British Muslims feel betrayed

  • From: "Muslim News" <editor_@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <submit@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Thu, 25 Apr 2002 10:23:35 +0100

Equivocation over Palestinian suffering will have long-term consequences 

It would be a cruel irony if Ariel Sharon's attacks on Palestinian territory 
were indirectly to boost the electoral success of anti-semitic far-right groups 
in Britain, following Jean-Marie Le Pen's shock success in the French 
presidential elections. There has been disenchantment in the British Muslim 
community, which has for decades been supportive of the Labour party, over 
government inaction on the Middle East. 

Labour workers in areas contested by the BNP privately admit to concern about 
potential turnout among Muslim voters. Muslim organisations are encouraging 
Muslims to vote, but it is now an uphill struggle. In its first term, the 
Labour government paid more attention to Muslim concerns than any previous 
administration. The recognition of the role of faith groups in regenerating 
poor neighbourhoods and the acceptance that it is iniquitous to have hundreds 
of church schools while denying state funding to Muslims and those of other 
faiths were widely welcomed. 

The immediate government response to September 11 continued this positive 
trend. Tony Blair made a point of supporting British Muslims, emphasised the 
importance of ensuring justice for the disenfranchised millions worldwide and 
explicitly recognised the case of the Palestinians. There were still arson 
attacks on mosques, numerous death threats and occasional physical attacks, 
particularly on Muslim women wearing headscarves. But the Muslim community in 
Britain is used to physical attack. The difference was that it was now being 
attacked for its faith rather than ethnicity. 

Despite a developing siege mentality, there remained some optimism within the 
community that foreign policy might become more ethical and the opinions of the 
Muslim electorate might be taken on board. The bombing of Afghanistan was 
overwhelmingly opposed by British Muslims but did at least lead Muslim groups 
to take part in the stop-the-war coalition. This is the most active role it has 
ever taken in an issue that was not "Muslim only". Our community's involvement 
in wider coalitions encouraged a feeling that one does not give up one's 
Britishness by publicly disagreeing with government policy. 

But two developments have had a disastrous impact on British Muslim sentiment 
in a way that No 10 appears to have underestimated. First, there was the 
government's deafening silence over the mass killings of Muslims in India. 
Second, the stance that Blair and Straw have taken over Palestine has crossed a 
line for the Muslim public. The continual equivocation of every condemnation of 
Israel with one of the Palestinians repudiates the history of Labour support 
for the oppressed. 

The repeated appeals from the home secretary that we should understand how 
Israel feels as the result of suicide bombings were never accompanied by pleas 
to understand how the Palestinians felt when Israel was killing three 
Palestinians for every Israeli death. 

As Menzies Campbell said in the Commons: "[It would be wrong] to take refuge in 
a supposed moral equivalence when it is clear that one side has self-evidently 
been the aggressor; one side is self-evidently the more powerful; one side is 
self-evidently the more determined to breach international law." 

The accusation by government supporters that British Muslims can't face 
realpolitik and that stronger condemnation or even sanctions against Israel 
would somehow be counter-productive to the Palestinian cause is simply an 
acceptance of the rightwing orthodoxy that finds its home in the illegal 
Israelis settlements and its voice in the highest reaches of President Bush's 
circle of Christian fundamentalist advisers. British Muslims and all people of 
conscience have the right to expect the British government to implement its 
ethical foreign policy and support EU action against Israel's occupation, 
including an arms embargo and other sanctions. This was demonstrated last week 
when as many as 75,000 people rallied in London to show solidarity with the 
suffering of the Palestinians. 

This was by far the largest event organised in Britain by a predominantly 
Muslim coalition and is an indication of the new single-issue activism among 
British Muslims sparked by September 11 and its aftermath. With even "moderate" 
Muslims feeling betrayed by the government, we find ourselves reluctantly 
agreeing with Faisal Bodi's claim that many young Muslims feel they do not have 
"any social contract with the state worth honouring". Unless something is done 
to address this overwhelming feeling of disaffection among those of all faith 
and none, then we fear that a British Le Pen may beckon. 
Source: Guardian Unlimited 

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