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Concern over Islamophobia as PM announces General Election date

31st May 2024
Concern over Islamophobia as PM announces General Election date

Abu Yusra Chowdhury

Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, has announced the date of the upcoming General Election, set for July 4.  In his announcement, Sunak highlighted global security concerns, particularly in the Middle East, stating, “In the Middle East, the forces of Islamist extremism threaten regional and ultimately global stability. These tensions are exploited by extremists who seek to undermine our values and divide our society here at home.”

This speech comes in the wake of growing fears among British Muslims that the Conservative Party, lagging Labour by a staggering 20 percentage points in the polls, may deploy rhetoric against their community as part of its election strategy.

Just a week prior, Sunak commented, “People are abusing our liberal democratic values – the freedom of speech and right of protest – to intimidate, threaten and assault others, to sing antisemitic chants on our streets and our university campuses.”

Many perceived this as a veiled criticism aimed at Muslims and other groups protesting perceived injustices in the Middle East.

Adding to the tension, outgoing MP and Communities Secretary, Michael Gove, delivered a speech on anti-Semitism, targeting pro-Palestinian activism.

He stated, “The cry of ‘From the River to the Sea’, or calls for the globalisation of the intifada, or demands for victory for the resistance are not really antisemitic are so disingenuous.” Earlier this year, after George Galloway’s election victory in Rochdale, Gove introduced a controversial new definition of extremism, equating certain Muslim activist groups with far-right extremists.

These developments have heightened concerns within the Muslim community that the Conservatives, already under scrutiny for years over allegations of Islamophobia, will intensify such discourse throughout the election campaign.

Shabana Begum, the CEO of the Runnymede Trust, said in an article for Huck magazine: “Treating Muslim voters and the legitimate expression of their interests as a threat to British democracy is a deeply harmful exercise that undermines the very fabric of the infrastructures that allow complex societies to function.”

Zara Mohammed, Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain, said: “I urge our political parties and all those seeking our votes to pursue a campaign that is hopeful: to resist the urge to scapegoat Muslims and minorities and proposing a future where all Britons can play a positive role.” She was echoing the Archbishop of Canterbury who called for an election campaign where “where we treat each other with respect and kindness”.

The upcoming election is expected to spotlight the influence of the Muslim vote, particularly after their significant impact in the May local elections. In Birmingham, nearly 70,000 Muslim voters supported an independent candidate, and in Oldham, several independents saw strong support from Muslim voters.

Labour faces its own challenges, with many Muslim voters expressing disappointment over the leadership’s stance on Gaza. There is growing concern that while the Conservatives may focus on securitising and maligning Muslims, Labour might be tempted to overlook these voters, risking the alienation of a key demographic.

Historically, the Conservative Party has not actively sought the Muslim vote, potentially creating a vacuum that Labour could struggle to fill if it does not address these voters’ concerns. As the election date approaches, the strategies of both major parties will be scrutinised, particularly their engagement with the Muslim community and the broader implications for British society.

Photo p1: On May 22, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced outside 10 Downing Street, London, that the UK general election will be held on July 4 (Credit: Wiktor Szymanowicz/AA)


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