contribution by Anwar Akhtar
Personally, my instinct is anybody claiming to be a community leader should automatically be disqualified from being so, but that can unfairly denigrate the valuable work of some committed individuals who deserve such a title.
However, I have an issue with decrees on how Muslims should vote coming from organisations such as MPAC, an outfit that frequently labels those not sharing its myopic worldview as â€˜Zionist scumâ€™ or â€˜coconut sell-outsâ€™.
Meanwhile Roshan Muhammed Salih, the London head of news for Iranâ€™s state-funded Press TV, issued instructions that all Muslims should vote solely on foreign policy grounds – specifically Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan.
According to Salih, â€œevery single election issue, including the economy, education and health, pales in comparisonâ€ to the Iraq war.
There is a lamentable lack of interest on social and economic factors affecting some Muslim communities here, as well as other communities. Crucial issues â€“ segregation, educational underachievement, health, gang culture, unemployment and cultural isolation â€“ are ignored. Should British Muslims not consider these factors as well when voting? I know for many of us local is global, but local is also local.
Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan are of huge importance, not just to Muslims. The death toll, destruction and carnage in Iraq, Israelâ€™s occupation and human rights abuses in Palestine, the conflict in Afghanistan â€“ I am not saying that these should not influence your vote, but look at who is claiming to represent the â€˜Muslim communityâ€™ and look at their agenda as well.
There is a debate taking place in British Muslim communities â€“ discussions and arguments, within families and between friends, on interpretations and understandings of the Islamic faith, traditions, cultures, history and heritage. There has been a growth of liberal Muslim groups and activists who challenge clerical elites and take different views from more orthodox parts of the community.
Some of this is being led by British Muslims for Secular Democracy, which works to secure educational, cultural and economic opportunities for some of the most economically marginalised Muslim communities in the UK. Led by impressive women, they donâ€™t pull their punches on matters of equality and human rights.
They receive flak from all sides. They are attacked by the orthodox for their liberalism in the face of rigid interpretations of ancient hadiths that do not always sit well with equality and human rights in the 21st century. Then there are neo-con cheerleaders such as Douglas Murray of the laughably named Centre for Social Cohesion, a professional agent provocateur, busy creating paranoia towards Muslims, who attacks BMSD for â€œreckless stupidityâ€ for speaking up for youngsters jailed for throwing water bottles at riot police during last yearâ€™s Gaza demonstrations.
Now that is something to ask your prospective parliamentary candidate about â€“ if elected, will they intervene in parliament over the disgusting â€˜deterrentâ€™ sentencing of young people by Judge John Denniss, who effectively set out to punish a community for being outraged over Gaza? I witnessed the Countryside Alliance riot in Westminster on 15th September 2004 â€“ a violent mob trying to storm Parliament. No judge felt the need to issue deterrent sentencing for the teenagers present then. No judge felt the need to deliver a warning to young listeners of The Archers tempted to join the next pro-fox hunting demonstration.
Returning to the British Pakistani community, for it to help Pakistan more effectively it also needs to help itself. Improving the welfare of the communities here is vital; education, health and employment matter. Is there a Sure Start centre in your area and has it benefited your community? Has your local MP delivered investment and jobs in your region or worked for the welfare of your area? These things matter both here and in Pakistan.
So my advice, as an individual with no pretensions towards being a community leader or representative, is to think about everything, local as well as global, and then decide for yourself who to vote for.
Just make sure you vote. Because be absolutely sure about one thing â€“ the racists will vote. They wonâ€™t be saying all politicians are the same, why bother or anything as idiotic as voting is haram. They will get out there and they will vote.
Anwar Akhtar is director of The Samosa
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Filed in: Muslim,Organisations,Party politics