By Dr Qari Muhammad Asim (Senior Editor at ImamsOnline)
Senior Imam – Makkah Mosque, Leeds
2015 Election – Not so ordinary
Prior to the General Election day 7 May 2015, Britain was believed to be heading for a second coalition government in succession. There appeared to be a near deadlock with Labour and the Conservatives tied at 35% each according to the preliminary results of the final Guardian/ICM campaign poll. Pundits had appeared certain that no single party would win an outright majority.
It was not considered an ordinary election. There was no Churchill or Kennedy on offer, just run-of-the-mill politicians from a political class which were not liked by everyone. While some political leaders were considered to be lacking in charisma, others were seen as without much policies or content. Major political parties made promises of better healthcare and childcare, better transport at lower costs and more affordable housing – but they had not said how they were going to pay for it all. Despite all of that, there is no denial that it was seen as a momentous election.
Like every other community, Muslims were active during the election campaign: on a theological level, some were arguing that it was shirk/kufr (disbelief) to vote, others maintained that every Muslim should cast his or her vote and fulfil his obligation. On a political level, Muslims were also very active; they were campaigning for their local parliamentary candidates, distributing flyers around the streets, including to mosque congregants. Some went as far as painting the dome of their mosque to show support for their preferred candidate or to demonstrate their dislike of a particular candidate/political party, holding hustings at mosques etc. More Muslim candidates than ever before stood for this general election in 2015.
Conservatives Decisive Victory
Conservatives’ surprisingly decisive victory in the general election has left many commentators perplexed. Following a devastating result for the Labour party, an almost annihilation of Liberal Democrats and a triumphant victory for the Scottish National Party, which swept through Scotland picking up all but three of the available seats, the political landscape in the UK is likely to change for years to come.
The dust is still settling on the election results and by any account it has been an historic moment in British politics when the leaders of three parties – Liberal Democrats, Labour, and UKIP (Farage has since been reinstated) – all resigned after the devastating defeats. UKIP’s volatile leader did not even manage to win even in his own constituency. Quite how the Liberal Democrats are going to recover from this defeat remains to be seen. As Labour is the only realistic hope for left-wing voters to have their choice of Government, one can empathise with the despair from those on the Left.
Whilst the Conservatives’ election win was met with relief by the City, those on welfare benefits are profoundly concerned as the Conservatives plan £12bn of welfare cuts.
Feelings of despair and concern are also being felt by some groups of British Muslims. There is a fear that some of the policies of the Conservative government will deeply affect British Muslims. They are worried about what the victory of Conservative means for Counter-Terrorism policies that disproportionately affect Muslims and their religious educational institutions.
Lessons for Muslims
Some of the political commentators have analysed why Labour lost the 2015 elections so badly. The reasons have included that Ed Milliband was told to start to construct a serious program for government. He opted instead for a series of slogans – “the jilted generation”, “Britain deserves better”, etc. He was told that in order to win, he had to anchor his party firmly in the political centre but he decided to position it where it felt most comfortable – on the left.
Over the coming days such critique of the former Labour leader will further develop: Ed Miliband’s approach regarding taking on the press, the banks, the energy companies will be analysed and the consequences of such approach will be scrutinised.
Muslims need to learn from this election results and assess how Middle England has shifted to the Right. In order to keep Middle England sympathetic to Muslim issues, we need to anchor our concerns in the ‘centre’ rather than on extreme left, where we felt comfortable 10-15 years ago. Islam also teaches us to remain firm in the ‘middle’. Just as Middle England has shifted from the Left, an overwhelming majority of British Muslims are no longer fixated on the Left. It is a fact that a majority of the Muslims go about their daily business not raising their voice about ‘Muslim issues’. It is the minority that tends to lead the narrative on ‘Muslim issues’ that, more often than not, do not represent the views of the vast majority of British Muslims.
British Muslims cannot afford to take on the media or neo-conservatives and neo-liberals. Therefore, we need to be careful that we do not burn our fingers. Some naive or ill-judged statements/ slogans can have more severe consequences than intended, just as the note ‘I’m afraid there is no money’ from Labour Treasury minister Liam Byrne to his coalition successor did not help Labour’s track record. Given that mainstream Muslims desire not to give ammunition to those on the Far Right by picking a ‘fight’ with Middle England, it is hoped that the vocal minority will also reflect on its strategy for the next 5/10/15 years. Clearly, this doesn’t mean British Muslims refrain from raising their concerns or criticising government policies but our activism and approach to these must be intelligent and pragmatic.
The Home Secretary Theresa May’s speech, delivered on 23 March 2015, which mentioned that incoming Conservative government would extend banning orders, investigate Sharia boards and close down mosques has, quite understandably, raised concern amongst British Muslims.
The challenge for the Muslim community is not to solely focus on the Home Secretary’s words and spend all their energy and activism in attempting to take on the government; instead, British Muslims must engage with the government to alleviate its concerns about the operation of Sharia boards and mosques and to remove any operational or administrative deficiencies that may exist in such institutions.
It is also the responsibility of the government to engage with all sections of its society so that its reputation is not damaged and the Conservative cause is not discredited. Muslims must not be seen as part the problem, but part of the solution.
We hope that the next 5 years are not spent in simply insisting on slogans such as “Muslims deserve better”, etc. Indeed, British Muslims deserve better but simply shouting these slogans will not resolve our issues. At this critical juncture, it is not a group of empty rhetoricians or keyboard warriors that the Muslim community needs to represent them; rather we need individuals who are community based and politically astute, who can lead us on the path of engagement rather than protest. The community also needs to realize that if it is to be taken seriously by others, it need to show maturity in thought processes, which must be translated into actions. It needs to accept some level of responsibility for some of its actions (or lack thereof) which has led to disengagement between communities and alienation of its young people. British Muslims spend considerable amount of time defending themselves, explaining who or what they are not, rather than who they are and what they stand for. There are already healthy signs of maturity in thought processes, and it is hoped that high levels of maturity will be attained in the next five years, and translated into positive and dynamic activity.