Whether Britain leaves or remains in the EU will make no difference to the wider problems Muslims face, writes Dr Abdul Wahid.
Rarely in the history of political campaigns have we seen so much exaggeration, so many barefaced lies, and so much venom. Yet despite all of that, the EU referendum campaign has had about as much excitement for me as watching a game of bowls – or boule, if you’re in the Remain camp.
Aside from the negativity about immigrants generally, and Muslims specifically and the misinformation, it is that for right thinking people, it is a distraction from the real issues that should bother people – or that if people are thinking about important issues, they have been locked into the idea that only one of these two choices, Remain or Leave, has the answers to those fundamental problems.
I was motivated to write this after receiving a text message which gave its own “5 reasons for…”, including some good soundbites that I’ve borrowed. But my selection of “5 reasons” are slightly different – and I have chosen points that I think need highlighting to try to show that a lot of the pros and cons that have been argued, occasionally coated in Islamic arguments, fail to portray the reality of the issue.
1) The EU Referendum is a choice between two faces of capitalism. It is about whether Britain’s corporate interests are best served either within or outside of the EU. For sure, there are some people who genuinely believe there is a principle about sovereignty and control of borders; and some who think workers rights are best protected in EU; and a few who like the idea of being part of something more diverse than this island. But those driving each of the campaigns are either the (dominant) part of the establishment that supports the Remain campaign to exploit single market’s access to cheap labour (amongst other things) – or the Brexit leaders who think removing EU regulations will help big business. It is, in the words of the text message, a debate between capitalists, by capitalists for capitalists. Britain’s long-term policy has been to be in the EU so as to prevent a German-French dominated “ever-closer union” – and that is unlikely to change in the near future. Even in the unlikely event the “Brexit” campaign succeeds, the history of Ireland and Denmark is that the relationship can be renegotiated so as to maintain the status quo. The stakes are too high to allow a real and permanent divorce to occur, and across politics, media, opinion formers, economists, and crucially big business, the overwhelming view is to “remain” in some shape or form is essential for Britain. Indeed, this broad consensus is even clearer when one recalls Boris Johnson’s suggestion that a Brexit vote could lead to a second referendum.
2) The EU Referendum gives no choice about the growing muscular secularism both in Britain and in the EU, where politicians and institutions have become more aggressively secular over time, clamping down on Muslims practicing their faith under the guise of security or social cohesion. Indeed, mainstream politicians have done more to stoke Islamophobia and prejudice against immigrants than some of the far right groups. Even the sanctified European Court has gone a long way to suppress religion in the public space.
3) The EU referendum campaigns have been based on stoking fears. This focuses people minds on themselves, not on altruistic things. But when one becomes obsessed about our personal self-interests, or even those of a community, one forgets these issue will come and go regardless of whether it is the EU or Westminster that dominates. So falling into the trap of thinking that either scenario will provoke an apocalypse is shallow, unrealistic and distracts from arguably more important issues.
4) The EU referendum campaigns have appealed to peoples’ basest instincts. Muslims beware the new trend amongst some UK minority communities that have joined the political bandwagon of demonising immigrants and refugees. There’s nothing Islamic about being racist or nationalistic. Maybe it’s just me, but pretending you’re more patriotic than Nigel Farage, usually looks silly when your surname is Khan or Patel, and is vaguely reminiscent of the chai-wala singing ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ at the end of the 1970’s sitcom ‘It Ain’t half hot mum’.
5) Islam has it’s own political system: The Khilafah. By obsessing over short-term issues of self-interest related to a dishonest choice between two sides of the same coin, we don’t raise our sights higher. It fuels the idea we need to simply copy failed (independent nation states) and failing (a half-baked political union of nation states) models, when Muslims would do well to look at the Islamic model of governance. It is a model that did away with the nationalism that plagues the whole world today. It had a system that separated big business from politics, so preventing the systemic rigging of the system for the elites and against ordinary people. It allowed minorities to uphold their own religious traditions and laws, not forcing them to bow at a secular alter. That isn’t relevant to how people will vote on Thursday 23rd June. But it is relevant to how Muslims think in the longer term.
Some, after reading this might accuse me of showing traits of British cynicism and apathy. But raising one’s sights to higher things, and looking at the world through independent-minded and critical eyes is actually the starting point to bringing real change, and obsessing over the false choices that we are offered is best the way to maintain the status quo.
Dr Abdul Wahid is a regular contributor to New Civilisation. He is currently the Chairman of the UK-Executive Committee of Hizb ut-Tahrir in Britain. He has been published in The Times Higher Educational Supplement and on the websites of Foreign Affairs, Open Democracy, and the Prospect Magazine.