Socialist Worker

Blair can't take Muslim votes for granted

ANAS AL-TIKRITI was a leading figure in the Muslim Association of Britain until he resigned to stand as a Respect candidate. He is one of the many activists with diverse political views who are now part of Respect. He explained why to JOSEPH CHOONARA</

Issue No. 1896

I WAS born in 1968 in Baghdad. I arrived with my family in Britain in 1970. My father is from the same town as Saddam Hussein and attended the same school. But he was a staunch opponent of the Ba'athist regime. Things became extremely oppressive for those who didn't stay in line. So my father came to Britain under the pretext of getting a university fellowship. In reality he was fleeing an unbearable situation.

I've been a member of the Muslim Association of Britain (MAB) executive since it was founded in 1997. Muslims have usually voted Labour because the first immigrants were mainly workers, working in ships and shipyards, as steel workers, factory workers and labourers.

But the Muslim community failed to organise themselves so they could start asking for and demanding things in return for their loyalty. It was natural for the first generation to affiliate to the Labour Party. There are various values that the Labour Party carried-social values, labourers' rights, etc. All of these are issues that are high on the list for Islam.

I think all political parties have started to realise that the Muslim vote has become an important vote to secure. We are talking about a community of more than 2.5 million people, more than 70 percent of whom are less than 35 years old.

The events following 11 September, the war on terror, the close affiliation of Blair and Bush-these are things that have led Muslims to readdress where they stand and where their support should go. The polls reflect this reality. The trend in the Muslim community is reflected across the whole of society. Many Labour voters have decided to look elsewhere-they don't see in the Labour Party the kind of things that made them support it in the past.

But it's even stronger amongst Muslims. Muslims feel they have stood by Labour for decades and now they are being stabbed in the back. The Tories and Liberal Democrats are not an alternative.

We are worried about spreading the vote too thinly and allowing the Tories to come forward. But that would happen whether Respect were there or not, because New Labour is creating disillusionment and apathy among all its supporters. There is another problem for the Muslim community and everyone else. That is the rise of the BNP. In some areas they seem to be gaining ground. Muslims are considering how to make sure they cannot grow.

Respect holds on to notions that Muslims found quite important when they started supporting the Labour Party. In that sense Respect is a more viable option than the Liberal Democrats for people who feel incensed by Labour's policies.

But it takes a lot of hard work-we mustn't ignore the fact that people who sway away from voting for a particular party generally look for another mainstream party to support. Many will look to the Liberal Democrats.

You can't win the backing of a whole section of society. But people generally feel the ideas of the trade union and socialist movements agree with the concerns of Muslims more than any others. The significance of the alliance between the Stop the War Coalition and MAB can't be dismissed.

The anti-war movement has shifted the landscape and opened up new doors. I would argue that most mosques and Islamic centres would be a very good place to start.

Paying a visit to the local Imam or cleric, knocking on the door and asking for a five-minute chat, would be a good start. There is great potential for alliances that make a change in local and national politics through people-Muslims, socialists, whatever-knocking on each other's doors.

I look back at the way that the Labour Party was created. It started by working class people getting together and establishing trade unions. At the time the Labour Party was set up it was unthinkable that any party would challenge the Conservatives or Liberals.

I think that there is a chance in the current political climate for the rise of a viable alternative to the three mainstream parties. If we think of it that way our approach and outlook will be positive. We're not relying on luck-through positive work we may find we have started the first steps to create something phenomenal.

  • Anas Al-Tikriti is heading the Respect list in Yorkshire and Humberside.

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    Sat 10 Apr 2004, 00:00 BST
    Issue No. 1896
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