The poison of Islamic sectarianism

Councillors chanting ‘Allahu Akbar’ and defending Hamas reveal how Muslim identity politics has infected our democracy.

Fraser Myers

Fraser Myers
Deputy editor

Topics Identity Politics Politics UK

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The UK Green Party’s Mothin Ali had just been elected to Leeds City Council in the Gipton and Harehills ward, when he punched his fist in the air and yelled out: ‘Allahu Akbar!’ Draped in a Palestinian keffiyeh, he told his supporters in his victory speech on Friday: ‘We will raise the voice of Gaza. We will raise the voice of Palestine!’

Ali’s fiery victory speech spoke to a broader trend. In last week’s elections, voters in vast swathes of England were essentially asked to pass comment on the Israel-Hamas war, rather than local issues like bus routes and bin collections. In many wards with large Muslim populations, this turned out to be a successful gambit. Akhmed Yakoob, an independent endorsed by George Galloway, put Palestine at the front and centre of his campaign for the West Midlands mayoralty. He secured 69,000 votes – which was almost enough to deprive Labour’s Richard Parker of his victory over Tory incumbent Andy Street. Labour lost control of Oldham Council for the first time in 13 years, thanks partly to a surge in support for independents who campaigned on Palestine. Activists in Bradford celebrated their city’s apparent rejection of ‘Zionism’ (even as Labour retained control of the council). A BBC analysis of 58 local-council wards found that in areas where more than one in five voters is Muslim, Labour’s share of the vote plummeted by 21 percentage points compared with 2021. In typical Keir Starmer fashion, Labour has flip-flopped over Gaza, angering many previously loyal supporters in the process. Party strategists are terrified that this could undermine Labour’s chances of a landslide at the next General Election.

What all this confirms is that Islamic identity politics, in which Palestine now plays a pivotal role, is becoming a significant electoral force in the UK. Of course, you do not have to be a Muslim to take an interest in the Gaza war, but polls show that one in four British Muslims names Palestine as his or her most important election issue, compared with just three per cent of the public as a whole.

It seems the victory of George Galloway in the Rochdale by-election in February – a contest he described as a ‘referendum on Gaza’ – was a foretaste of this new sectarianism. The Workers Party of Britain sought to appeal to Muslim voters as Muslims first, Rochdale residents second. Galloway addressed them not as citizens of the UK, electing a member of parliament to pass and scrutinise our laws, but as members of a grieving ummah, to send a message to the ‘Zionist’ enemy and her Western allies. In last week’s elections, we saw this replicated across much of England, with Palestine flags appearing on candidates’ flyers where pledges about public services would ordinarily be.

Of course, this identity politicking is not entirely new. The Labour Party is simply finding out the hard way that other parties can also target Muslim voters and aim to gin up a sense of group-based grievance more ruthlessly and effectively. Independent candidates have been particularly adept at this. However, one genuine surprise of last week’s elections was the number of hardline Muslim candidates fielded by the Green Party.

Of course, political parties can field whichever candidates they like, and voters are free to accept or reject them. Yet it is hard to imagine that the maddeningly woke Green Party would have put forward a candidate like Mothin Ali if it was not making a crude attempt to chase the so-called Muslim vote. This is a candidate who has defended Hamas’s atrocities on 7 October as an act of resistance. He also took part in an intimidation campaign against Leeds University’s Jewish chaplain, Rabbi Zacheria Deutsch, who, as an Israeli citizen and IDF reservist, was called up to serve in Gaza last year. ‘You should be protecting students from this kind of animal’, Ali raged, ‘because if he’s willing to kill people over there, how do you know he’s not going to kill your students over here?’. Deutsch has since been advised by police to go into hiding.

Two newly elected Green councillors in Bristol have even caught the eye of Lord Mann, the UK government’s adviser on anti-Semitism. Mohamed Makawi shared posts with references to the ‘Zionist enemy police’ and dismissed the 7 October terror attack as an ‘American Zionist lie’. Abdul Malik appears to have shared a video that describes Israel as a ‘cancer that should be eradicated’, though the Green Party denies this. Thus, thanks to its flirtation with Islamic identity politics, a party most people associate with recycling and veganism, has quickly become a haven for Israel-loathing cranks.

Here we see the sickness of the new sectarianism laid bare. It is bad for Muslims who are no longer treated as our fellow citizens, with interests and concerns that transcend religious divides. This identity politicking reduces Muslim voters to a homogenous bloc that must be appealed to on the basis of its supposed group interests, despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of Muslims are not casting their vote purely on Gaza. And it is bad for our politics as a whole, as it invariably promotes and indulges in reactionary tropes about Israel, as if this were somehow representative of broader Muslim opinion. This is, in itself, a form of anti-Muslim bigotry. And it really must be confronted.

Fraser Myers is deputy editor at spiked and host of the spiked podcast. Follow him on Twitter: @FraserMyers.<

Picture by: YouTube.

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Topics Identity Politics Politics UK


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