Who will you vote for?

With only a few weeks left until the General Election 2015, the media is awash with election talk. With all the televised debates and interviews, the same old pledges and contradictory statistics…the coverage is making a lot of people confused about who to vote for. Not everyone of course, many of us have deep rooted alliances with particular parties but despite this it’s worth knowing what your local candidates stand for.

On the other hand whilst I love Russell Brand and agree with a lot of what he says, in reality a revolution in electoral terms will only come if nobody votes, like zero people. As that’s not going to happen we really need to get out there and stop crazy loons from being voted in, mainly I mean UKIP.

First of all for those who think it is unislamic to vote in the UK, do check this video where some scholars have said why it is not only ok to vote but why we must.

Going to the MEND conference a few weeks ago I learnt about how important social justice is in Islam and how it is at the core of being a Muslim. Even before revelation (of the Quran), the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was involved in decisions and events that took place against injustice. The Hilf al-Fudul treaty regarded as the ‘Alliance of Excellence’ was a pact for the Meccans and non-Meccan travellers for fairness and justice, the main point being no one inside or visiting Mecca will be treated unfairly or in an oppressive way. A pact like this was unheard of in the 7th century and it was an alliance that the Prophet was very proud of. Summarising this Tariq Ramadan draws three principles from this:

  • Islam embraces values derived from the human conscience, that are outside of the Islamic tradition. This is because Muhammad (pbuh) had acknowledged a pact before revelation, in the pre-Islamic era.
  • Islam acknowledges the righteousness of non-Muslims. In this case, the non-Muslims had defended justice and the oppressed.
  • Islam, instead of building allegiance to a closed community, requires allegiance to a set of universal principles. The message of Islam is not a closed value system, or at variance or conflict with other value systems.

This really shows us  how important it is for Muslims to take part in society even if that society is non-Muslim.

Whilst most people I know personally are going to vote, I do wonder how much we actually know about the people who we vote for. I am guilty of this, I have no idea what many of the candidates stand for but I’m ready to find out. YourNextMP.com is a great site for finding out about potential candidates, you just need to put your postcode in and all the candidates standing will be displayed.

Every constituency holds hustings which are small gatherings where all the local candidates are invited and anybody can turn up and ask them questions. These are being held as we speak, and if you just search online for your local hustings you should be able to find out the time and venue – some may require prebooking. Different organisations set them up, in fact you can set one up yourself. Then you can meet the candidates and ask them those burning questions that affect your life.

For example as a British Muslim I want to know what the candidates think of foreign policy in the Middle East – if they are an existing MP,did they support the Iraq war? Did they vote for intervention in Syria? Did they vote for an independent Palestinian state? And if they’re not an MP but are hoping to become one, do they support military intervention against ISIS? Do they want to spend your money replacing Trident? On a local level…do they agree that Islamaphobia should be taught in schools alongside anti-semitism and racism? Would they vote to ban the veil if an Early Day Motion came up?

So why does the Muslim vote matter? We may only be 5% of the UK population, but Muslims are densely packed in 50 – 60 towns across the country. In many constituencies if all the Muslims voted for a particular party it would swing the vote the other way, and some of those are target seats for both Labour and Conservative. This matters and politicians should know this, so it’s important you meet the candidates who want to represent you.

Here are some stats from MEND

  • Given the percentage of the population we should have 32 Muslim MPs but currently there are only 8.
  • Average UK voter turnout is 65%, with Muslims it’s 47%.
  • Tories have 80 target seats, 45 of which are 100% of the swing.

The rise of extreme Right-wing parties can be seen across Europe. Fascist and anti-Islam parties are gaining more and more support across France, Germany and other European nations. So even if you hate politics just go to vote against Nigel Farage and his cronies. Please.

A wealth of information can be found on mend.org.uk which are an organisation focused on Muslim development and engagement with society. They have developed getoutandvote.info especially for the election.

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Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid

Most of you will be aware that the British Government is trying to pass a new anti-terrorism bill, which really is a slap in the face of ‘freedom of speech’ and everything else the mainstream media have been shouting about post-Paris shootings. The freedom to express our thoughts and the freedom to criticise and question the Government and their foreign policies is a key part of our British values. However the Counter-terrorism and Security Bill (CTSB) proposes quite the opposite. In response to the number of Brits joining ISIS, these are the main points of the proposed bill: (taken from iengage.com)

  • Police officers or border officials able to seize passports for up to 14 days (with renewal up to 30 days via Magistrates’ court) 
  • Temporary Exclusion Orders (TEOs) that can ban a British citizen from entering the UK for up to 2 years and leave them effectively stateless during that time 
  • Relocation of 200 miles enforced on individuals subject to TPIMs raising concerns about mental health and family life
  • Government seeking power to intercept communications raising grave privacy concerns
  • Airlines and carriers forced to adopt ‘authority to carry’ scheme which can effectively enforce ‘no fly’ lists on entire nationalities 
  • ‘Prevent’ to become a statutory requirement in Councils, schools, universities and more 
  • Universities required to operate an ‘extremist’ speakers policy 

Whilst some of these proposals may seem acceptable in the light of characters like Jihadi John the worry is that the wrong people will be targeted. We have seen this time and time again, just looking at some of the prisoners who have and have not been released from Guantanamo Bay and the number of innocent Muslims whose homes have been targeted by terror raids. Frankly I have little faith in our Government or the secret service to be able to differentiate between a religious Muslim and a violent extremist Muslim. And of course then we come back to the same question ‘How do you define extremism?’. Ask ten different people and they will give ten different answers.

It scares the hell out of me to think one woman Theresa May, and further down the road we could have a UKIP Home Secretary, could have the power to implement such divisive policies which are so vague, open to interpretation and could be easily misused. My definition of what constitutes extremism will be different from even my parents’ definition for example. This excellent article summarises the possible consequences and what murky road Britain may be heading down  You can write to your MP and ask him/her to vote against this bill in its current form by clicking here.

Also this week the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Eric Pickles sent a letter to over a 1000 mosques and Islamic organisations, asking them in a nutshell to catch extremists. This obviously annoyed many Muslim leaders and Imams who have been working incredibly hard over the last 10 years to flush out hate preachers and extremist interpretations of Islamic literature. Not only was the letter patronising it was pointless and badly timed. While Muslims are still reeling after the Charlie Hebdo incident, this is the last thing they need. I think the Government needs to get real. Mosques do not radicalise young people anymore. The Internet and social media plays a much bigger part. Chances are if you go to the mosque regularly, or to an Islamic school you will not be taught violence extremism. You will be taught everything but that. However if you leave your Islamic education to the Internet then you can be influenced by anyone from anywhere in the world. My advice to young Muslims would be to go an seek knowledge from mosques, from Islamic books and not from ISIS videos.

To end I will leave you with a story from The Daily Star. In France, the same country that champions freedom of speech and expression, banned a couple from naming their child ‘Nutella’ today. So much for freedom of expression eh?