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Why are British Muslim voters accused of ‘sectarian’ politics?

Britain’s Labor Party won a landslide majority last week, but its vote share fell sharply in constituencies where Muslims made up a larger share of the electorate.

Some commentators have since described the trend as evidence of “sectarian” politics, but academics and Muslim civil society groups told Middle East Eye the story was false and an attempt at fear-mongering.

Analysis shared with MEE showed that in the 20 constituencies with the highest percentage of Muslims, the party’s share of the vote fell by between 15 percent and 45 percent. Labour’s early support for Israel’s war on Gaza is likely to have been the most important factor.

The result was that five independent candidates were elected on pro-Palestinian platforms, while several Labor MPs retained their seats with significantly reduced majorities.

The dust had barely settled on the results when many commentators began to denounce the election of independent candidates as evidence of “sectarian” politics.

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Sectarianism is common defined as “restricted adherence to a particular sect”, usually ethnic or religious.

Journalist Zoe Strimpel said on 6 July that Britain was “succumbing to sectarianism”.

“As a Jew, this choice was always to be feared; it’s just that the enemy is no longer Labour, but the “independent”, “Palestine solidarity candidates”, she wrote in Telegraph.

“It’s hard not to feel a pulse of fear and revulsion as we see how our once great liberal democracy has been hijacked to serve the agenda of people who appear to show solidarity with a regime that leads an army of caliphate Islamist butchers.”

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Jake Wallis Simons, editor of the Jewish Chronicle, the accused the Muslim Vote campaign to operate on “sectarian principles”, stating that independent candidates “owe their loyalty solely to religious and ethnic interests”.

“Islamic intimidation poisons our politics” said TV executive Danny Cohen.

Meanwhile Khalid Mahmoodthe former Labor MP for Birmingham Perry Barr ousted by independent Ayoub Khan, said there had been a “completely fabricated agenda” against him.

Nigel Farage, leader of Reform UK and newly elected MP for Clacton, has warned repeatedly for months as “sectarian politics” threatened Britain.

Before the election, former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith is described The Muslim Vote campaign as a threat to democracy, while Conservative MP Andrew Percy marked it as a threat to national security and democratic values.

But are Muslim voting patterns really proof of sectarianism?

“Muslims voted for humanitarianism”

Shockat Adam, the new independent MP for Leicester South who ousted Labor shadow minister Jonathan Ashworth, told MEE during the campaign: “I love this country and that’s why we need to make sure we have a voice that represents everyone.”

MEE watched Adams campaign at a popular Portuguese cafe in his constituency.

“We live in a world now where sometimes people try to divide us,” he told the crowd of mainly Portuguese players, “and that’s why it’s so important that we all work together to make sure we all stay united.”

A Muslim resident of Leicester South, who preferred not to be named, told MEE after the election that he believed Adam “understood what the Gaza issue meant to the majority of people”.

“Claims of this nature are rarely made against any other faith or ethnic group participating in elections”

– Zara Mohammed, Muslim Council of Britain

“But he also shared a lot of passion for restoring the failing NHS and social care. That’s why I voted for him.”

He described accusations of sectarianism as “Islamophobia”, adding: “Muslims voted for humanitarianism. The media is trying to portray Muslims as extremists who don’t care about British values.”

Amy, a young Leicester South voter who is not Muslim, told MEE she voted for the Green Party but was “pleasantly surprised when Shockat won”.

“The area I’ve lived in my whole life is finally going to have someone who actually represents them,” she said. “Jonathan Ashworth and Labor learned that there can be consequences for bigoted speech, and that Muslims and minority groups will stand up and exercise their democratic right to vote.”

Zara Mohammed, head of the Muslim Council of Britain, told MEE that claims of Muslim sectarianism were “simply another way of pushing a narrative that demonises Muslim groups”.

“Claims of this nature are rarely made against any other faith or ethnic group participating in elections.”

Dr Khadijah Elshayyal, a researcher at the University of Edinburgh, said: “Allegations of sectarianism and associated fear are made in bad faith and stem from an inherent suspicion and anxiety of Muslim political establishment.”

Muslims voted for different parties

Prime Minister Keir Starmer appeared dismissive when asked about his relationship with Muslim voters after the election.

he said: “We have a strong mandate but we did not secure the votes. We will deal with that, whereas I don’t think there is anything to contest the mandate we have, and that it is a mandate for change, for renewal and for politics as a public service.”

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In contrast, Health Secretary Wes Streeting – who was 528 votes away from being ousted by British-Palestinian independent Leanne Mohammed – said “Gaza has been a real issue for the Labor Party in this election”.

Overall, the election results show that Muslims have not abandoned Labour, with many still voting for the party.

Contrary to some of the media narratives, this election may actually show that Muslims are now less likely to vote as a bloc.

More than 80 percent of Muslims voted Labor when Jeremy Corbyn was leader, between 2015 and 2020.

No longer. In this general election, Muslims appeared to vote for a variety of parties and candidates.

A pre-election YouGov poll showed an unprecedented 29 percent of Bangladeshis and Pakistanis intended to vote for Green Party candidates, with 44 percent choosing Labour.

The left-wing Green Party campaigned heavily in several areas for its support for a cease-fire in Gaza and the suspension of arms sales to Israel. Carla Denyer, co-leader of the party, won in Bristol Central on a pro-Palestinian platform.

“Palestine was on the ballot”

MCB’s Zara Mohammed said that while Muslims voted “across party lines”, it was clear that many voted on the issue of Gaza.

“This reflects wider societal disillusionment and disillusionment with political parties’ response to Gaza.”

Denyer and some other candidates who campaigned on pro-Palestinian platforms received votes from non-Muslims, complicating the perception that Gaza was a sectarian issue.

“Muslims have specific political demands and make sure they are heard”

– Fatima Rajina, researcher

Labor leader Jeremy Corbyn, re-elected as an independent in Islington North, was a case in point. “Palestine was on the ballot,” he told MEE after the vote. In its place, just around 13 percent of the inhabitants are Muslims.

Starmer himself saw his vote share sharply reduced in Holborn and St Pancras, where Jewish South African independent and former Nelson Mandela ally Andrew Feinstein fought hard against Gaza.

Neither Denyer, Corbyn nor Feinstein are Muslims.

Dr Fatima Rajina, senior researcher at De Montfort University, told MEE: “What we are seeing is Muslims coming together and exercising their democratic right to participate in politics. Muslims have specific political demands and are making sure they are heard, but now this is being met of Islamophobia and dog whistle politics.”

Elshayyal said: “While political consciousness among Muslims is not new per se, what we have seen in this election has been a more articulate political literacy keen to get a bad electoral system structurally skewed against minorities and dissident voters. sort of of results.”

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Looking ahead, Elshayyal believed Labor was unlikely to consider “fruitful engagement” with British Muslims a priority, “but a first step would be to reach out to these communities and seriously hear their concerns” – and not just those Muslims who support the government’s agenda.

Mohammed said Labor should “rebuild trust in Muslim communities” through “sincere engagement”.

Meanwhile, Rajina saw hope in the fact that Muslims were “re-engaging in party politics in a different way”.

“The current change with the independent MPs is something we should all be aware of,” she said. “Because it’s not only politically invigorating, but it shows what it can look like to organize and build a people’s movement.

“It gives hope that there are alternative ways of doing politics away from party politics.”

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