Labour, and Muslims, and George? Oh My!
There was recently furore in Reading surrounding allegations of racist ‘dog-whistle’ politics. A leaflet which mentioned a Labour Candidate as ‘born and bred in Reading’ and being ‘one of us’ was distributed in a ward where the opposing Conservative candidate for the election is of Pakistani origin.
The leaflet is reproduced below, (courtesy of Lib Dem Voice) so the reader can make up their own mind.
Personally, I’d say it’s a hard judgement call to make. It can at best be said that this is a very poor choice of words for a leaflet in that particular ward.
But some of the people that support the Labour Party in Reading do appear to have some views about Muslims that I don’t recognise as being consistent with reality.
In his analysis of George Galloway’s victory in Bradford in March, John Howarth demonstrates what I believe to be a myopic view of the Muslim community in the UK*, as well as demonstrating poor judgement in his choice of words.
Some communities from the 50s-60s wave of immigration engage or otherwise with UK politics on a UK level, but in many Pakistani populations the politics of ‘the old country’ and the Muslim world still matter a lot.
To some extent, I do take this point, but no Muslim (Pakistani or not) I met ever talked about the politics of ‘the old Country’.
It is all a somewhat complex and volatile mocktail.
Ahhh yes. Those ‘volatile’ Muslims eh? Primed and ready to explode in a political rage of non-alcoholic fruit juice! Watch out for the cranberries!
There is also a significant degree of resentment between the generations, particularly in their relationships with ‘community leaders’.
I definitely disagree with the first part of this point.
From whence does the evidence of ‘resentment between the generations’ come from in UK Muslim communities? In fact, I think there is a lot of respect and love between the generations, probably no more or less than love and respect between other religious or non-religious groups.
Successive generations of Muslim immigrant populations have become increasingly better educated, more self-confident and more aware of what they can do and achieve politically within UK society.
Parents, who themselves faced language barriers, who perhaps hold few formal educational qualifications from within the UK themselves, and who simply had to focus on sustaining a stable household, want their kids to build on their success. To assume, as Howarth seems to, that the majority of the younger generations of Muslims active in UK politics today are both ignorant of these facts and resentful of the previous generation, is stretching credulity.
An informed analysis of the Muslim vote for Galloway in Bradford can be found over on Huffington Post, where Reyhana Patel writes:
Gone were the days where Labour could woo the Muslim community by promising extensions to homes and funding for Muslim initiatives. What we are seeing now is a generation of Muslim youth who are disgruntled, disengaged and fed up of the constant negative media spotlight on their religion and names.
Indeed. Muslim youth are disengaged and disgruntled with politics generally, but in particular with the foreign policy that the Labour Party actively pursued.
Howarth is right about a growing resentment towards so-called ‘community leaders’. Though ‘the community’ itself is aware of this, so much so, we can all laugh at the ridiculousness of them. But is this really so different from any other community where power is concentrated in the hands of an older generation that built and support complex power structures, and who, occasionally, cling to them tightly?
Mr G has tailored his politics, or at least his presentation, toward this audience.
Politicians should tailor their presentations to their audience, but one thing you can say about Galloway is that his politics have been demonstrably consistent. Across decades.
Galloway also sent a letter to mosques setting out his position, his long record, and his apparent authentic claim as a Muslim.
This had the effect of showing the Labour candidate up as nothing like the kind of, ahem, ‘community leader’ which Muslims of any age would support. It seems that Galloway united Muslims (and a significant majority of non-Muslims also!) both young and old in Bradford, so Howarth’s analysis of this situation has gaps.
Howarth does seem to flirt with offensiveness, saying:
It is also a sad fact that there remains, though some don’t like to admit it, a section of the white population who prefer not to vote for a Muslim
So Mr G was perfectly placed. A ‘friend of Muslims’ playing to the ‘Brothers’ but not involved in ‘community’ in-fighting, a White guy who other White guys can vote for instead of voting for a Muslim…
Where to start? I guess the obvious point is that - shock, horror - white guys can be Muslim. Islam is not a religion that is confined to a particular skin colour.
Also, the idea that ‘White guys’ so inclined to vote along either racial or religious lines, preferring “not to vote for a Muslim”, were not aware that Galloway is “a friend of Muslims” with an, shall we say ‘indefatigable’ history of courting the support of Muslims, or the ongoing debate as to if Galloway is Muslim or not (Google it!) does not stand up to scrutiny.
All in all, it’s disappointing to see such a high-profile Labour figure in Reading draw some of the conclusions that Howarth draws about Muslims and ‘White guys’. Don’t get me wrong, I’m certainly not saying Howarth is being racist. But after reading his post I came away with the feeling that he - and perhaps the Labour Party itself when we recall that Phil Woolas lost his seat in 2010 for trying to get “the white vote angry" - has a narrow understanding of the Muslim social and political experience in the UK.
* Disclosure: I was brought up in what was a liberal Muslim household in many ways, and which was conservative in other ways. Many of my relatives either are Muslim or were brought up in the Muslim tradition even if they don’t now follow it, and I’ve known many Muslim friends. Knowing as I do people raised in the Sikh and Hindu traditions, I think it wouldn’t be unfair to say that some parts of this article could also apply to them.