What Matters to Muslims in an Election?
Categories: Election News, Latest News
Thursday November 21 2019
With a general election less than a month away, British Muslims need to make sure that their voices are heard. The potential of the Muslim vote is significant, with geographical concentrations of Muslim populations in specific areas providing their votes an enhanced ability to influence various parliamentary seats. Therefore, it is essential that British Muslims ensure that they are registered to vote and that they get out and vote on election day in prder to make a difference for themselves and their communities.
Research conducted by MEND showed that the results of up to 50 seats across the country could be swung or impacted by Muslim voters. These include Kensington in London, Dewsbury in West Yorkshire, and Pendle in Lancashire, amongst others. Meanwhile, British Muslims, a community of just under 5 million, have a civil obligation to engage in the political process and seek to protect their interests and impact policies that directly affect their communities.
A principle issue that fundamentally affects Muslims is Islamophobia, which remains prevalent across the UK and impacts Muslims’ engagement in social, economic, and political structures. Indeed, recently conducted polls suggest that a third of Britons believed that Islam is a threat to the ‘British way of life’, while a growth in far-right online activity furthers Islamophobic rhetoric and agendas.
Despite this, Islamophobia often fails to receive the attention that it deserves from policy makers. This lack of attention can sometimes be attributed to the lack of an official definition for the term ‘Islamophobia’ itself. As a consequence, instances of Islamophobia become easy to dismiss. Furthermore, without a robust system of primary legislation in place to govern online spaces, hate speech and Islamophobic content continues to flourish across social media platforms.
By assessing the policy commitments of candidates and casting their votes accordingly, Muslims can safeguard the election of candidates that support their interests. This includes endorsing candidates who commit to supporting an official definition of Islamophobia and to implementing primary legislation to deal with social media offenses.
Another issue that has a detrimental impact to Muslim communities across the country is the Government’s counter-terror strategy, PREVENT. Since its formation in 2006, PREVENT has gained a reputation for its overwhelmingly focus on Muslim communities, leading to criticism of ethnic and religious discrimination in its application. Indeed, data shows that a British Muslim is 41 times more likely than a non-Muslim to be referred to CHANNEL programme under PREVENT, despite representing less than 5% of the population. It is, therefore, unsurprising that numerous critics have condemned the PREVENT strategy as being inherently discriminatory. Beyond issues of equality and social justice, such a discriminatory application may also prove to be counterproductive. MI5 has concluded that “experiences of inequality, marginalisation, or victimisation, particularly racial or religious attacks, both physical and verbal” play a direct role in the radicalisation of individuals.Likewise, Andy Burnham has described the PREVENT strategy as contributing to “creating a feeling in the Muslim community that it is being spied upon and unfairly targeted. It is building a climate of mutual suspicion and distrust. Far from tackling extremism, it risks creating the very conditions for it to flourish”.
Such inherent flaws within the program has led to sustained criticism of the PREVENT strategy put forward by experts from across society, including three special rapporteurs to the UN, the NEU (formerly known as the NUT), the NUS, the former Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, Rights Watch UK, the Open Society Justice Initiative, the Joint Committee for Human Rights, and more than 140 academics, politicians and experts in one instance alone. As a result of this criticism, amendments to the Counter-Terror and Border Security Bill were proposed by the House of Lords, and the Government has conceded to an independent review of the PREVENT strategy.
Although MEND welcomes such an independent review as the first step in scrapping the PREVENT strategy, there are signs that this review may not be truly independent nor wide enough in its scope to examine all of the factors that may lead someone to be drawn into acts of politically motivated violence, including the role of foreign policy in such a trajectory. It is interesting to note that with the announcement of Lord Carlile as the Independent Reviewer, questions have already been raised about his own independence, given his previous support for PREVENT. Similarly, in examining the terms of reference that have recently been published, it is striking to see an absence of the key question as to whether the PREVENT strategy is even required, as well as a neglect of its past application and theoretical underpinning (see below). Indeed, it appears that the starting point for the review is that the PREVENT strategy will remain in place, with the review’s primary focus being concentrated on future improvements.
In the upcoming general election, Muslim communities have the opportunity to contribute towards the election of a government that will be committed to addressing the challenges that are facing Muslim communities. We therefore encourage voters to question candidates on these issues and continue to ensure that their voices are heard within the political process.
MEND thus calls upon policymakers to:
- Commit to adopting the definition of Islamophobia produced by the APPG for British Muslims: “Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness”, and apply this definition in conjunction with the guidelines that MEND has produced.
- Implement primary legislation to deal with social media offences and hate speech online and commit to working with social media companies to protect free speech while developing an efficient strategy to tackle hate speech online in consultation with Muslim grassroots organisations.
- Commit to independently reviewing all counter-terrorism legislation enacted since 2000 with a view to curbing the encroachment of counter-terrorism policies on civil liberties.
For a full list of policy pledges and analysis of the issues affecting Muslim communities, see MEND’s Policy Pledge Manifesto here.