By Yuri Prasad
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Labour has a terrible record of Islamophobia

It's right to hit back at the Tories Islamophobia but Labour shouldn't be trying to give them any lessons
Labour Starmer Muslim Islamophobia

Protests against the last Labour government Picture: Socialist Worker

Labour leader Keir Starmer is trying to capitalise on the Islamophobia crisis engulfing the Tories (see pages 2 and 3). He attacked prime minister Rishi Sunak last weekend, accusing him of harbouring “extremists in his party”.

“It’s right that Lee Anderson has lost the whip after this appalling racist and Islamophobic outburst,” said Starmer.

“But what does it say about the prime minister’s judgement that he made Lee Anderson deputy chairman of his party?”

Of course, Starmer is right to say that Anderson is the tip of the iceberg of Tory racism. Yet his posing as a friend of Muslims doesn’t stand up to examination.

Instead, it’s a ploy to win back anti-war support that the Labour leader initially seemed happy to lose.

Labour has been slavish in its backing of Israel’s war on Palestine, which has been the main driver of a recent explosion of Islamophobia.

Starmer himself talked of Israel’s “right” to deny Palestinians access to food, fuel and medicine.

During the uproar that followed, rather than apologise, he claimed he’d never said the words, even though they were televised. 

But Labour’s vilification of Palestinians goes further than one interview and the refusal to vote for a ceasefire in Gaza.

Back in October last year the party’s sent an email to members urging them to “exercise caution” and stay away from protests over the war.

David Evans, Labour’s general secretary, said, “Individuals will not have the ability to control who they are photographed alongside and this risks threatening the Labour Party’s ability to campaign against any  form of racism and discrimination.”

That terrible slur on the pro-Palestine movement implied that the marches are a cover for antisemitism. And Starmer was determined to go further still.

He used a visit to the South Wales Islamic Centre in Cardiff last autumn to claim Muslim support for his agenda. His social media posts afterwards implied that he had persuaded those he met of Labour’s pro-Israel position. In fact it outraged them.

Labour’s arrogance, believing that it can speak for Muslims even while justifying their slaughter, stems from generations of Asians supporting the party.

But this might not be the case for much longer. The party’s terrible stance on the genocide in Gaza infuriated many Labour members and supporters—both Muslim and non-Muslim.

British Muslims’ identification with Labour as their “natural choice” fell by 49 percentage points, from 72 percent in 2021 to just 29 percent in 2023.

The party leadership’s initial reaction to the loss of voters and councillors was to claim it as a victory for Starmerism.

One Labour executive member said their exit was “good riddance”. Another Labour source told the editor of the Jewish Chronicle newspaper that the party was “shaking off the fleas”.

But even the most prejudiced in the party are realising a terrible election arithmetic—that the loss of so many thousands of Muslim and left wing votes will cost Labour seats.

That’s why Labour leaders now want to be seen as opponents of Islamophobia and why Starmer spoke out strongly against the Tories.

Yet the party cannot escape from the logic of imperialism and racism. It’s no accident that Islamophobia has grown along side the West’s wars on the Middle East and Asia.

In order to justify the horrors of Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Palestine, our rulers have dehumanised “the enemy”. They tell us that Muslims are not “like us” and that their pain is unlike “our” pain.

It is a process that allows wars of the utmost barbarity to be labelled battles for “civilisation”. Labour’s racism doesn’t simply flow from Starmer and the party’s right wing.

It comes from Labour’s tradition of support for imperialism and colonialism that has been hardwired into Labour since birth.

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