Britain: Dark political times for Arabs and Muslims

Britain: Dark political times for Arabs and Muslims

The Labour leadership’s adoption of the Israeli narrative threatens to limit Arab and Muslim voters’ options further (File/AFP)
The Labour leadership’s adoption of the Israeli narrative threatens to limit Arab and Muslim voters’ options further (File/AFP)
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These are not happy days for the moderate, open and well-intentioned in Britain, nor for advocates of understanding and dialogue. These are particularly difficult times for Muslims and Arabs, who have always sought and continue to strive for integration into an environment that has shown respect to their sentiments and ideas … so long as they respect its sovereignty, identity, peculiarities and political traditions.

Living in a country doubtlessly demands, particularly of immigrants, respect for the environment one has chosen to belong to. Refugees should be grateful to the environment that embraced them after conditions in their homeland degraded or after they lost that homeland.

There is no need to present an extensive list of the factors that make Britain an attractive destination for migrants, and all of them are pertinent. It suffices to say that British political life, at least since the beginning of the 20th century, has been smoother, safer and more tolerant than that of other European countries.

Moreover, radical xenophobic movements have largely remained marginal in Britain, which cannot be said of other European countries like Germany, Italy and France. Its “institutional” spirit has always been a bulwark against the emergence of dictatorial regimes like those that were seen in Spain, Portugal and, for a few brief years, Greece as well.

On the other hand, power regularly changing hands, as experiences have shown, does not guarantee that priorities are shared within parties. Indeed, the two major parties, the Conservative Party and the Labour Party, are both home to many wings with divergent priorities.

These disagree on how to manage the economy, the degree to which the state should intervene and the size of the so-called welfare state. There have always been — and there remain — divergences of fluctuating degrees regarding foreign policy, from “hot” global confrontations to issues of migration and asylum.

The Labour leadership’s adoption of the Israeli narrative threatens to limit Muslim and Arab voters’ options further

Eyad Abu Shakra

Last week witnessed two important by-elections, and let us look at the general political scene.

Today, the governing Conservative Party is led by the hard-line (Thatcherite) wing after its moderates, most notably those who favor European integration, were all but annihilated. However, it is now clear that even the hard-line, right-wing leadership no longer satisfies a large segment of the right-wing extremists and isolationists who were at the forefront of the push to leave the EU. These hard-liners have decided to establish Reform UK (formerly the Brexit Party) and compete with the Conservatives over right-wing voters.

Last week, Reform showed that it is a force to be reckoned with, receiving more than 10 percent of the vote in by-elections that cost the Conservatives two seats that had previously been considered “safe.” The results of these elections bode very badly for the leadership of the ruling party, regardless of the justifications.

Firstly, they undermined trust in the leadership itself, with the party having changed leaders and prime ministers three times since 2019. And, secondly, they split the right-wing vote between two parties competing against electable alternatives.

Worse, the momentum has swung against the Conservatives, who — to illustrate the bind they find themselves in — have now lost 10 by-elections over this parliamentary term alone. This is the worst record of any British government over the last 50 years.

On the other hand, the Labour Party won two undisputable major victories under the leadership of Sir Keir Starmer. This is despite the fact that the figures do not offer a full picture, as the results might not be applicable to the coming general election, because they do not reflect the number of abstentions or tactical votes against the Conservatives that the nationwide election will see.

These two Labour victories came on the heels of two tumultuous weeks for the party, during which serious divisions between the “pragmatic” and “leftist” wings reemerged. The main reasons were: Starmer walking away from green economic commitments, which angered the left, and his almost unequivocal support for Israel’s war in Gaza, which mobilized many Muslims and Arabs against him, including MPs, local council members … and voters, of course.

The dark times for Muslims and Arabs that I introduced this conversation with will be bad on both the right and the left.

On the right, moderation is fading in the Conservative Party. Thus, Muslim and Arab Conservative voters will have to choose between Reform UK and the Conservative Party in its current form, which will be even more isolationist and hostile to immigrants and foreigners as it seeks to ward off the threat posed by Reform and outflank it.

On the left, the Labour leadership’s adoption of the Israeli narrative threatens to limit Muslim and Arab voters’ options further. Indeed, the leadership, which has liberally brandished accusations of antisemitism and support for terrorism to stifle voices of dissent and threaten left-wing politicians (even those who are not Muslim or Arab) by withdrawing their nominations from the party’s lists, will see in these by-election wins an endorsement of its current policies … and that the Muslim and Arab vote has no value whatsoever.

Thus, as the leftist forces capable of confronting a resurgent wave of racism are eradicated, the country’s largest religious minority will be left without any political weight.

  • Eyad Abu Shakra is managing editor of Asharq Al-Awsat. X: @eyad1949
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