Speaker’s corner: Omar Salha offer his view on the debate over whether the London Muslim vote is necessarily a Galloway vote
In response to our “Question time” blog on “Should George Galloway get the Muslim vote for London Mayor?” between Prof Maleiha Malik (Kings College London) and Tahir Shah (MPACUK), SOAS-CIS PhD scholar Omar Salha offer his view on whether the London Muslim vote is necessarily a Galloway vote :
To vote or not to vote, Galloway is the question.
In an age of geo-political disputes, meta-narratives and continued power struggles between old and new actors creating an ‘us vs. them’ dichotomy, we understand that in the world of politics there are no permanent friends, but rather permanent interests. At least that is what Tahir Shah alluded to in his piece ‘Should George Galloway get the Muslim vote for London Mayor?’ Shah calls for the Muslim community to be ‘strategic’ and vote for Galloway, as endorsed by MPACUK Founder Asghar Bukhari stating “For Muslims and anyone who stands with the downtrodden there is only one candidate – George Galloway”. For Muslims there is only one candidate – really? The problem with such statements and alike – ‘our votes can empower us and ensure our views are represented’ – is what constitutes ‘for Muslims’, or ‘us’ and ‘our votes’?
To assume Muslims will vote for Galloway because he has ‘an outstanding record of speaking out for the rights of Muslims’ in the UK and abroad is somewhat disconcerting and misleading, as Professor Maleiha Malik notes in her article ‘Galloway4London? – Young London Muslims should ‘just say naw’ – ‘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’. Elsewhere Malik draws attention to Galloway’s silence on the Palestinian suffering and food blockade of the Yarmouk camp as well as his support for Putin despite waging wars against the Chechen Muslim community. This takes us to our first point – no permanent friends, but rather permanent interests. It is clear that not all Muslims are permanent friends, but some Muslims (and their respective allies) can be permanent interests.
It is evident from the two comment pieces that there is recognition and acknowledgement for Galloway’s efforts and contribution to British politics. However, despite capturing ‘the hearts and minds of the young students’ in Bradford during the 2012 election, Galloway’s title and label as a ‘tireless advocate of social justice’ came to a ‘dead end’. This is an important point as the hearts and minds in human societies are the main organs. If we believe that we are governed by feelings as much as by thoughts, then winning the support of others is achievable through wisdom, humility, respect and trust. Of which in Galloway’s case many young Muslims picked out his ‘own sharp contradictions’. It is also interesting to see that by reading the respective pieces we can distinguish the tones used to support their arguments. Shah’s commentary is arguably emotive – ‘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’, whereas Maleiha’s rebuttal includes a more rational appeal – ‘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’.
To suggest that Muslims, as a collective, should vote for a particular party, or candidate is naïve, domineering and questions the integrity and judgement of each individual. Nevertheless, as a starting point, Muslims, like any other faith group in Britain, should be politically literate and be made aware of the political discussions and debates surrounding them. That is clearly happening as noted in the case of Bradford. However, we must be careful not to generalise and paint the Muslim community with a broad brush as if they are one homogenous group. There are many cultures, traditions, sects, opinions and theological interpretations within the Islamic faith – altogether making up 1.6 billion Muslims living across 6 continents. Therefore, as diverse as the Muslim community is we should also embrace the differences of opinion and independent reasoning to which they vote for. It is incumbent upon us all to engage with the Muslim youth and instil the confidence, courage and willingness to critically think and be critically aware of their basic intellectual freedoms. As advised by Professor Nicola Madge at Brunel following her study of young Muslims between the ages of 13-18, there needs to be a more conscientious effort to listen to the ‘thoughtful and articulate’ voices of the youth. With that in mind, an informed, rational, self-assured and convinced answer is formed; in the meanwhile to vote or not to vote, Galloway is the question.