Socialist Worker

Proud of links with Muslims

by Michael Lavalette, Socialist Alliance councillor, Preston City Council
Issue No. 1863

JOHN REES'S timely article (Socialist Worker, 2 August) was an important statement on the tasks facing the left. I want to focus on one particular element-the link between socialists and radicalising elements in the Muslim community. I was elected as the Socialist Alliance's councillor in Preston.

Ever since there have been some on the left, and unfortunately a few in the Socialist Alliance, who have suggested that the 'Preston model' means entering a 'front' with Islamic fundamentalism or 'political Islam'. It seems to me this is just a slur from people who have little, if any, contact with the Muslim community in Britain. They portray anyone who goes to mosque, or any woman who wears a headscarf and every imam as a 'fundamentalist'.

That reveals more about their prejudices than it does an understanding of class and politics in this community. In Preston many women have adopted the veil as a symbol of their anti-imperialist identity.

The vast majority of mosque goers are from the very poorest sections of the working class. They are (or were!) traditional Labour voters and many have a proud history of active trade unionism. But what about the imams? Not all imams are the same, of course, but they occupy a particular social position in their communities.

They have been affected, like the rest of the community, by racism, poverty, inequality and war. For some this has had a radicalising effect. I like to think of a historical analogy. In the late 1950s in the southern states of the US a young Baptist preacher led the civil rights movement. I have no doubt there were reactionary Baptist ministers, but would any socialist worth their salt really think it wrong to work with the young Martin Luther King?

At the election in Preston there was a small group of what we could term 'fundamentalists'. Their intervention amounted to leafleting outside Friday prayers the week before the election telling people it was 'haram' (against Islam) to vote or take part in the electoral process.

The imam came out, grabbed the leaflets and told onlookers, 'We were born here-we have the right to march, protest and vote. We should exercise these rights and support anti-war, anti-racist candidates.'

I am proud that the Socialist Alliance in Preston grew out of the anti-war movement and made links with the Muslim community in the town. I hope it is the start of a long, fruitful and militant political relationship.


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Features
Sat 9 Aug 2003, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1863
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