Thursday, 3 January 2008

Self-appointed 'community leaders' back Livingstone

The Guardian reports today that 63 Muslim 'community leaders' have signed a statement calling for a third term for Ken Livingstone. The statement says that Livingstone "has supported the Muslim communities of the city against racism and Islamophobia as well as all other minorities against all types of prejudice" and that it is in "the best interest of the Muslim communities of London, and indeed all Londoners, to back Mr Livingstone in this year's mayoral elections."

Let's leave aside the reality that 'community leaders' are almost always self-appointed, represent no-one but themselves and are wonderfully vainglorious in believing that London's diverse Muslim communities will vote for a one candidate or another because they are told to. Let's also leave aside the deeply reactionary idea that Londoners who identify themselves as Muslim will vote primarily on religious grounds, herd-like, rather than because of class interests, issues such as transport or housing or on whatever else voters consider to be their 'best interests'.

Let's focus instead on the claim that Livingstone has supported Muslim communities against racism and Islamophobia. This is the same Ken Livingstone who has given unconditional support to the police in the aftermath of the Forest Gate raids, has been Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair's most vigorous defender in support of the Met's disastrous shoot-to-kill policy that gunned down Jean Charles de Menezes, and has endorsed the increase stop and search by the police.

The so-called 'war on terror' in London is not a academic debate, it has a real impact on the ground for Muslims in London's black communities. But Livingstone's track record amounts to organising a few (often controversial) conferences and to ally himself not with liberal or progressive Muslims but theologians like the Muslim Brotherhood's Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi - a moderate to some (one certainly criticised by hardened Salafists), but hardly a progressive voice within the diverse spectrum of Muslim political and religious activity. And the worst thing is that Livingstione has repeatedly conflated criticisms of Qaradawi for his ambiguity over issues like domestic violence, homophobia and female genital mutilation with Islamophobic criticism of Muslims and Islam.

So will the statement in today's Guardian make any difference? It's unlikely, unless the signatories intend to take the next logical step and set up 'Muslims for Livingstone' - and have the debate with his critics about the Mayor's support for repressive anti-terrorism policing. But the statement isn't about generating debate - it's about identifying with the man perceived to be the front-runner for the Mayoral electoral race.

Random Blowe | Original articles licensed under a Creative Commons License.