Monday, April 30, 2012

Britain's Divisive Dog-Whistle Politics

by Shiraz Maher

"God KNOWS who is a Muslim, And He KNOWS who is not." The price of this victory has been to set back Britain by a generation.

London's Mayoral elections take place this week; the Labour challenger, Ken Livingstone, is no stranger to sectarian campaigning. Livingstone has previously embraced and invited to London the radical Islamic preacher – often referred to as the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood – Yusuf al-Qaradawi -- who condemns all Muslims who recognize Israel, or even who simply want peace in the Middle East. He has also legitimized the murder of Israeli children on the grounds they will one day be conscripted into the IDF.

Inspired by George Galloway's victory in Bradford West, Livingstone told worshipers at a mosque in north London that he wanted to make the city a shining beacon for Islam. Londoners must now decide if they want to drag one of the world's great capitals back into an age of sectarian and confessional "realities" by supporting Livingstone, or whether they want to support progressive candidates who engage their citizens as citizens.

With the election of Galloway to Britain's parliament last month, sectarian politics has returned with a vengeance. Few parliamentary candidates have ever campaigned in such bald confessional terms as Galloway -- marking ominous developments in the political alignment of some constituencies in England.

The seat Galloway now occupies, Bradford West, became available earlier this year after the incumbent, Marsha Singh, stepped down, due to ongoing medical problems.

Bradford West is home to a dense concentration of Muslims, a constituency whose concerns Galloway had previously exploited for political capital in Bethnal Green. Galloway, deciding to run as a candidate, appealed for Muslim votes in the most sectarian of tones. Leaflets linked to him – but which both his campaign office and he officially deny any knowledge of – told voters:

God KNOWS who is a Muslim. And he KNOWS who is not….Let me point out to all the Muslim brothers and sisters what I stand for. I, George Galloway, do not drink alcohol and never have. Ask yourself if the other candidate [the Labour candidate who is also a Muslim, Imran Hussain] in this election can say that truthfully. I, George Galloway, have fought for the Muslims at home and abroad, all my life, and paid a price for it.

The unspoken corollary of all this is that Galloway, pandering to the so-called Muslim vote, hoped to ignite Muslims' fears and capitalize on their sense of alienation. He achieved this by winning the seat and causing Labour a significant loss in what had traditionally been considered a safe seat. The price of this victory has been to set back Britain by a generation, reviving confessional politics at the ballot in a manner not seen since the high-water mark of troubles in Northern Ireland.

Galloway warned his supporters of potentially divine punishment if they failed to vote for him. Speaking to an overwhelmingly Muslim audience, he said:

I believe in the Judgment Day, that all of you do. And I just say this: how will you explain, on the Last Day, that you had a chance, on 29 March 2012, to vote for the guy who led the great campaign against the slaughter of millions in Iraq, but instead you voted for a party which has killed a million Iraqis?

This kind of rhetoric was not an isolated incident. Galloway repeatedly spoke in Muslim idioms, suggesting that he is himself a believer, although he refuses to confirm reports about it, and succeeded in winning support from Bradford's largely Muslim constituency. Again, at another rally he told followers:

I'm a better Pakistani than he [Mr Hussain – the ethnically Pakistani Labour candidate who ran against Galloway] will ever be. God knows who's a Muslim and who is not. And a man that's never out of the pub shouldn't be going around telling people you should vote for him because he's a Muslim. A Muslim is ready to go to the US Senate, as I did, and to their face call them murderers, liars, thieves and criminals. A Muslim is somebody who's not afraid of earthly power but who fears only the Judgment Day. I'm ready for that, I'm working for that and it's the only thing I fear.

It on the back of precisely that fear Galloway rode to power. During the 2005 election Galloway fought for a seat in London the heavily Muslim populated area of Bethnal Green and Bow – a deprived and divided constituency. During that campaign, as well, Galloway was accused of engaging in sectarian campaigning to ensure that the incumbent, Oona King, was unseated. In a bilious acceptance speech Galloway told the audience, "Mr Blair, this defeat is for Iraq, and the other defeats that New Labour has received this evening are for Iraq. All the people you have killed and all the loss of life have come back to haunt you and the best thing that the Labour Party can do is sack you tomorrow morning." That kind of dog-whistle politics underscored his entire campaign. After winning his seat, Galloway was also recorded telling supporters that he owed the Islamic Forum of Europe (IFE) "more than I can say." They had been instrumental in mobilizing the Muslim vote in his favor.

An investigation into the IFE by Andrew Gilligan revealed a secret meeting where new recruits were brought to the organization. A trainer told them:

Our goal is not simply to invite people and give da'wah [call to the faith]. Our goal is to create the True Believer, to then mobilize those believers into an organized force for change who will carry out da'wah, hisbah [enforcement of Islamic law] and jihad [holy war]. This will lead to social change and iqamatud-Deen [an Islamic social order].

In this election Galloway was backed by another Islamist movement, the Muslim Public Affairs Committee (MPAC), which regularly publishes anti-Semitic cartoons, peddles conspiracy theories about Jewish power and influence, and which has even been condemned by an official parliamentary report as an institutionally anti-Semitic organization. During the 2005 General Election, MPAC campaigned in northern England, in a constituency not far from Bradford West, against the Labour MP, Lorna Fitzsimmons. Members of MPAC told constituents not to vote for her because she was Jewish. As it turns out she is not Jewish, but she was unseated nonetheless by this insidious campaigning.

While members of MPAC are a ragtag outfit of mostly unemployed, trouble-causing children, Galloway is a seasoned politician. No defence of naivety can be afforded to him. He knew precisely what he was engaging in when suggesting Muslims should vote for him because of his stance over issues such as Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine. None of these, of course, is an issue that has anything to do with the very real, countless problems facing residents of Bradford West – a constituency with high unemployment, rampant drug abuse, and social disorder.

The stakes May 3rd could not be higher.

Shiraz Maher


Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

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