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The Voting Imperative

By Samir Abdalla 

As the prospect of a hung parliament becomes increasingly likely, the marginal seats are crucial to the future political landscape of this country. Muslims in this backdrop become even more prominent as their influence can certainly tip the scale. At this crucial juncture, Muslims should avoid the cynicism and apathy that have characterized their views of political participation.

Muslims cannot afford apathy and must realize that their inaction is an action that has tremendous implications for themselves and the Muslim community. The attacks and venom shown towards Muslims have become strengthened as the media and politic is hardened towards a discourse of anti-Muslim hatred. In such a climate, not making use of power as a voting bloc, in effect, means indulging in an extreme form of communal self-harm. If the literary class can crystallise the mood of it's society than Muslims are confronted with a disturbing reality. Martin Amis summaries this anti-muslim mood in the following statement “There’s a definite urge — don’t you have it? — to say, ‘The Muslim community will have to suffer until it gets its house in order.’ What sort of suffering? Not letting them travel. Deportation — further down the road. Curtailing of freedoms. Strip-searching people who look like they’re from the Middle East or from Pakistan. ... Discriminatory stuff, until it hurts the whole community."

Booker Prize winner Ian McEwan describes these 'urges' as fair 'critique of Islam'. Muslims need to understand that Islamophobia, anti-Muslim sentiment is pervasive and the move to the right in politics is a real phenomenon. Amis was not speaking about some prescription for the future. The sort of suffering and curtailing of freedoms, the profiling of Muslims and other 'discriminatory stuff', strip searching (body scanners) is the lived reality for British Muslims. Muslims must utilise their potential power to be heard and respected in an effort to quell the pandering to the right. Turning out in large numbers will signal to the political class that Muslims are part of this society and their interests if not heard, will be a detriment to their political careers.

The issue of cynicism in politics cannot have any place in our discourse, particularly in this election. While it is true that voting represents only one aspect of political participation among many others, voting nonetheless is an important part of this process. The following will illustrate examples of the potential power of the Muslim community. In Crawley, Labour in the last election won by 34 votes. Crawley has a Muslim population of around 4000 according to the 2001 census. Take another example Barry Gardiner of Brent North, a former Vice Chiar for the Labour friends of Israel, won by a margin of 5641 in the last election.

The Muslim population was estimated at approximately 10,000 in the 2001 census. With an influx of Muslims into that constituency as well as boundary changes the voting capacity is raised even higher. Or take the example of Poplar and Canningtown, George Galloway, a politician who more than most represents Muslim interest is running against Jim Fitzpatrick who in a lavish publicity stunt walked out on a wedding to score political points with the right and described Muslim political involvement as 'infiltration'. Croydon Central was won by 75 votes in a Muslim population of 4000 according to the 2001 census.

These and many examples show the power of the Muslim vote to sway the political direction of the country and in this particular election, where there are many marginal seats contested, the muslim vote can go some way in stemming the anti-Muslim sentiment ravaging the political discourse.

For more information regarding candidates and constituency to facilitate your voting decision, please visit www.youelect.org.uk

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