UK Muslims in the Eye of Election Storm

SHAFAQNA – As British people prepare to head to the polls to cast votes in the general election next May 7, 2015, many analysts are expecting politicians to use Islamophobia as the makeup of certain parties’ agenda, threatening to fuel many debates.

“Politicians are playing the demagogy game, using Islam, Muslims and of course immigration to drive support. This is not helping the conversation!” Al Mustapha Abu Salem, an administrator at Brighton’s main mosque said.

“What we need is a debate on social inclusion, not political exploitation. Muslims don’t want to be used as a train ticket to Number 10. We want solutions to real social problems. We want to be treated fairly and equally as any other active members within Britain.”

While many campaigns continue to actively debate the economy, fiscal reforms, education, and the much dreaded National Health Services NHS dossier, immigration and terror remain the main subjects of contention, becoming a driver of an intense political polemic.

But with the political debate heating up on Islam, Abu Salem’s calls for restraint are likely to fall on deaf ears.

“Depending on which side of the debate politicians, and their respective parties have decided to sit on, Muslims have become either punching bags or charity cases,” said Zeenat Al-Hakim, a political science student at London School of Economics, explained.

“I see how the political debate has been manipulated. Politicians are using Islam as their winning tickets.

“We have become the new demographic to sway, the new “group” to reel in. Thing is, we’re not fish, we’re people and Britain has a real Islamophobia problem to tackle. Vague promises and empty statements will only last until May 7 … then what?” Al-Hakim asked.

Henry Smith, MP for West Sussex with the Conservative Party told that he actually believes such a binary reduction of Britain, Muslims versus the rest of society, is actually detrimental to an open and constructive discussion on social inclusion and radicalism.

“It’s not about being pro or anti-Muslims. It is about building the kind of Britain where all communities feel included and protected under the law; where work opportunities and growth is promoted and values of tolerance safeguarded,” he said.

Smoke Screen

Some political analysts said they believe the whole debate on Islam and immigration serves as a political smokescreen or a deflector of sort from real issues.

“Politicians, whether Labour, Conservative, UKIP …. whatever, are all looking for cheap fancy ways to become popular. And since none of them have actually real answers to bring to the table, they use party tricks,” Anthony Arlington a GP from East London said.

“Politicians are throwing glitters at us hoping we will buy into their propaganda … oldest trick in the book.”

“By the way, I’m still waiting for someone to explain to me how immigration is a bad thing. Last time I checked, immigrants pay more taxes than anyone else because they do not have access to tax rebates.”

Though many agree that Britain’s poll fever has fueled a certain degree of hypocrisy, especially in the way Islam has been used as a rallying flag for votes by political parties, some experts have argued that this reality could be positively exploited.

Political analyst Spencer Ackerman with AKE group explains that although politicians have “played up Islam to appear appealing to their voting pool”, such tendencies could be usefully exploited by Britain’s Muslim community.

“Britain has changed tremendously over the past decades, Muslims’ votes matter more than ever, and politicians understand they can’t ignore this demographic any longer. Politicians are actually courting British Muslims, something unthinkable 10-years ago,” he said.

Ackerman added, “Britain’s Muslims have become savvy voters and politicians have had to compute this within their campaign equation. This could be a powerful tool to promote change.”

However, politicians’ interest in the Muslim community could be short lived, confined within the perimeters of the general election, argues political analyst Steven Patterson, a campaign adviser with the Labour Party.

“There is a fear that politicians will lose interest after May 7,” he warned.

“The biggest threat Britain faces as a whole actually is the growing disconnect in between the people and political leaders. And though this phenomenon has been most felt within the Muslim community, this is actually pandemic to Britain,” Patterson added.

In the meantime, while Muslims debate which way they will swing their votes, British politicians risk turning Islamophobia into a farce with fascist undertone.

It has been difficult indeed to ignore Britain spiraling down the racist tube over the past few months.

In late March for example, UKIP Manchester candidate Myles Power claimed children taught Islamic values felt “un-cherished by the British establishment.”

If Power later on apologized for the gaffe, his comments are a perfect reflection of the ill-sentiment an increasingly larger segment of Britain’s population harbor against Muslims and foreigners in general.

Until politicians come to term with the fact that religion should not serve as political flagship for their campaigns, talks of tolerance, interfaith dialogue and social inclusion will carry little weight.

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