By H M Zaheer
Why should British Muslims bother with wider society and the political system?
In a post 9/11 world, it is fairly easy for British Muslims to feel more polarised and ostracised from wider society. Such a mindset is not surprising, especially with the heightened levels of stereotyping and shocking hate crimes that have been committed against Muslims. Does this consequently mean that it is correct for British Muslims to instantaneously react by being more insular and inward to the on-goings around them?
Definitely not. The aforementioned climate of paranoia does not justify us becoming political hermits and shying away from society or the political system. On the contrary, we have a civic duty to reach out to those outside of our religious community and work with them to build a better Britain for all. Undeniably, a significant Muslim population has existed in the UK for decades and currently is the largest religious minority group in the country. We have no valid excuse to shirk our collective responsibility of participating positively in public life. No interaction (at all) with our neighbours and fellow citizens is completely unacceptable. We need to end the “parallel universe” and “ghetto mentality” culture, which is in existence among certain British Muslims. This pseudo state of being is unhealthy for any religious or secular group, as it enhances divides and creates unnecessary barriers. Having said that, it is understandable for many of our coreligionists to be tentative with excessive wider communal engagement, due to personal or religious reasons. In fact, who can blame them? Serious problems exist with our current political system, which has fuelled apathy and disillusionment, among British Muslims – as well as non-Muslims.
The UK’s first-past-the-post electoral system is supposed to ensure that MPs have a direct link with their constituents. However, the majority of votes at the 2005 General Election were “wasted”, as they went to those candidates that did not get elected. For example, a noticeable number of MPs were elected with less than 40% of the overall vote from their own constituency. Meaning that the votes of approximately 6 in 10 people (in some constituencies) went wasted against the actual elected candidate. What’s fair and democratic about that? With the current setup, a significant number of people vote instead for the person they dislike the least, rather than the person they prefer the most. Moreover at the 2005 General Election, in “safe seat” constituencies, many people didn’t even bother to vote as they knew that their vote would not make a difference in influencing the outcome. The highlighted negativity only reaffirms the evident systematic flaws (without even mentioning the farce with MPs’ expenses and ID cards). This is complemented by the unbelievable fact that registered political parties do not have to be constitution bound to be internally democratic. Even when they give their members a chance to have a say, i.e. leadership elections, the members are often undermined by the excessive influence of their party’s MPs.
So much for “by the people and for the people”. To make matters worse, we have no right to “recall” our MP, if he or she goes against the promises that they were elected upon. This is a cause for concern and is further highlighted by the fact that we are essentially governed by an unwritten constitution and a parliament with no fixed time period, which only generates political uncertainty. Such an imbalanced relationship is not helped with British politics being heavily centralised, with real power primarily concentrated at the centre, away from the majority of tax-paying citizens. It is no wonder that people have either given up in participating or are seeking alternatives. The status quo must be changed. But how?
Political reform is the common sense solution to a lot of the domestic political woes we face today, and British Muslims are all too well aware of it. Nevertheless, despite our community being genuine stakeholders in British society and politics, we can be prone to unsurprising bouts of pessimism. On the one hand we want to bring about change for a healthier society and democracy, but on the other we may be uninterested in taking a direct role. Perhaps we need more information?
In this General Election year, many “campaigns for change” are gaining in prominence. One grassroots campaign stands out – Power2010. It is not-for-profit and has a unique agenda, which is 100% bottom-up, truly by the people and for the people. The people have a direct say in what they think is wrong with politics, without the politicians dictating it to us. Thousands of ideas were sent in by the public, which were then shortlisted to 29 proposals, after an open and representative consultation process (via a deliberative poll). Then, tens of thousands of people from across the country voted on the reforms that they thought were most needed. The top 5 became a part of the final Power2010 Pledge. This final phase is currently in session. People across the UK are now being encouraged to sign the pledge. Why? As the support of all in our society (including British Muslims) is imperative throughout the Power2010 campaign. With people power backing the Pledge, Power2010 will lobby every candidate and MP that is standing at this year’s General Election and get them to also back it. This means that candidates and MPs who support it will have a public commitment to “clean up and reform our politics”. It will ensure that the next parliament is made up of MPs that will be more focused in fixing the current system.
I encourage you all to sign the Power2010 pledge and encourage your friends, family and community leaders to also sign it. In fact, why not get involved yourself? If you are passionate in helping Power2010 achieve their stated goals, simply contact them and offer your assistance. On a final note, you don’t need me telling you what is right or wrong with our political system and society. You can decide that for yourself, with your own initiative. Therefore, if you want to see real change in this decade (and beyond), you know that ignoring the issues at hand will not be of any purpose. Stand up and make a difference as a Muslim, as well as a British citizen.
H M Zaheer read History and Politics at SOAS, University of London and then went on to complete a Masters degree in History at the same institution. His postgraduate research primarily focused upon the Middle East, with specific reference to the end of the Ottoman Empire and the formation of modern day Turkey. He is currently working in an international support role for a Legal Publisher. Further information regarding Power 2010 can be found at http://www.power2010.org.uk/
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