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Wednesday, 7 May 2008

Anas Altikirit: We got out the vote

So it was the Muslim4Ken campaign that did it for Ken, according to Asim Siddiqui. Never mind the fact that the campaign mobilised the Muslim community, traditionally politically apathetic, to turn out in unprecedented numbers. Never mind our success in sticking one up to those who want the Muslim community to simply sit back and do nothing, or maybe even seek alternative, destructive ways of expressing their concerns - it's the fact that the campaign identified itself by the faith of its target audience that Siddiqui denounces.

The suggestion that the campaign provided the "kiss of death" for Ken Livingstone is ludicrous. When the Muslims4Ken campaign was launched, a YouGov poll had suggested that Livingstone was trailing by 12 points. Johnson's lead was continuously receding, until on the final day of voting the same poll suggested that the lead was down to 6 points, which ultimately proved fairly accurate. It was interesting to hear a the former editor of the Sun on BBC Radio5Live on Saturday saying that considering the pounding that Labour came in for across the country, the mere 5.5% margin by which Boris Johnson won was, in his view, a relatively poor showing. It also reflected the impact of the mass mobilisation that took place across London's ethnic, racial and religious groups, including - and possibly most importantly - the Muslim community. If anything, it was Labour's dismal failure as well as the vitriolic campaign run by the Evening Standard against Livingstone that heralded his defeat.

Most detractors of the various campaigns that work under the Muslim title accuse them of attempting to bring religion into politics, and that no single campaign can possibly claim representation of all Muslims. So it's fascinating, and a little bemusing, when no such criticism is made of the Christian parties that campaigned for the various elections in England and Wales last week. Also, and in hope that this matter is laid to rest, not a single campaign or organisation that carries the word 'Muslim' in its title has ever claimed that it represented all Muslims. Never. The Muslims4Ken campaign was an effort by a number of Muslims, not all Muslims, to support Livingstone's attempt to win a third term as mayor, and must be seen as an ad hoc civil society movement that aims to engage Muslims in politics rather than leave them marginalised by the political process. What's wrong with that?

There was an Irish for Ken campaign, another with the name Afro-Caribbeans for Ken, and a friend of mine from Hendon informed me that he was working with a group of young Jewish professionals to make sure that their community backed Boris Johnson. So why do numerous commentators, including Muslims like Siddiqui, have such a problem with Muslims4Ken?

It would be wrong to think that this campaign, or any other run by Muslim groups and organisations, played the race or religious card. These campaigns were working within their own constituencies until the Evening Standard decided to play those cards and run untruthful and misleading headlines and reports. Indeed, the Standard did not target the Muslims exclusively, but an array of ethnic and religious groups, including Tamil, the Sikh and black organisations. While Andrew Gilligan and the ES may have become rabidly obsessed with the meeting between Ken and Qaradawi in 2004, it was interesting to see why they chose to omit any mention of a Cambridge University conference at which the Grand Mufti of Egypt, Sheikh Ali Gomaa, spoke. The Tory leader David Cameron praised his words, and the Times describedhim as the "wise Mufti". It may have escaped Cameron's attention that Gomaa espouses identical views on suicide bombings in Palestine and homosexuality as Sheikh Qaradawi, while his views on wife-beating are even more hardline.

To suggest that while Muslims can come under collective attack, suspicion and scrutiny as a result of crimes committed by a few, but can only defend themselves and fight for their rights as individuals, is nothing short of absurd - discriminatory, even. Furthermore, critics of Muslims4Ken missed another crucial point about the whole process of democracy. The argument, debate and presentation of ideas in the run-up to the elections are just as important as the vote itself. If they were not, most of the parties on any card, such as the Greens, would be wasting their time and the few resources they have. What the Muslims4Ken campaign managed to do was to highlight the stance of both candidates over issues relevant to their respective constituencies, and especially on the matter of Islamaphobia. Johnson's remarks and statements about Islam were extremely relevant - especially given that the new mayor declared "Islam is the problem" at as critical a moment as the July 7 bombings. To claim that by highlighting Johnson's own words and remarks about Islam among the Muslim constituency is playing the religious card is absurd. Siddiqui might have liked us to address only local issues such as bendy buses and the congestion charge, but we thought it best to leave it to the discretion of each voter to decide where they stood on those issues!

The constituency we were addressing was worried about Islamaphobia. And we managed to ensure the issue of Islam, Islamaphobia and discrimination against Muslims was on every candidate's agenda and a hot topic in every hustings. If it did nothing else than persuade Johnson to clarify his views on Islam, assert his conviction that it is indeed a religion of peace, and get him to visit a few mosques in an attempt to win back votes he was convinced he had lost, then it was a great success.

More worryingly is the suggestion that political naivety played a role in how the Muslim campaigns backed Livingstone. Siddiqui's example of US Muslims in 2000 is false. American Muslims did not back Bush because his opponent had a Jewish candidate as VP. That's ridiculous. They backed him chiefly because Bush was pledging to scrap a secret evidence bill that was terrorising American Muslims.

Siddiqui seems to suggest that Muslim organisations should rue their decision to come out against Johnson. This is the mentality of the quasi-citizen and the self-defeating. Johnson must be a servant to each and every citizen in London, and it is incumbent upon him to reach out to those who voted against him, and not the other way round. If the gloating expressed by the likes of Paul Goodman MP is anything to go by, it doesn't look good.

The Muslims4Ken campaign is extremely proud of its achievement in bringing out to vote thousands - if not tens of thousands - of people who would have otherwise sat at home and done nothing, thereby cementing their feelings of being lesser citizens with fewer rights. I sincerely hope that through a "non-religious" card, Asim and his friends managed to bring out and mobilise a similar number of otherwise apathetic people. I suspect they didn't.
Comment is Free
4 May 2008

Thursday, 1 May 2008


Today sees the closest mayoral elections ever held in London.

We've been campaigning hard for the past few months to raise awarness of these elections because we know what a huge impact they will have on the life of every Londoner. The eyes of the world will be on London over the next four years in the run-up to the Olympics. The essential question is, who do you trust to run this city and represent Londoners on the international stage?

Boris Johnson may tell good jokes on TV, but there'd be nothing funny about putting him in charge of London ’s £11bn annual budget, not to mention its £39 billion transport budget. He simply doesn’t have the organisational capacity or political skills to do the job.

As even the Telegraph said yesterday, “London is not a comic spectacle… What is there in Mr Johnson's past to suggest that his mayoralty would be anything but that? Where is the evidence of his adroitness in administration, his sense of responsibility, his ethic of public service?”

These elections decide London ’s future for the next 4 years. Please do not waste your chance to have a say. To judge for yourself who is best to run this city, here are the records of the 2 main candidates:



- Crime has fallen in London for five years in a row
- 10,000 extra uniformed police officers on London ’s streets
- 15% decrease in recorded crime in London since 2002-3
- Has won an extra £79 million to create youth centres
- Special safety initiatives for students and women
- Racial and religiously motivated incidents in the capital have declined by more than fifty per cent since 2000 - despite going up in the rest of the country

- Has promised he will make "big savings" and "real economies" in the police budget.
- Plans to scale back local policing
- Voted against automatic sentences for carrying illegal guns


- Has overseen the biggest public transport investment programme in half a century
- £600m extra per year invested in more reliable, better buses
- £1bn a year Tube investment programme
- Introduced travel discounts for students, under-18 and the elderly
- Massive Crossrail project to link West and East London

- Did not bother to vote on Crossrail in parliament
- Did not bother to vote to defend the Freedom Pass for older Londoners
- Underestimated the cost of his bus policy to reintroduce conductors by £100 million a year
- Wants to reprivatise the Tube, which has been disastrous for the national rail network



- Delivered three times as many affordable homes per year as when the Greater London Authority was set up in 2000
- Has promised to deliver 50,000 more affordable homes in London over the next three years
- Has won £4bn from the government to launch the biggest home-building programme in the capital in a generation

- Intends to scrap the 50% affordable housing policy - meaning more Londoners will be priced out of the housing market
- Promises a First Step Housing Scheme but only available to those with an income of £60,000, ruling out 80% of Londoners

The Environment

- Has made tackling climate change his number one priority
- London is the only major city in the world where there has been a significant shift from the private car to public transport, cycling and walking - cycling levels have increased by 80%
- Cleaned up all London buses and London black cabs to improve air quality
- Has started implementing the most comprehensive plan to cut carbon emissions of any government in the world
- Delivered a 20% reduction in the carbon emissions of new developments

- Praised George Bush for “screwing up the Kyoto Treaty” on climate change
- Self-confessed “evangelist” for nuclear power



"The attack on Muslims threatens freedoms for all of us. Every person who values their right to follow the religion of their choice or none should stand with the Muslim communities today." The Guardian, 20th November 20062.

"All racist and anti-Semitic attacks must be stamped out. However, the reality is that the great bulk of racist attacks in Europe today are on black people, Asians and Muslims - and they are the primary targets of the extreme right."

"I am proud of London 's reputation as the most diverse city in the world where the contribution of all communities is celebrated"

"It is evident that the war in Iraq was not justified. It has made the situation worse. The illusions with which it was launched are collapsing."


"To any non-Muslim reader of the Koran, Islamophobia seems a natural reaction.. . Judged purely on its scripture - to say nothing of what is preached in the mosques - it is the most viciously sectarian of all religions." (Spectator 16th July 2005)

The proposed ban on incitement to "religious hatred" makes no sense unless it involves a ban on the Koran itself." (Telegraph 21/07/2005)

"Islam will only be truly acculturated to our way of life when you could expect a Bradford audience to roll in the aisles at Monty Python's Life of Mohammed." (Telegraph 21/07/2005)


Referred to black people as 'picaninnies' 'with watermelon smiles' (Daily Telegraph, 10/01/02)

“Do you really mean to say the empire wasn’t a good thing? ... The problem is not that we were once in charge, but that we are not in charge any more… The best fate for Africa would be if the old colonial powers, or their citizens, scrambled once again in her direction; on the understanding that this time they will not be asked to feel guilty.”

"If we know the Pentagon, there must be a very good chance that this will be an outstandingly successful and stress-free war."

"Whenever George Dubya Bush appears on television, with his buzzard squint and his Ronald Reagan sidenod, I find a cheer rising irresistibly in my throat."

"If I were an Israeli, I would be astounded that any member of the British Government or Opposition felt able to criticise Israel at all." (The Telegraph, 03/08/2006)

"If we were Israelis... we would dispatch an American-built ground-assault helicopter and blow the place to bits. Then we would send in bulldozers to scraape over the remains, and we would do the same to all the other houses in the area... After decades of deranged attacks the Israelis have come to the conclusion that this is the best way to deter Palestinian families from nurturing these vipers in their bosoms, and also the best way of explaining to the death-hungry narcissists that they may get the 72 black-eyed virgins of scripture, but their family gets the bulldozer." (The Spectator, 16th July 2005)

"We must begin the re-Britannification of Britain "

Please make sure you vote today - it's very close so your vote will definitely make a difference.

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