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Archive for April 2015

On the campaign trail with George Galloway

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Originally published for Left Foot Forward on April 21

George Galloway ncr

Few people, when casting their vote on polling day, will have Judgment Day in mind. But Oldham’s Muslim population are being told by George Galloway to consider the ‘final day’ when they choose their candidate for local elections.

The Respect party leader, who is standing for re-election in Bradford West, visited the town on Sunday to officially launch the campaign for Respect Oldham council election candidate Tariq Mahmood Ullah.

According to Galloway, not only do the borough’s Muslims have to consider choosing the right candidate for their ward, but they have the added burden of voting on behalf of the Palestinians.

“The people of Gaza don’t have a vote,” Galloway declared. “If they did, they would vote for Tariq. A vote for Respect, therefore, is a vote for Palestinians.”

The green and red Respect Party bus visited Waterloo Street with Galloway on board, alongside Ullah – a married father-of-three – who is fighting for election in the St Mary’s ward, a predominantly Pakistani area. Labour’s Shadab Qumer will be fighting for re-election.

The atmosphere may have been electrifying for the majority male members of the community, who greeted Galloway as though he were the Messiah, but it was intimidating for someone like me, one of a handful of women at the campaign launch. During the rally  most women chose to stay on the other side of the road, away from the men.

Starting with the Islamic blessing bismillahirrahmanirrahim (In the name of Allah, the most gracious, the most merciful), Galloway described Ullah as a “lion” who has got the “sheep” (that’s politicians to you and me) ‘nervous already’.

It is commendable for politicians to try to get more people involved in the democratic process, and this is what Galloway seems to be doing. He is defending a 10,140 majority in Bradford West, where he won support from a cross-section of the city.

When Galloway claims to be speaking ;for those Labour has abandoned’ there may also be some truth to it. Although Oldham is a Labour-run council, two UKIP councillors were elected to the Council for the first time last year, with the party coming second in many of the 20 wards.

After winning Bradford West in 2012, Galloway claimed to have “smashed” the clan-based/biraderi bloc voting. “We don’t believe in biraderis,” he said in Oldham. “There’s nothing Islamic about biraderis, there’s nothing democratic about biraderis.”

Traditionally, when a candidate was chosen for the election, it would have been an elder selected by his clan on the basis of bloodlines rather than merit. For the second and third generation Pakistanis in the UK, the biraderi system is not as relevant as it was for the first generation of Pakistani settlers, who found that it provided essential support in the form of links back to the villages of Punjab and Pakistani-administered Kashmir.

But despite Galloway’s bluster, this continues today. And the journalist Nick Cohen was correct when he described Galloway’s politics as ‘unashamedly communalist’. Those who once identified with their ethnicity or their parent’s country of origin – i.e. British Pakistanis – now identify more with their faith, i.e. Islam. In this respect Galloway has found his ‘new revolutionary proletariat’, as Cohen puts it.

Galloway’s speech in Oldham was littered with Islamic terminology and religious rhetoric. He claimed that Muslims would have to account for their actions and the way they vote. This is nothing new – these were words recycled from a speech he gave back in 2012 in his by-election campaign.

Galloway also made references to grooming cases that have recently been in the news – two of the men who were jailed in 2012 for preying on vulnerable girls were from Oldham –  claiming that it is unfair to label them “Muslim criminals”.

“These men are not vile perverts because they are Muslim, they are just vile perverts,” Galloway said, before going on to say that “the biggest terrorists in the world are white Christians in the White House. They killed one million Iraqis and they’re still doing it.”

Ratna Lachman, a human rights campaigner who chaired the hustings in Bradford earlier this month, remarked that personality rather than issue-based politics dominate in Bradford West.

That seemed to be the case in Oldham on Sunday. The Oldham candidate preferred to let Galloway do the talking for him, though when he did speak he merely said he wanted to “ease concerns some may have for Islam”. Very little was said about local issues and how Respect would address the needs of Oldham’s residents.

Opinion seems divided over Galloway. Some Bradford residents claim he has done little for the city. Records show he has spoken in four debates in the last year and has voted in 11.19 per cent of votes in this Parliament – well below average amongst MPs.

Meanwhile West Yorkshire Police are investigating after allegations were made on an anonymous website against Labour’s candidate Naz Shah. At the hustings earlier this month Galloway went on the offensive against Shah, accusing her of lying about her forced marriage. Muslim Women’s Network UK described Galloway’s comments as “irresponsible” and “counter-productive”.

Dan Holden wrote on Left Foot Forward in 2012 that Respect was running a ‘divisive and regressive’ campaign. Three years later and little has changed.

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Written by Iram Ramzan

April 25, 2015 at 6:03 pm

The hypocrisy of Maajid Nawaz’s critics is hard to swallow

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Originally published for Left Foot Forward on April 13, 2015

Can you be a feminist and visit a strip club?

That is the question some people are asking after footage obtained by the Daily Mail showed Maajid Nawaz, the Lib Dem candidate for Hampstead and Kilburn and co-founder of the Quilliam Foundation, on camera allegedly harassing a dancer in a strip club.

The Mail has described Maajid as a married father-of-one, but it is worth pointing out that he was not married at the time. His child is from a previous marriage. He got married in October and the ‘stag do’ took place in July. His wife, Rachel Maggart, took to Twitter to defend her husband and said she was fully aware of his actions.

Yesterday Maajid took to Twitter again to blast the ‘hatchet job’ against him.

It would seem as if a Muslim can own and manage a strip club, just cannot visit one. The club owner Abdul Malik said he wanted the video to be seen by the public because of the way Nawaz portrays himself as a feminist and a family man:

“He’s always talking about religion on TV and I thought, what a hypocrite,” he said.

Mr Malik claimed ‘arrogant’ Nawaz acted like a ‘spokesman for Islam’ but visited the club during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Thank goodness we had Mr Malik defending the honour of Islam and the dancers in his club. So concerned was he that he waited nine months before speaking out. The timing of this story is very suspicious. Why wait until now to release the video footage unless the intention was to damage Maajid’s political campaign?

Maajid has openly said he is a ‘non devout Muslim‘ and he has said on several occasions that there are no spokespeople for Muslims. But he does still identify as a Muslim. As a friend of mine told me upon hearing of the scandal:

“You can never escape the Islam police. Like being caught with a Marlboro light as a teenager by a friend of your third cousin’s neighbour. And suddenly it’s all around the community that you are a chain smoking junkie. Its that – amplified.”

Whatever you think about strip clubs, it was very stupid of Maajid to have gone to one, and in East London of all places. He is fighting an election; he should have known better and he has handed a gift to his enemies on a plate.

His spokesperson said he denied touching the dancer ‘inappropriately’ and added that his reputation for advocating women’s rights was ‘in the context of Islamic extremism’. What does that mean? This needs clarifying.

The frustrating part of the strip club controversy is the hypocrisy. Maajid’s enemies are suddenly declaring ‘concern’ for the vulnerable women in the sex industry and discussing issues of consent.

Yet some of these are the same people who, for example, would not challenge the Muslim scholars who refuse to condemn domestic violence or female genital mutilation. The same people who were happy to blame Western culture for the groomers who sexually abused and exploited children. Any woman who does not conform to their standard of Islamic modesty are treated with contempt.

Take Dilly Hussain, deputy editor of 5 Pillars, who has been enjoying the drama unfold. He was exposed last year for comments towards a blogger of Muslim origin whose timeline he stalked, then copied and pasted pictures of her (which had been edited) with the words ‘pisshead, drunken liberal garbage’. He also apparently views Ahmadi Muslims as lower than monkeys.

Opinion is divided over this story. Some deem it not to be newsworthy because visiting a strip club is what most men do – what’s the big deal? – and others, including Tory Nadine Dorries, have called for Maajid to resign.

I’ll be honest – Maajid’s behaviour has really disappointed me; I expected better from him. Perhaps that is my own issue, because I place too much faith in people and will inevitably be let down when they fail to live up to my (impossibly high?) standards.

At the end of the day, though, it is up to the public to make up their own minds over this story. Those who support Maajid can only hope that the accusations of harassment are revealed to be tabloid sensationalism. I doubt this will make much difference to his chances in Hampstead and Kilburn, as the odds of him winning that seat were slim anyway.

But has it damaged his reputation in the long run? Maajid’s work is indispensable; it would be a shame if this were to distract us from the good work he has done.

Written by Iram Ramzan

April 20, 2015 at 10:10 pm

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