Yes we are! Honest!
As the results come in from yesterday’s general election and party leaders horse-trade to create a coalition government, an optimistic note that has struck in this election is the galvanization of Muslims at the polling booths and the increased number of Muslim MPs returned to the House.
The total number of Muslim MPs has doubled. Three female Muslim MPs have entered Parliament for the first time with the election of Yasmin Qureshi (Lab – Bolton South East), Shabana Mahmood (Lab – Birmingham Ladywood) and Rushanara Ali (Lab – Bethnal Green & Bow). All enter Parliament as Labour MPs.
Other new Muslim MPs are Sajid Javid (Cons – Bromsgrove) and Rehman Christi (Cons – Gillingham & Rainham), the first Conservative MPs, and Anas Sarwar (Lab – Glasgow Central) who successfully defended his father Mohammed Sarwar’s old constituency seat against Osama Saeed’s challenge from the Scottish National Party (SNP).
Incumbent MPs Sadiq Khan (Lab – Tooting) and Khalid Mahmood (Lab – Birmingham Perry Barr) hold on to their seats while Shahid Malik, former Communities minister, lost his seat in Dewsbury.
Salma Yaqoob, George Galloway and Abjol Miah running for Respect were all unsuccessful in their constituencies with Poplar and Limehouse returning Jim Fitzpatrick with an increased majority.
The 50 constituency seats which have the highest Muslim population density and in which ENGAGE’s Get Out and Vote campaign focused, are listed heretogether with details of election results and voter turnout.
Other interesting results:
Jack Straw, who recently apologized at an ENGAGE hustings event for comments he made on the burqa in 2006 retained his seat increasing his majority with a swing of 1.1% towards Labour.
Philip Hollobone, the Conservative MP who likened the burqa and niqab to the ‘the religious equivalent of going around with a paper bag over your head’, and is supportive of a ban, holds his seat in Kettering with a 9.4% swing from Labour to Conservative.
Mark Pritchard, the Conservative MP who spoke against Shari’ah councils in the UK claiming they damage social cohesion and advance a two tiered legal system, held on his constituency seat in The Wrekin.
Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence Party, which made a manifesto promise of banning the burqa and niqab in Britain, came in third in Buckingham where he garnered 17.4% of the vote.
Stewart Jackson, Conservative MP for Peterborough, who spoke of Afghan Muslim boys’ initiation ceremony including ‘raping and killing foreigners’ holds on to his seat with a slim swing from Labour to Conservative of 0.9%.
As the Conservatives and LibDem parties bargain over a coalition arrangement no doubt significant to negotiations will be the Lib Dem’s support for a proportional representation electoral system. Not a trivial matter given the huge disparity between the LibDem share of the vote and the actual number of seats won. And of course deeply relevant to the many voters whose votes have not been reflected in the first past the post electoral system’s constituency seat allocations.
But perhaps the most assuring outcome of the election is the all-round defeat of the British National Party which, despite being given unprecedented media coverage from the BBC Newsnight debate to Nick Griffin’s appearance on BBC Radio 5 Live last month, has failed to capture a single seat. After months of mayhem with EDL demonstrations outside mosques in the UK and an explicit anti-Muslim manifesto – the British public has proven itself above and beyond the hatemongering and immigration scaremongering of the BNP.
I even know that not bothering to vote is stupid, as it will amplify the votes of others, and some of these votes will be going to parties pushing anti-Muslim agendas. But despite my ‘getting’ these key points, I’m still stuck. Why? Because I’m not sure as to which candidate I should be voting for.
I know of course this is my choice to make. I know, in theory, I should study the policies of both the candidate as well as the party they represent and then decide which one appeals most.
But I am a typical British Muslim who lacks the time and inclination for all this hard work. If truth be told politics is actually very boring, and I would rather watch paint dry than read a party manifesto.
What I really need is someone to tell me up front which candidate to vote for in two words, and I will in turn, give two minutes of my day on Thursday 6th May to mark a cross against their name at the ballot box. Simple.
Well perhaps for most of us this approach will work. And there are Muslim organisations out there, such as BMI, You Elect and MPAC recommending which candidate to vote for, or not as the case may be, in seats with a high concentration of Muslim voters.
However, for many of us who happen not to live in these seats, or who are sad enough to actually, shock horror, be interested in politics, what are the factors to consider?
Well, there are quite a few and they are complex. At the risk of oversimplifying the key issues are firstly to know each party’s main manifesto commitments (on civil liberties, combating Islamophobia and foreign policy for example). Secondly, you need to get to know the individual candidates and their personalities, as some of these characters will not always toe the party line, and will put principle above party loyalty.
Finally, tactical voting also needs to be considered, as under our first-past-the-post system, most seats will only have one or two candidates able to realistically win, hence a vote for any other party would be wasted.
Having gone through all these points, one key issue needs to always be kept in mind.
The recent BNP announcement to ban halal meat in Britain is the latest symptom of an infectious and rapidly spreading European cancer, which has already shown alarming symptoms such as the French/Swiss niqab/minaret ban respectively.
The most effective solution is for European Muslims to rebut the bogus arguments behind these ill-advised policies head on by engaging constructively with their wider societies, and the best way of engaging is to get involved in the political process. British Muslims are uniquely placed to lead this response.
So to get out and vote on 6th May, is not merely a question of choosing an MP, it is a vital part of the battle to remove a disease which threatens our kids future.
And the Almighty knows best.
By Hamna Ismail – http://www.getoutandvote.info
The above article is the final instalment in a three part series featured on the above website.
Preston Muslim Girls High School hosted a lively hustings with Parliamentary candidates Mark Hendrick (Labour), Mark Jewell (Lib Dem) and Nerissa Warner-O’Neill (Con) answering questions.
The frank and often sharp exchanges lasted for a little over two hours and had around 100 local people in attendance.
All candidates agreed on the need to combat Islamophobia which they viewed as equally offensive as anti-Semitism or racism.
All also agreed to work towards a Parliamentary inquiry into how to quell the worrying rise in Islamophobic attacks and incidents.
The candidates also agreed that faith schools helped strengthen community cohesion.
Given the Preston Muslim Girls’ High school achieved substantially higher standards than the Lancashire average, all the candidates agreed to work towards securing state funding for the school if they were elected.
On the issue of Civil Liberties the candidates did differ.
Both Mark Jewell and Nerissa promised to scrap the key Labour policy to introduce ID cards with the Lib Dems going further by promising to reduce the pre-charge detention period from 28 days to 14 days. The Conservatives promised to review the 28 day detention period.
However, it was the issue of foreign policy that really engaged the audience and prompted some of the liveliest exchanges of the evening.
Mark Jewell from the Lib Dem was prepared to acknowledge that recent foreign policy has caused huge anger and resentment amongst the British Muslim community, whilst the other two candidates refused to acknowledge such a link.
Whilst all the candidates agreed on working towards a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders, both Mark Jewell and Mark Hendrick considered the Israeli policies towards Palestinians to be a form of apartheid with Nerissa arguing such a comparison was not accurate.
Lib Dem Mark Jewell was the only candidate to call for the British government to have direct negotiations with Hamas and for an arms embargo to be imposed against Israel given the allegation of war crimes as contained in the United Nations Goldstone report.
Mark Hendricks track record, as MP for Preston for the past 10 years came under some scrutiny.
Whilst refusing to apologise for supporting the Iraq war, Mark Hendrick did acknowledge he would not have voted for the war at the time, had he realised Iraq did not posses weapons of mass destruction.
Mark also confirmed he relied on intelligence briefings, not political convictions, to decide how to vote on key issues such as the Iraq War and pre charge detention periods.
Bashir Timol, the chair of the event, said: “Having the candidates constructively and transparently engage with the Muslim community can only be good for Preston.
The sheer unpredictability of the national general election campaign coupled with the apparent collapse of the core labour vote may result in this safe seat becoming vulnerable for the first time in nearly four decades. It will be fascinating to see whether Preston Muslims will vote en masse for a single party, and whether this will make a difference to the overall result.”
Speaking in a phone-in on BBC 5 live, Lord Pearson said there was a “problem” within Islam because some people used the Koran to justify terrorist acts.
He also said his love of stag hunting was “eco-friendly” as it controlled their population.
And he defended the party’s “sod the lot of them” poster, saying it reflected the anger over MPs’ expenses.
Speaking to Nicky Campbell, Lord Pearson said: “I constantly say to my mild Muslim friends, listen, you must realise these days, when we use the word ‘terrorism’ we are almost always referring to a problem which comes from violent Islam.
“You must realise that we do not hate you, but we fear your violent co-religionists and we have good reason to do that. And we see the burka in public and the niqab as a symbol of that and we fear it. The hatred is coming towards us.”
Lord Pearson said there was an inherent problem in the religion.
“The later verses in the Koran hold sway over the earlier verses and as the Prophet Muhammad moved through life he did live a more violent life, what he said later tended to be more violent.”
On stag hunting, Lord Pearson said it was eco-friendly, adding that venison is very tasty “if it’s properly hung”.
“We have to control them because they’re too many in number and if we don’t shoot them they die of starvation,” he said.
UKIP believes they are on target to more than double their share of the vote in the election.
A spokeswoman said they expected to get 5% of votes in the poll on Thursday, up from 2.2% in 2005.
IMMIGRATION Minister Phil Woolas has launched a desperate attempt to save his seat by distributing 45,000 leaflets saying he has had death threats and that he is being targeted by an Islamic group.
He has placed concerns over forms of Islam at the centre of the campaign in Oldham East and Saddleworth, which is becoming the dirtiest of the general election.
The leaflets are in the form of a hard-hitting eight-page newspaper whose front page has a picture of Mr Woolas caught in a rifle’s crosshairs.
They say the Islamic group, which cannot be named for legal reasons, is swamping the constituency with its own leaflets that brand Mr Woolas and his supporters as “bum kissers”.
One leaflet by a smaller group offered a hamper for anyone devising the “most creative” death threat against him, Mr Woolas said.
He is reporting those threats to the police.
He told the Sunday Express last night: “Mainstream Muslims will be sickened by these people who are giving Islam a bad name. We’ve got to stand up to them.”
The minister, whose majority is about 3,600, believes his Lib Dem challenger Elwyn Watkins, 46, will be the beneficiary of the group’s smear campaign.
Mr Watkins spent the bulk of his business career as a “personal adviser” to a wealthy Saudi sheikh.
The national Islamic group’s website states: “Our objective is to oust Phil Woolas, an anti-Muslim MP, from his position of power, in order to replace him with a candidate that will represent the views of the Muslims in the Oldham East and Saddleworth constituency.
“The only viable choice for the Muslims is to vote for Elwyn Watkins.”
The website depicts Mr Woolas as the devil with horns and a tail and says Oldham voters face “three deadly sins”: of “blind loyalty” to Mr Woolas despite his support for the Iraq war; of following family ties and “tribal voting” for the Tory, Kashif Ali; and of voter apathy, which could help Mr Woolas and be an “injustice to your community and the Muslim Ummah [brotherhood] as a whole”.
Mr Woolas is renowned in Westminster for his plain speaking and insists he has a strong ministerial record on tackling mass immigration by introducing measures such as improved border controls and points-based visas.
He also said he is opposed to Muslim women teachers wearing the full veil in classrooms.
“We are faced with the following dilemma: out of the three major party candidates we have one that is anti-Muslim (Phil Woolas for Labour) and two that are pro-Muslim, Kashif Ali and Elwyn Watkins, standing for Conservatives and Lib Dems respectively.