Joao Silva Jordao explains that he is happy for Jeremy Corbyn’s political surge in the aftermath of the general election but argues that British Muslims still have a lot to do.
As a politically engaged Muslim I can’t help but to be happy about the wonderful work that Jeremy Corbyn has done in the Labour Party. He is the epitome of what we need to see more of in politics. He is a humble straight-talking man of the people who fought ferociously against an unprecedentedly slanderous media campaign. His programme stands for what we as Muslims should seek to defend- fighting for the weak and vulnerable. As a historical anti-war, anti-apartheid activist and politician, we Muslims owe him nothing less than respect and support, and for British Muslims- a vote was due.
As a Muslim I can’t help but to lean towards the left, regardless of some differences we have. Islam is for the rights of the poor, the orphans, the disenfranchised, the marginalised and the oppressed. Islam is also against the structural inequities that fuel oppression, it is against usury, and hence against the illegitimate influence of big banks.
It is against aggression, and therefore against all those who are in the pockets of weapons’ dealers and warmongers. And because it is mainly the ultra-conservatives and the right in general that have come to specialise in spreading virulent Islamophobia, it is only quite natural that the tendency for Muslims is to form alliances with those who more visibly fight Islamophobia, xenophobia and racism. The left undeniably has more merit in all these aspects- we must give credit where it is due. Not doing so would be ungrateful, ethically questionable and politically unwise.
Still a lot to do
But one thing is to offer Corbyn our support, during the election and now going forward. Another thing completely is to surrender political representation and control of our own institutions, be they political groups and parties, charities or media to any political wing just because they might seem to support us. Despite Corbyn’s positive results, it would be unwise to get carried away and assume that this will solve any of our problems.
Our representation in the mainstream and alternative media is still weak and our own media’s reach even more so. Islamophobic attacks are on the rise with no sign of slowing down. Muslim majority countries are still being attacked mercilessly. The West’s war machine is still foaming at the mouth and its economic system still dependent on exploitation. We must build on the good work many have been doing and gain our own voice, establish our own narrative, rejecting the temptation to simply go along with whatever political line we are coerced into. But we must also build up our political institutions to make sure that our interests as well as our values are defended. Not giving up our independence will be key.
Let’s be clear. Even after Corbyn’s good electoral showing, we still have it all to do. Both Muslims who propose that we throw ourselves into the arms of liberals and the institutional left as well as the politically alienated Muslims who use skewed visions of Islamic jurisprudence to coerce Muslims into political passiveness agree with one thing, even though they may not realise it- they propose that we leave our political destiny in the hands of others. We must never believe in false messiahs and resist the urge of political alienation. Only we can solve our own problems because only we understand them. By trusting others to defend us we are planting the seeds of our own destruction.
Unconditional support for the left
As a left-wing activist I have too often witnessed that the left’s support can waver. Too often we are not a respected force of our own but rather treated like political pawns to be used and discarded. Even though at first sight we have most in common with the left, this should not make us shy away from pointing out our differences, and dealing with them accordingly.
Let us not forget that the left has historically had very strong under-clerical, even anti-religious stances. Let us also not forget that it was the Labour party who played a central role in the 2003 invasion of Iraq which sent the Middle East down the spiral of violence that is still unwinding.
We must not forget that while the left often defends us as human beings due to its humanist leanings, we must also bear in mind that the same left will often have a negative opinion of our religion. Polite and firm disagreement is key, as is frank and open debate.
Priorities and problems
No one suffers more from the West’s military belligerence than Muslims. No community suffers more from political scapegoating than us. We must fight Islamophobia and support those that do too, but we must be weary of subtler, more surreptitious ways that also spread a lack of respect for our identity and beliefs.
The left has demonstrated that it too can spread Islamophobia, coercing us into pushing Islam to the periphery of our political and personal lives under the guise of defending secularism.
Many Muslims would rather have Islam remain as a central force in our individual and collective, personal and public lives. We must be assertive and respectful and make it clear that dedicated Muslims are people of principles and as such we take our religion wherever we go because we see Islam not as a malicious force that should be tolerated insofar as it is practised moderately, but rather as a force for good that we try to practice diligently.
Islam is today the target of unrelenting attacks on all fronts, and we as Muslims, whether we like it or not, will be at the centre of political resistance globally for times to come. As such, we are seen as a threat for the powers that be. While many, Muslims and non-Muslims, would have us take a back seat and passively accept whatever destiny others hold for us, we must do the exact opposite. We must step up to the challenge, peacefully, coherently, intelligently and courageously. Because like one man once said. Just because you do not take an interest in politics does not mean politics won’t take an interest in you.