Question time – “Should George Galloway get the Muslim vote for London Mayor?” Prof Maleiha Malik (Kings College London) and Tahir Shah (MPACUK) discuss.
Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author in her/his private capacity and do not in any way represent the views of SOAS or the CIS.
With the 2016 London Mayoral election campaign well underway, MuslimWise asked two diverging voices whether the London Muslim vote is necessarily a Galloway vote? Is there even such a thing as the Muslim vote? and if so, on what basis should it be granted to one candidate over another?
The full list of candidates for the election can be found here
PART #1: Tahir Shah, MPACUK.
Should George Galloway get the Muslim vote for London Mayor?
British Muslims are too often marginalised and voiceless within mainstream politics as politicians compete to crack down on our civil liberties and talk tough on ‘Islamic extremism’, ignoring the concerns of Muslim citizens. Our votes can empower us and ensure our views are represented – if we vote strategically…
MPACUK has run ‘Operation Muslim Vote’ campaigns for more than a decade, mobilising Muslim voters to kick out pro-war, pro-Israel and Islamophobic MPs (such as Lorna Fitzsimmons in Rochdale, Terry Rooney in Bradford, former minister Phil Woolas in Oldham, and Andrew Dismore in Hendon).
In 2012 MPACUK supported George Galloway’s successful by-election campaign in Bradford West which sent shock waves through the political establishment, delivering a resounding message to a Labour Party which had taken Muslim votes for granted for years. This was not the first time that Galloway had galvanised a Muslim community to hold to account those who had arrogantly ignored them – his defeat of Oona King MP in Bethnal Green ensured she paid a price for supporting the Iraq war.
Galloway has an outstanding record of speaking out for the rights of Muslims, both the Muslim minority here in Britain and those in the Muslim world who have suffered so much from an aggressive foreign policy. His outspoken opposition to the Iraq war led to his expulsion from Tony Blair’s Labour, and he has even been physically assaulted by a pro-Israeli thug for his prominent support for Palestine. Beyond that he is a tireless advocate of social justice. These are the reasons why MPACUK founder Asghar Bukhari endorsed Galloway’s bid to replace Boris Johnson as London Mayor, saying: “For Muslims and anyone who stands with the downtrodden there is only one candidate – George Galloway”.
George Galloway has a long history of speaking up against Islamophobia and has been fearless in taking on narratives that demonise Muslims, from declaring “Je ne suis pas Charlie Hebdo” to making the link between Western foreign policy and terrorist attacks by Muslims. He also recently stepped up to defend the deposed Mayor of Tower Hamlets against the witch-hunt led by Islamophobes such as Andrew Gilligan. Galloway is a charismatic figure and inspiring orator, making him a powerful advocate of the causes he champions and a hate figure for the pro-Israel lobby and the anti-Muslim right.
Being Mayor of London is a platform with a national and international reach. We can look back at how Mayor Ken Livingstone’s unifying message in the wake of 7/7 helped counter the scape-goating of the Muslim community. By contrast Boris Johnson declared “Islam is the problem” and has since used his position as Mayor to attack political Muslims or “Islamists” as he terms it.
The role of Mayor also comes with many practical powers. Galloway has vowed to tackle racism in London’s policing. Another pledge is that if he were mayor then arms fairs, such as this month’s global weapons extravaganza at Excel, would no longer be welcome in London. He has also promised to act against the social cleansing of London and hold the City bankers to account.
There are many reasons for Muslims to back George Galloway but the community must also be strategic. The political landscape has shifted momentously with Jeremy Corbyn’s victory in the Labour Leadership election and the popular movement that propelled him to power. Galloway himself has spoken strongly in support of Corbyn. Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour party represents the best hope for a change to the oppressive foreign and domestic policies that are having such a negative impact on Muslims. But New Labour is waiting for any opportunity to oust him. Defeat for Labour in the Mayoral election next year could be an excuse for moving against the leader. Therefore it is vital that everyone who casts their first preference for George Galloway should give their second preference to Labour’s candidate, Sadiq Khan.
Part #2: Prof Maleiha Malik
Maleiha Malik is Professor of Law at King’s College London – on special extended leave until September 2016.
Galloway4London? – Young London Muslims should ‘just say naw’
George Galloway has announced that he will run for Mayor of London – a city that has a significant young Muslim population. Galloway won a dramatic victory in Bradford West, yet three short years he lost his large majority to the novice Naz Shah despite a national swing away from Labour. What happened to the Muslim vote and his ‘Bradford Spring’?
British Muslims are a growing population with one in three under 15 years. Conspiracy theories about ‘Muslim take-overs’ sell books, but they also manufacture hate and prevent the public’s understanding of this social change in our communities. What do we really know about British Muslims? Many questions remain unanswered, but the £12 million Religion and Society research project that I helped to steer fills some gaps in our knowledge. Muslims in the UK pass on faith to their children more successfully than any other religious group, concluded Professor Jonathan Scourfield and his team at Cardiff who studied the daily lives of Muslim children under the age of 12. A majority of Muslim youth aged 13-18 years in three multi-faith locations including London and Bradford value their individual agency at the same time as being ‘strong adherents’ to religiosity. This was a finding of a study by Professor Nicolas Madge at Brunel and her team, who advised we should listen attentively to these ‘thoughtful and articulate’ young people. So, we know that a significant number of the UK electorate in the London Mayorial elections in 2016 will be observant Muslims who will make up their own mind about religion and politics.
Since 9/11, Galloway’s message to Muslims has focused on ‘Stop War’ abroad and ‘Stop Islamophobia’ at home. This sharpening of contradictions between British Muslims and Western liberal societies has diverted energy towards kabuki-like anti-imperialist street theatre, but it has failed as a participatory movement. Galloway is a charismatic politician. Muslims vote for him because ‘he stands up for them’, as he puts it, but his authority is also derived from what he describes as ‘his oratory of note’ that includes peppering his speeches with sacred Arabic verses from the Quran. Muslims in Bradford have done well to ignore rhetoric and religion in order to focus on reason, thereby setting an important precedent for London in 2016.
‘George has captured the hearts and minds of the young students’ was one explanation for Bradford in 2012. Galloway subsequently pledged that he wanted to ‘spread the word’ about his political causes through his media work for Iranian and Russian backed broadcasters that saw him doubling his MP salary last year. Muslims, meanwhile, started to notice George Galloway’s own increasingly sharp contradictions. ‘Stop Islamophobia’ is an important commitment for Galloway, who stated that racists and would be celebrating his 2015 defeat. Galloway does, indeed, spread the word to defend Muslims on Al Mayadeen and Press TV – unsurprisingly, because Iran has criticised not funded Western anti-Muslim sentiment. Over on Russia Today, Muslims hear no words from Galloway about Putin’s embrace of Europe’s anti-Islam far right and a conspicuous silence on Russian funding for the Muslim baiting Marine Le Pen.
‘Stop War’ and ‘Muslim blood is cheap’ decries Galloway while also counselling that ‘Putin is a good thing’. But Muslims find it difficult to forget how Vladimir Putin transformed himself into an election-winning nationalist hero by waging the Second Chechen War, that led to atrocities, tens of thousands dead, the rape, torture and mass killings of Chechen Muslims, culminating in a wave of ballistic missile attacks on Grozny rendering it the ‘most destroyed city on earth’ according to the UN. Muslims were perplexed when Galloway declared Putin his 2013 ‘Man of the Year’, at the precise moment that Russian security services were intensifying their violence against Muslims in Dagestan whose rural communities date back to the 8th Century. This ‘invisible’ war remains hidden to Western eyes by the deliberate killing of local journalists who report human rights abuses, such as the shooting by masked gunmen of Akhmednabi Akhmednabiyev, the deputy editor of the Novoye Delo newspaper and also a doctor in his local village hospital, who died of multiple gunshot wounds on 9 July 2013.
Gaza is mobilizing students just as South Africa galvanized earlier generations. It is a crucial reason for Galloway’s popularity with Muslim students who refer to him as the ‘Hero of Palestine’. During 2014 in Yarmouk near Damascus, Syria inflicted a food blockade on dispossessed Palestinian refugees that ‘starved the area’s civilians and caused dozens of deaths’, and, ‘An aid worker recalled one woman, gaunt with malnutrition, who fell down and was too weak to rise. She died on the spot’, reported Jonathan Steele. Europe’s historic carve up of the Middle East and faux-liberal wars have made ethical comment more complicated, but imperial affects and double standards suggest caution not dumbstruck moral silence. Starvation of a civilian population used as a method of warfare is a heinous war crime. This is a bright-line rule of international legality that should be defended, most pointedly by those who care about Palestinians in Gaza. Galloway’s solidarity with Iranian broadcasters and left-Baathist factions aligned to Syria is understandable, but his eerie silence on Palestinian suffering in Yarmouk is deplorable.
Meanwhile back in Bradford and London, young Muslims following the siege of Yarmouk were on social media wondering why their ‘Hero of Palestine’ who is an ‘orator of note’ was suddenly without voice. British Muslim youth, whose social imaginary is an individualistic age of human rights, will invariably be less sanguine than Cold War veterans on Britain’s anti-imperialist left about a European ends-based political tradition that has a history of trading off individual rights in a cosmic collective struggle to defeat what is, for them, Western Imperialism, the highest stage of capitalism.
Women ‘won it for him’, was the verdict in 2012, but within just three years Bradford’s women were anxious when Galloway’s comments on forced marriage were criticised as ‘irresponsible’ by Muslims Women’s Network UK, just as Rape UK had previously warned his understanding of rape was ‘inaccurate’. By 2015, Galloway’s tenuous grasp of consent, forced marriage and rape left women feeling unsure about his commitment to female autonomy and whether he can be trusted to defend their right to just say no. Excluded by decades of patriarchal politics but now with prominent support, Muslim women objected to Galloway’s tone in debates with the novice ‘local lass’ Labour’s Naz Shah who they said showed courage under fire and because she cared for her community. At a political meeting in 2012, Galloway had told local women asking searching questions that he was prepared to ‘forfeit’ their political support if they disagreed with him. In 2015, Muslim women took Galloway at his word and ‘lost it for him’.
‘Bradford Spring’ was Galloway’s cry when he secured almost 56% of the popular vote. Yet, stunning victories in high Muslim population areas such as Tower Hamlets and Bradford West have been quickly followed by humiliating defeats, because Muslims with first hand experience have rejected Galloway and his brand of politics as a dead end. Former allies now lament that he went from making them feel important to making them feel totally ignored. Distracted by his media career, Galloway has failed to listen, represent and share power with those who trusted him. Charismatic authority rests on a belief in the ‘exceptional sanctity, heroism or exemplary character of an individual person’ observed Max Weber. But when reality displaces fantasy the strength of belief also fades and the illusion of solid leaders rapidly melts into air. London’s Muslims should take note. Faced with the prospect of George Galloway as their leader, it is a sign of ethical and political maturity that so many of Bradford’s Muslims especially its youth decided to ‘just say naw’.
This article was commissioned and written in June 2015.