Muslims must focus on political change outside party politics

Jahangir Mohammed of the Centre of Muslim Affairs says that while Labour under Jeremy Corbyn is the natural choice for Muslims this Thursday, real positive change for Muslims can only come outside of the political system.

On Thursday Britain will go into a General Election which will define its future direction for decades to come. Some have even called it the most important election of a lifetime.

But my own understanding and experience of British political history has taught me that political change in the UK has nearly always been the product of mobilisation of politics and power (by groups or movements) outside of Westminster. This eventually leads to change in positions and policies among political parties, eventually being translated to laws and change via Parliament.

We have two examples of that type of change before us in this General Election.

Firstly, the movement outside of Parliament to leave the European Union led by Nigel Farage over a two decades. After a struggle within the Conservative Party over the same period and a referendum, the Brexit position has now been adopted as Party policy.

Secondly, the current leadership of the Labour Party, the growth in its younger membership and a shift in its policies both on the international and domestic front are the product of an anti-war and Left politics movement that has mobilised outside Parliament since 9/11.

The current Labour party divisions, like those in the Conservative Party over Brexit, will play out over the next decade, but the Party is now adopting policies which mark a break with the past.

It also marks the beginning of a rupture between the historic relationship between Zionism, Israel and the Labour Party, which will become more pronounced with the younger generation of activists.

Muslim involvement in politics

The Muslim involvement in UK politics to date, save for a few examples, has been in the opposite direction to this. That is, little effort has been put into mobilisation and organisation outside of the political system, and a great deal of involvement has been devoted to party politics.

This has led to political integration and confusion between a genuine Muslim community agenda and party-political agenda. This situation has become so confused these days that councillors and MPs are considered representatives of the Muslim/Islamic interest by councils and others, when quite often they are simply reiterating the party line.

So in short our main political activity has been voting.

But in my opinion, Muslims must at all times exist as an independently organised political community with its own leadership and agenda, retaining a distinction and separate identity from the political system and political parties. This is central to the preservation of Islamic identity, and the enjoining of good and forbidding of evil as stated in the Quran.

There is no such thing as “individual Islam,” or Islam outside an organised political community/entity, even though Muslims can obviously practice Islam as a private faith.

This organised political community effort is a requirement even as a minority community amongst a non-Muslim majority population. Ironically, this point was understood in early Muslim history in the UK under the leadership of Sheikh Abdullah Quilliam and the organised community he created. Such an independent community derives part of its power by being plugged into to the source of power of the global Muslim Ummah.

Whilst Muslims have groups and leaders, this does not constitute an organised community, and having leaders is not the same as leadership. In the absence of such an organised political community individual opinions about our relationship to political parties and the state exist and everyone seems to have their own view.

It is every person/group for themselves and voting for their own interests or perceived community interests, or not voting at all. However, it must be said that in this election pro-vote groups have been trying to define what those best interests are.

An historic change?

Generally speaking, and certainly during my lifetime there has been very little difference in policy or approach between the main political parties towards Muslims or to the Muslim world.

All have offered the same overall direction in policies, whether it be war and imperialism overseas or domestic policies towards religion, Muslim and minority communities. The only real choice has been which party would manage the economy slightly better, and give some more benefits to working class people, businesses or rich people.

My assessment of this election is that there is (for the first time in my life) a real and substantive difference of choice for Muslims between the two main political parties and leaders regarding Muslims and the Muslim world. It would be dishonest of me not to recognise that difference.

Obviously, there are other policy areas that are problematic for Muslims. That would always be the case where the Muslims’ views are that of a small religious community in a majority secular society.

In those areas Muslims are not obliged to accept or adopt those values and beliefs. For example, we are not required to take interest-based loans, or drink alcohol, or commit sexual sins, and can counter those by teaching or promoting our own beliefs. Those policy areas would be the same no matter who came to power.

A clear choice for Muslims

So in this General Election there is a clear choice if you are a Muslim and believe it is permissible to vote.

It is a choice between having Boris Johnson as Prime Minister and leader of this country or Jeremy Corbyn. This is a choice between a PM who has a history of making statements against Islam and Muslims, as well as racist comments, and one who has been supportive of Muslims and not made any statement against Islam and Muslims to my knowledge.

We have a choice between a leader and party policy that supports the War on Terror narrative and a leader and party that is moving away from that. Between someone who wants more terrorism laws and someone who doesn’t. The difference between the two has been plain to see even after the London Bridge attack.

If as a Muslim you spent the time since 9/11 speaking out against British foreign policy and the War on Terror, and arguing it is the root cause of political violence by Muslims in the West, then the choice you should make is clear.

It is the choice between Jeremy Corbyn who wants a different foreign policy, wants to try to end injustice and oppression in the Muslim world, and is committed to peace and against war. And someone who proposes no change to the old way of war, selling weapons to murderous regimes and fighting injustice, and supports the current status quo in parts of the Muslim world.

If you have been going on about the neo-con warmongers in the United States and their role in UK policy on Muslims as well as the Islamophobia industry, the choice is really simple. You can choose between someone aligned with the neo-con U.S. Right, who is linked to the Islamophobia industry in the U.S., and who will involve them even more in UK policies against Muslims, and someone who is not involved with them at all.

You can choose someone who Tommy Robinson endorses as the leader or someone he doesn’t.

On the wider policies, it is a choice between someone who wants to reduce poverty and inequality in this country, which has a major impact on the Muslim community (an overwhelmingly poor community living in the most deprived areas of the UK), and someone who wants to continue with the old individualistic and materialistic polices of the Conservative party that have created poverty and hardship.

As for those Muslims who don’t believe in voting, there is really no argument or debate to be had. Their argument is there is no difference, they are all the same because they are not Muslim, or Islamic, and we are religiously forbidden from voting in any context or condition.

They have to explain their own position and the alternative they have for Muslims in the UK to prevent the obvious harm that UK domestic and foreign policy has been doing for decades.

But this Thursday whatever the outcome, and whichever way Muslims vote, Britain is heading for change which will have a significant impact on Muslims. It remains to be seen if Muslims will be able to influence the direction of that change or not.

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