The by-election has become a battleground for far-right hoods, the hard left, the current Tories, nationalists and Labour activists
Thanks and no thanks to the many Muslims who have been in touch since I tweeted this: “Muslims inciting hatred against Kim Leadbeater and LGBT people are scum. So say I, a Muslim. Other fair-minded Muslims should too”. They email me privately to tell me I am “brave” and that “these people are giving Islam a bad name” or are “spoiling it for good Muslims”.
I am grateful for the support but we are way beyond little discreet conversations about those fanatics. The silent will have to unmute themselves, speak out publicly against the most recent incarnation of the Muslim mobocracy.
Whoa, now! Hold back the crescendo of “whataboutery”. I will come to that soon.
On Thursday the people of Batley and Spen will vote to choose their representative in government. This is the constituency where Jo Cox, its then-MP, was murdered exactly five years ago by a Neo-Nazi.
Then Labour’s Tracy Brabin, MP until recently, quit after she was elected mayor of West Yorkshire. Labour’s new candidate is Cox’s sister, Kim Leadbeater, a thoughtful, personable, tough and centred woman, committed to the local area, to unity and civilised public discourse. Not much of that is evident as polling day approaches.
Listen to Dr Abdulrehman Rajpura, a retired GP and chairman of the local mosque, who now has police protection: ‘This is the worst election I have ever seen in my life. This is a democratic country. We are worried and concerned.”
On Sunday afternoon, he was out with Labour supporters when they were pelted with eggs and attacked. A poster outside his house backing Leadbeater was torn down and replaced with another backing George Galloway and the All for Unity party.
Galloway’s band and other posses are packed with young Muslims, angry (rightly) about Islamophobia, India’s oppressive control of Kashmir and Israel’s ruthless control over Palestine, yet (inexcusably) intolerant of modern values of equality for women and LGBT people. Some of the brutes intimidated Leadbeater when she was out campaigning.
The leader of the pack was identified as Shakeel Afsar from Birmingham, a known agitator, who has been organising protests in the Midlands against inclusive sex education. He accused Leadbeater of “LGBT indoctrination” and issued this warning: “We are going to chase Labour at every step… we are going to out your lies. You are the colour of red, the colour of blood.”
How much monstrous hatred boils in someone who says this to a woman whose sister, a lovely and popular MP, was slaughtered on these very streets? One local Muslim family who emailed confessed that they’d decided not to vote because they’re so afraid of the terrorisers, “our own young people, born here, behaving this way. Why are they like this? My son is a council worker and my daughter is at university. They respect everyone. Is it the fault of parents, politicians, mosques or society?”
The question is important but not answerable in a column. It was explored it in a report, The Inner Lives of Troubled Young Muslims, published last year by British Muslims for Secular Democracy, a charity I co-founded.
We interviewed young Muslims from every background, including gay men and women and those from minority Muslim communities, routinely abused by zealous and backward believers, young and old. They weren’t best pleased and some have vowed to “get us”.
The election in Batley and Spen is being fouled up by many others too: far-right hoods, the uncivil George Galloway, the hard left, the current Tories, nationalists and some non-Muslim Labour activists. Fake leaflets have been distributed to stoke up white resentment against the Labour party. The place is riven and volatile.
But the divisions exposed there go beyond a single election. Such extremism and barbarism is widespread across regions and religions, the mainstream political spectrum, the media, white and black tribes, gender politics, and definitions of Britishness itself.
The United Kingdom is anything but united. Just this week, Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer, was horribly harassed by some white guys in a park, while BBC journalist Nicholas Watts was also subjected to frightening abuse from anti-lockdown protestors. Sharon Graham, the female candidate in the Unite leadership contest is being disgracefully bullied online.
Things got markedly worse during the referendum. Since then, uncontainable citizens, media outlets and politicians have lost all sense of propriety and decency in public discourse.
British democracy is now brittle, embattled and debased. Galloway and his Muslim political hoodlums are the latest exemplars of that cultural and political decline.
Will it, can it survive? I am not sure. The shame of it all.
These are the personal views of Yasmin Alibhai-Brown
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