Thursday 5 April 2012

George Galloway, the "Muslim vote" and his far-right critics

As a preface I would like to express my personal opinion about George Galloway, to prevent people from thinking that my views here are some kind of biased pro-Galloway rant. I think the man is a bit of a buffoon with a questionable track record, but he is a fine orator and a politician of principle, in that unlike the vast majority of his political peers he actually seems to have any at all. I mean none of his principles seem to be particulary fashionable these days (sobriety, pacifism, renationalisation, direct funding of state infrastructure, increasing rather than decreasing the funding of education and research). Even if you completely disagree with his principles and/or loathe the man, it would be unfair to claim that he hasn't got any principles. To me this is the esscence of his appeal, Labour sold out when they betrayed their founding socialist principles and millions of their core left wing voters in the 1990s to enable their passionate embrace of corporatist neoliberalism, the Lib Dems volte-face on tuition fees utterly demolished their credibility as a party of principle and the Tories have only ever had one central principle, to protect the wealth, property and power of the rich establishment elite. The people of Bradford were looking for a person they could trust to not sell out and Galloway (of all people) was the closest aproximation they could find to "an honest politician".

On 29 March 2012 George Galloway (in his own words) recorded "the most sensational result in British by-election history, bar none". He overturned a massive Labour majority in a "safe seat" (political stronghold) they had retained since 1973, whilst representing a "minor" party without any sitting MPs. In this landslide victory he polled that largest post war percentage of a by-election vote and the second largest swing (52.8%) in by-election history. Aside from the remarkable statistics, the intensity of the shock was magnified by the fact that the Bradford West by-election campaign was barely even covered by the mainstream London based media. Only The Guardian even bothered to send a reporter up to Bradford to cover it. When the news of Galloway's victory broke in the early hours of the following morning the mainstream media commentariat and the political establishment were utterly taken by surprise.

I spent the following couple of days checking what the mainstream media and the below-the-line comments had to say, in order to gauge the press and public reaction to Galloway's amazingly comprehensive victory. It is understandable that in the wake of unexpected happenings, reactionary views become prevalent, since the mainstream media has not been able to coach the public in the political nuances of the subject. The most commonly occurring of these ignorant reactionary views seemed to be that "Galloway had won by pandering to the Muslim vote".

George Galloway celebrating his remarkable victory in Bradford West.
Firstly, this view demonstrates an unwillingness to consider the fact that huge numbers of people from all kinds of backgrounds voted for Galloway, disaffected white working class former Labour voters, students, non-muslim ethnic minorities and Bradford's massive swelling tide of unemployed young people. Secondly it ignores the fact that Galloway's Labour opponent, Imran Hussain was actually a Muslim and a prominent member of Bradford's Muslim political establishment.

This unwillingness to embrace the facts either demonstrates ignorance (which is almost acceptable in the immediate aftermath of an unexpected event) or a deliberate evasion of reality. Over the next few days these reactionary "Muslim pandering" accusations began to intensify rather than die down, becoming the de-facto official reactionary line on "that distasteful Galloway affair", demonstrating that either growing numbers of people were prepared to speak out in complete ignorance of the facts, or that the official "Galloway is a Muslim panderer" position relies on the deliberate evasion of reality and a distasteful underlying Islamophobic sentiment.

The idea that Galloway was "courting Muslim voters" can hardly be considered as a stand-alone criticism, after all, in Britain, a Muslim vote counts exactly the same as a non-Muslim vote. Anyone attempting to win election in a constituency containing many Muslims would either be a fool or a racist not to attempt to engage with the Muslim community. This is precisely the reason that representatives of all three mainstream political parties have paid their respects at local mosques, visited Muslim businesses, canvassed Muslim neighbourhoods and fielded Muslim candidates (such as Galloway's Bradford West opponent Imran Hussain). 

An overt appeal to Muslim voters is nowhere near enough to be considered as a stand alone criticism, so there must be something more to these Galloway "Muslim pandering" accusations, otherwise all of the other major parties would have found themselves at the centre of regular "Muslim pandering" storms of criticism over recent decades.

After several days of reading below-the-line opinions about Galloway's victory I was astonished when I finally came across a criticism of Galloway that actually bothered to mention and paraphrase the Respect party manifesto and completely avoided the subject of "the Muslim vote". I didn't agree with the criticism, because the guy was parroting the hackneyed neoliberal line that "the money has run out", therefore social democratic policies are an unaffordable luxury, but I have to give credit because the comment was the first one I found in days to base criticism of Galloway on the political issues, rather than on a blatant personal attack or an barely concealed anti-Muslim sentiment.

I find it quite amazing that such a high percentage of Galloway's critics choose to attack the man through association with Muslims, some going as far as to claim that "proper British people" don't really care about the Afghan war of occupation, and that "people that complain about it" are confirming their status as "permanent foreigners". This type of argument is nothing but a thinly veiled attack on British Muslims, relying on claims that their opposition to war makes them somehow "un-British", and that Galloway is a traitor and a charlatan for pretending to oppose the war in order to win the "Muslim vote". Once again, this is an argument that is made in ignorance (or deliberate evasion) of the facts, namely that the majority of the wider British population also oppose the Afghan war and above 70% consider it to be "unwinnable".

One of the recurring themes of the "Muslim pandering" smear campaign has been the repetition of the fact that Galloway openly stated his abstention from alcohol and then praised Allah after his victory. The reactionary response was to accuse Galloway of sectarian Islamist behaviour, however it must be remembered George W. Bush often spoke of how giving up alcohol had saved his life and referred to God on a near daily basis, and he could hardly be described as any kind of Islamist fanatic hell bent on creating a worldwide Islamist theocracy.

I lived in West Yorkshire for many years, just off Stanningley Road between Leeds and Bradford. I met many people there and feel that I have a decent understanding of the area and its various communities. I spoke with a great number of West Yorkshire's Muslims and found the huge majority to be genuine, respectful, hard-working family orientated people, who were mainly preoccupied with providing the best for their families. When speaking to people, I like to offer my respect and my honest opinion, I rarely met a Muslim who wouldn't reciprocate to create an atmosphere of mutual respect. 

Presumably, the anti-Galloway ranters
would prefer Bradford's protest vote to
go to the divisive racists at the BNP.
Through work I also met a number of West Yorkshire's far-right, BNP voting reactionaries, people completely incapable of understanding the concept of mutual respect. I often interrupted their ignorant, hate filled rants to demolish their arguments and expose the lies and distortions that they were content to believe and broadcast endlessly. The retort of the West Yorkshire anti-Muslim reactionary when confronted is to accuse their opponent of being a "Paki-lover". 

"Paki" is considered to be a grossly offensive racial slur, aimed at people of Pakistani origin, however the average BNP voting reactionary is so grotesquely ignorant that they use the word to mean anyone Muslim, or even anyone of west Asian origin. These racist wankers didn't care about the distinction between the various forms of Islam, or care that "Muslim" isn't an ethnic group, they just hated the "Paki bastards" and fantasised about mandatory repatriation schemes (or much worse) for their brown skinned neighbours. The term "Paki-lover" is offensive, but it was used against me so many times I almost felt compelled to make myself an "I heart NY" style "I heart pakis" T-shirt to wear to work, just to rile my racist work colleagues.

To my ears, this "Galloway pandered to the Muslims" rhetoric, sounds incredibly similar to the "Paki-lover" accusations I used to face, just with the underlying racist sentiment more carefully cloaked in seemingly acceptable language. The fact is that these kind of Islamophobic comments were to be expected from the reactionary outliers in the aftermath of Galloway's unexpected victory, but that "Muslim pandering" has become the most commonly heard criticism in the long term betrays a disturbinly widespread anti-Muslim sentiment.

Many of Galloway's critics defend their anti-Muslim stance through invoking the most famous technical clause of the racist armoury, that Islam is a faith, not an ethnicity. This allows the racist to believe that it is entirely within "the rules" to cloak their racially motivated antagonism towards the "Muslim community" in the language of a "reasoned" critique of Islam. The crux of their argument seems to be that "it is not racist to hate Muslims, because Muslims are not a race". That the vast majority of Muslims are also ethnic minorities doesn't deter them, and neither does the fact that there is no such thing as the generic and ubiquitous "Muslim community", that the divisive reactionary thinker considers to be "the enemy within", the "Islamic threat" or the "permanent foreigners".

Some of Galloway's reactionary critics have claimed that he represents some kind of dangerous fringe element, the left-wing mirror of the far-right racists. A reactionary attempt to slur Galloway by association with the far-right by opining that " the far left and far right are two cheeks of the same arse". 

There is so much wrong with this argument it is hard to know where to begin. I think that the first observation has to be that Galloway's views are hardly far-left. Forty years ago during the post war consensus mixed economy era, policies such as state administration of economically vital infrastructure (nationalised industries) were subscribed to even by the Conservative party (until their neoliberal revolution in 1979). 

Galloway is not far-left, he is a capitalist and a social democrat, it is just that the British political spectrum has shifted so far to the right, what was once a middle ground synergy of state planning and capitalist growth, a left-right compromise of a social democratic system, is now characterised as "the far-left", in the "loony left" territory once occupied by the British Communist party. 

This huge rightward spectrum shift is actually one of the main causal factors in Galloway's appeal, the fact that all three of the mainstream political parties have destroyed England's political plurality through their uniform embrace of neoliberal/corporatist economic ideology. 
Political outliers such as Respect on the left, and UKIP on the right may be fringe elements, however what they do have is clean hands. They haven't got proven track records selling off what remains of the state off to their mates, coddling the reckless gamblers in the financial sector, fiddling their expenses, increasing the wealth gap, gerrymandering the political system to their own benefit and pimping themselves out to the highest corporate bidders in order to earn future seats on the board/lucrative advisory positions to augment their hefty pensions, paid for by the state that they spent their political carers dismantling from the inside (through massive privatisation and outsourcing scams and regularly handing chunks of British sovereignty to a bunch of unelected neoliberal technocrats in Europe).

To simplify to the level of a crude metaphor, "Neo-Labour and the Nasty party are arse cheeks of corporate backed neoliberalistion, with the Liberal liars as the stinking arsepiece of Establishment politics". People are sick of the sight of this fat rump of bloated politicians and their astonishingly inadequate responses to the neoliberal economic crisis. The English people are desperate to find a replacement political ideology. 

If 20th Century history hasn't taught us that at as at times of extreme hardship that people have traditionally turned to reactionary far-right elements, it must not have taught us anything. The fact that a principled man, with a populist appeal has waded into a ethnically divided community in order to create a sense of unity and plurality is a noble thing. Not only is he providing the disillusioned voters with a genuine political alternative, he is promising to steal the ground from underneath the divisive far-right BNP racists (that my ignorant and deluded former work colleagues saw as their only alternative to an alien and unrepresentative political establishment) by standing Respect candidates in BNP hotspots such as Bradford, Dewsbury and Rochdale.

Although I can't classify myself as a Respect supporter, I believe that Galloway's victory could break open British politics. Given just the right strategy, I strongly believe that it is possible for other minor parties such as the Greens, the Angry Doctors, the regional parties and UKIP to launch similarly strong campaigns and wrest political dominance away from the three discredited neoliberal parties. 

It is utterly apparent that England is a political monoculture, with all three main parties promoting extremely similar variants on the ideologically driven neoloiberal heterodoxy. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are fortunate in that they have much greater political plurality, whilst English politics has become the gerrymandered rump of the receded establishment empire in desperate need of reinvigoration.

The Respect party on the near-left and and Farage's UKIP on the near-right are far from ideal, but they both have strong central philosophies (an end to imperialistic wars of aggression and withdrawal from the grotesquely anti-democratic EU).  People like George Galloway, Caroline Lucas and Nigel Farage are at least capable of offering distinctly alternative political directions that do not resort to fascism and bitter accusations of "paki-loving".

See also

 If you enjoyed reading this post, maybe you could buy me a beer? £1 would get me a can of cheap lager whilst £3 would get me a lovely pint of real ale.


deano30 said...

Interesting read Tom. Thanks.

I share many of your observations. Blair (et al) has a lot to answer for. Large numbers of left leaning folk are now desperate for a new home.

BTW - I lived near Stanningley Road in the 1960's (Intake). It could be something they put in the water....

Best W.

Thomas G. Clark said...

Cheers Deano,

I don't think it is only the Left that are utterly disillusioned with the political establishment. Consider the fact that UKIP are the UK's 2nd party in Europe and the Greens and BNP have also been on the rise.

The response of all three of the establishment parties since the neoliberal economic meltdown have been pathetic. They have all lied to/misled the electorate and their leaders are all hugely unpopular. Now is the perfect time for a paradigm shift in British politics, if it doesn't happen over the next few years, it seems that we will be stuck with the same old corporatist establishment for ever.