Muslim Vote: We mustn’t abandon Islamic red lines in favour of pragmatic politics

Faisal Bodi, from the Islamic Human Rights Commission, warns those who are attempting to organise a Muslim bloc vote at the next general election not to abandon their Islamic red lines in favour of pragmatic politics.

The Muslim Vote roadshow rolls into the Muslim heartland of Birmingham this weekend as part of its campaign to mobilise the Muslim electorate ahead of the next general election.

Outside London, the once-thriving economic powerhouse is home to the largest population of Muslims in the UK (343,000 according to the 2021 census), most of them confined to inner city areas afflicted by high rates of deprivation.

These are the people whom, notwithstanding their historic support for Labour, the “party of the common man” has failed.

And these are the voters who, repulsed by the Zionist capture of Labour and its diabolical support for Israel, are being prepped to abandon the party at the next general election.

The warning shots have already been fired. In local elections earlier this month, Labour’s vote dropped by an average 18% in the 20 constituencies with a Muslim electorate over 30% with a sitting Labour MP. Just a couple of months earlier, the victory of Workers’ Party leader George Galloway in a by-election in Rochdale had set the ball rolling for a mass Muslim defection from Labour.

Muslim communities up and down the country understand that a massive Labour majority at Westminster isn’t in anyone’s interests. They also realise that a successful deployment of a Muslim block vote, allied to a wider voter desertion from the party, is key to preventing this.

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Previous mistakes 

But we’ve been here before. The new generation of activists pounding the pavements today may be blissfully unaware that campaigns to marshal the Muslim vote around the issue of foreign policy in the Near East have been fought with limited success. In 2005, in an article for the Guardian analysing the weakening ties between Muslims and Labour, I wrote:

“In the autumn of 2003, Muslim voters delivered their verdict on the invasion of Iraq by voting out Labour in the safe north-west London seat of Brent East. The byelection represented a milestone: it was the first time that British Muslims used a block vote at parliamentary level. As if to underline the point, nine months later Muslims helped overturn a 12,000 Labour majority in Leicester South, handing the constituency to the Lib Dems.”

Just as the 2005 general election was in some part a referendum on the hugely unpopular invasion of Iraq so too does the forthcoming general election look likely to be driven by events in Palestine. By all accounts, Muslims are more prepared this time around. The movers and shakers of today are better resourced, numerically stronger and armed with the levelling power of social media. But they would do well to learn from previous failings.

George Galloway has benefitted from the Muslim vote several times

It would be remiss to ignore the parallels between the rise of the Respect Party in the mid noughties with its present-day iteration in the shape of the Workers Party. Both are an amalgam of left-wing, Muslim, anti-Zionist and anti-establishment forces; both arose out of revulsion to British policy in the Near East and the success of both is largely dependent on Muslim buy-in.

As is the tendency with all parties and alliances formed around a single issue, Respect faded into oblivion after just over a decade. At its peak it had managed to get just one MP and 19 councillors into office. Respect failed to build on initial momentum and turn it into an enduring popular engagement in politics. And with it also went the energy and enthusiasm that had been generated in Muslim communities.

With the benefit of hindsight Muslims have no excuse for rushing to be bitten in the same hole again. While allying with the left and other groups is not only tactically necessary but also a moral duty if as a minority in a secular country we are to effectively carry out the divine directive to “enjoin good and forbid evil,” this does not mean we are forever resigned to holding our nose and adopting positions that fly in the face of the Shari’ah.

Muslims endorsing LGBTQ Pride

In my north-west constituency I have had to part company with the independent campaign to unseat my sitting Labour MP because in the course of campaigning my leftist, and sadly, some Muslim colleagues, think it is fine to have an overwhelmingly Muslim campaign group represented at the local Pride festival.

I see any participation or presence in the event as a tacit endorsement of activities and lifestyles that are categorically prohibited. My Muslim colleagues have rationalised it as a “necessary evil” but setting aside some religious injunctions in the pursuit of other goals doesn’t strike me as the kind of principled faith-based stand that a religious community should be taking. A classic case of too much haraka and not enough baraka.

I find my Muslim colleagues’ position all the more disconcerting given that our preferred candidate, although non-Muslim, has been selected mainly by Muslims and is entirely dependent on the block Muslim vote to carry him into Westminster. But despite being in the box seat they are still hesitant to leverage that power to ensure that all the group’s activities align with, or at the very least, don’t conflict with Muslim values.

LGBTQ flag

This speaks to a lingering psychological problem with Muslims in the UK. We are still uncomfortable in our own skins, lacking the confidence to assert our own values even where the opportunities exist. We seem to have internalised white supremacy to the point that we are almost afraid of our own self-agency. I see the coming general election as an opportunity for Muslims not just to deliver a bloody nose to the established parties but to lay the foundation for a lasting strategic engagement in our electoral system.

We’ve been in this situation before where the shoots of a political awakening erupted from the ground only to be trampled by miscalculations and lack of self-belief.  This hope was captured in another piece I wrote for the Guardian in 2001:

“It is too early to say whether this might amount to the beginnings of a Muslim vote. What it does signal is a new political consciousness. We have realised that a default to Labour does not work. We are also aware that in a constituency-based electoral system one of our main handicaps – our ghettoisation – is also our biggest strength.”

My departure from the local independent group means that I probably won’t be attending the Muslim Vote event this weekend but if I could send a message to the participants, it would be that we don’t repeat the mistakes of the past.

Faisal Bodi is a former journalist who now works as a media officer for the Islamic Human Rights Commission.

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