Groucho Marx once quipped ‘Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them… well, I have others’. The same might have been said by Sadiq Khan or Zac Goldsmith.
So far, the contest for London Mayor has been a master class in dirty democratic politics, where both main candidates have tried to out-do each other in shedding whatever principles they had – despite each claiming to represent integrity and independence.
It would be astounding to find any Muslim still clinging to hopes of change coming through the ballot box.
Sadiq Khan built his reputation on heading Liberty, and for his work as a lawyer on the cases of Muslims arrested under anti-terror laws. But the former civil rights lawyer betrayed any liberal principles he might have once espoused to vote repeatedly for anti-terror laws that enabled spying on millions – and even once led on pushing through 42-days detention without trial.
In order to establish his secular credentials he, has distanced himself from the Muslim community in a variety of ways. In the past he’s made statements that give a signal that he is anti-Shari’ah, and more recently statements that question why women wear hijab. The Guardian reported that Khan backed same-sex marriage, and that he launched his local general election campaign from a Tooting pub. He’s even been profiled in the Jewish Chronicle as opposing boycotts of Israel but supportive of continued business links between London and Tel Aviv.
Khan has mastered the art of giving different messages to different audiences to oil his way through his political career. So many Muslims will be unaware of these views, as they’re used to seeing him speak at events where he can give an entirely different message to the community.
Zac Goldsmith has built an image of being an ‘integrity’ politician, a green in the ranks of the ‘True Blue’ party with the courage of his convictions. But his mayoral campaign has shown his willingness to feed on the anti-Islam hysteria whipped up by politicians over the past 15 years – trying to smear Khan for ‘associating with Muslim extremists’.
He and his supporters have attacked Khan’s past links with Shaikh Suliman Gani, a respected South-London Imam, Babar Ahmad, who was imprisoned for years simply for running a website, as well as other Muslim speakers. Goldsmith was later found to have shared a platform with the former and lobbied against the extradition of the latter in the past, confirming his willingness to ditch his principles in a grab for public office.
Fever pitch was reached when David Cameron raised the issue in the House of Commons, using the opportunity to openly lie about Shaikh Suliman, knowing that ‘parliamentary privilege’ protects him from the law of libel.
David Cameron included ‘democracy’ in his definition of ‘British values’ to be upheld by all. Nowadays anything less than evangelical support for democracy is equated with ‘extremism’. But can anyone be blamed for being openly critical when faced with the serial and systemic deficiencies in the way modern democratic politics works?
Khan’s response was not to defend Shaikh Suliman from smears, but to distance himself from him – with a spokesman even bragging about Khan’s involvement in removing the Shaikh from his position as Imam in the local masjid.
What both candidates have in common is their repeated appeals to fear of “radical, extreme interpretations” of Islam, which in practice turn out to be the normative values of Islam embraced by millions of Muslims.
Goldsmith is engaging in what’s called ‘dog-whistle’ politics – where someone makes a statement in such a way that it generates wider thoughts and emotions in the wider public. Lynton Crosby, famed for employing these tactics in Australia, Cameron in the past has advised the Goldsmith campaign. In this case raising questions about Khan’s judgment regarding who he met sends a signal to London voters that Khan is somehow a Muslim-extremist-sympathiser.
In this climate, it is clear that both candidates, and indeed all secular parties represent two sides of the same coin. Given a choice between cow manure and horse manure, it would be impossible, as well as irrelevant, to identify which is the lesser of the two evils!
Rather than simply following a herd mentality, Muslims should look critically at what is in front of them. The shabby Capitalist system makes hypocrisy and double-dealing the standard for leadership. It is a fact of politics in this system – whether in London or Paris, the United States or Pakistan, that politicians try to follow the ‘sunnah’ of Machiavelli – doing anything, saying anything to win power – reassuring themselves that without power they cannot make important changes, but in truth simply debasing themselves by abandoning positions they had once held on a host of issues.
In democratic politics a person’s ego is fuelled by a lust for power, more than for public service; it puts your party before your community or constituents – and your own self before your colleagues. It corrupts the majority of people who enter it – though some find their principles again at a later stage when they realise they have hit their political ceiling.
The focus of the Muslim community would be better spent on building their Islamic values, and understanding the Islamic alternative to the capitalist model. Sadly, we see elites in the Muslim world craving this system that doesn’t serve citizens in the West, where successive governments do little to challenge the ability of the super-rich to avoid taxes that others have to pay; politicians serially serving the interests of the world of finance and corporate lobbies; political parties that maintain a status quo that does not serve the ordinary people – all of these would shatter anyone’s confidence even if they didn’t understand the meaning of the noble ayah – ‘And whoever rules by other than what Allah has revealed, they are fasiqun’.
If Muslims spent more time understanding Islam’s view on politics, they could show people of the world, Islam has something better to offer than this sort of dog fighting.
Islam lets people elect and account their rulers – but it is a system where people can’t promise to cut taxes, then raise taxes – or slander each other – or use the race card, just because they want votes. It is a system where no amount of privilege – parliamentary or otherwise – puts you above the law.
Islam makes ijtihaad the basis of extracting laws; it makes looking after the affairs of the citizens the purpose of politics; and it makes the taqwa of the capable man the priority in choosing a ruler – not his race, looks or slippery words.
Islam raised politics to the most noble of pursuits, as the Messenger (peace be upon him) said – “Banu Isra’il were ruled over by the Prophets. When one Prophet died, another succeeded him; but after me there is no prophet but there will be khulafaa and they will number many…”