So it was the Muslim4Ken campaign that did it for Ken, according to Asim Siddiqui. Never mind the fact that the campaign mobilised the Muslim community, traditionally politically apathetic, to turn out in unprecedented numbers. Never mind our success in sticking one up to those who want the Muslim community to simply sit back and do nothing, or maybe even seek alternative, destructive ways of expressing their concerns - it's the fact that the campaign identified itself by the faith of its target audience that Siddiqui denounces.
The suggestion that the campaign provided the "kiss of death" for Ken Livingstone is ludicrous. When the Muslims4Ken campaign was launched, a YouGov poll had suggested that Livingstone was trailing by 12 points. Johnson's lead was continuously receding, until on the final day of voting the same poll suggested that the lead was down to 6 points, which ultimately proved fairly accurate. It was interesting to hear a the former editor of the Sun on BBC Radio5Live on Saturday saying that considering the pounding that Labour came in for across the country, the mere 5.5% margin by which Boris Johnson won was, in his view, a relatively poor showing. It also reflected the impact of the mass mobilisation that took place across London's ethnic, racial and religious groups, including - and possibly most importantly - the Muslim community. If anything, it was Labour's dismal failure as well as the vitriolic campaign run by the Evening Standard against Livingstone that heralded his defeat.
Most detractors of the various campaigns that work under the Muslim title accuse them of attempting to bring religion into politics, and that no single campaign can possibly claim representation of all Muslims. So it's fascinating, and a little bemusing, when no such criticism is made of the Christian parties that campaigned for the various elections in England and Wales last week. Also, and in hope that this matter is laid to rest, not a single campaign or organisation that carries the word 'Muslim' in its title has ever claimed that it represented all Muslims. Never. The Muslims4Ken campaign was an effort by a number of Muslims, not all Muslims, to support Livingstone's attempt to win a third term as mayor, and must be seen as an ad hoc civil society movement that aims to engage Muslims in politics rather than leave them marginalised by the political process. What's wrong with that?
There was an Irish for Ken campaign, another with the name Afro-Caribbeans for Ken, and a friend of mine from Hendon informed me that he was working with a group of young Jewish professionals to make sure that their community backed Boris Johnson. So why do numerous commentators, including Muslims like Siddiqui, have such a problem with Muslims4Ken?
It would be wrong to think that this campaign, or any other run by Muslim groups and organisations, played the race or religious card. These campaigns were working within their own constituencies until the Evening Standard decided to play those cards and run untruthful and misleading headlines and reports. Indeed, the Standard did not target the Muslims exclusively, but an array of ethnic and religious groups, including Tamil, the Sikh and black organisations. While Andrew Gilligan and the ES may have become rabidly obsessed with the meeting between Ken and Qaradawi in 2004, it was interesting to see why they chose to omit any mention of a Cambridge University conference at which the Grand Mufti of Egypt, Sheikh Ali Gomaa, spoke. The Tory leader David Cameron praised his words, and the Times describedhim as the "wise Mufti". It may have escaped Cameron's attention that Gomaa espouses identical views on suicide bombings in Palestine and homosexuality as Sheikh Qaradawi, while his views on wife-beating are even more hardline.
To suggest that while Muslims can come under collective attack, suspicion and scrutiny as a result of crimes committed by a few, but can only defend themselves and fight for their rights as individuals, is nothing short of absurd - discriminatory, even. Furthermore, critics of Muslims4Ken missed another crucial point about the whole process of democracy. The argument, debate and presentation of ideas in the run-up to the elections are just as important as the vote itself. If they were not, most of the parties on any card, such as the Greens, would be wasting their time and the few resources they have. What the Muslims4Ken campaign managed to do was to highlight the stance of both candidates over issues relevant to their respective constituencies, and especially on the matter of Islamaphobia. Johnson's remarks and statements about Islam were extremely relevant - especially given that the new mayor declared "Islam is the problem" at as critical a moment as the July 7 bombings. To claim that by highlighting Johnson's own words and remarks about Islam among the Muslim constituency is playing the religious card is absurd. Siddiqui might have liked us to address only local issues such as bendy buses and the congestion charge, but we thought it best to leave it to the discretion of each voter to decide where they stood on those issues!
The constituency we were addressing was worried about Islamaphobia. And we managed to ensure the issue of Islam, Islamaphobia and discrimination against Muslims was on every candidate's agenda and a hot topic in every hustings. If it did nothing else than persuade Johnson to clarify his views on Islam, assert his conviction that it is indeed a religion of peace, and get him to visit a few mosques in an attempt to win back votes he was convinced he had lost, then it was a great success.
More worryingly is the suggestion that political naivety played a role in how the Muslim campaigns backed Livingstone. Siddiqui's example of US Muslims in 2000 is false. American Muslims did not back Bush because his opponent had a Jewish candidate as VP. That's ridiculous. They backed him chiefly because Bush was pledging to scrap a secret evidence bill that was terrorising American Muslims.
Siddiqui seems to suggest that Muslim organisations should rue their decision to come out against Johnson. This is the mentality of the quasi-citizen and the self-defeating. Johnson must be a servant to each and every citizen in London, and it is incumbent upon him to reach out to those who voted against him, and not the other way round. If the gloating expressed by the likes of Paul Goodman MP is anything to go by, it doesn't look good.
The Muslims4Ken campaign is extremely proud of its achievement in bringing out to vote thousands - if not tens of thousands - of people who would have otherwise sat at home and done nothing, thereby cementing their feelings of being lesser citizens with fewer rights. I sincerely hope that through a "non-religious" card, Asim and his friends managed to bring out and mobilise a similar number of otherwise apathetic people. I suspect they didn't.
Comment is Free
4 May 2008