the victims of such attacks but we suffer the Islamophobic backlash that inevitably follows. British Muslims especially should thus be concerned with the impact on our security of leaving the EU.
The EU offers security advantages to member states by information sharing, cross border co-operation and access to databases; these help national agencies tackle threats to collective security. The Director of Europol, Rob Wainwright, has said the UK would find it harder to fight terrorism and serious crime if we left the EU
So how should I vote in the EU referendum?
It can be confusing deciding how to vote. This is why MEND (Muslim Engagement & Development) has analysed the key issues in the EU referendum debate affect the lives of British Muslims.
On the basis of this research it is recommending a vote to RemaIN . You can find out more information on our website www.mend.org.uk
So on 23rd June 2016 do something positive for you and the future of British Muslims in the UK. Make sure you, your friends and family get out and vote to RemaIN in the EU
Dr Shazad Amin is the CEO of the social-policy think-tank MEND.