Coalition government alarms British Muslims

May 18, 2010

Javaid Rehman is a professor of law at Brunel University. The opinions expressed are his own.-

For British Muslims, the new coalition government of the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats represents an alliance of strange and awkward bedfellows.

Muslim communities – historically supportive of the Labour party – are sceptical of the claims of Prime Minster David Cameron, to protect the interests of ethnic and religious minorities.

Admittedly, there was considerable disillusionment of the Labour government under former Prime Minister Tony Blair: British Muslims strongly disapproved of Blair’s decision to side with U.S. President George W. Bush in the so-called ‘war on terror’.

There was scepticism over the decision to aid the U.S. in the bombing campaign in Afghanistan post 9/11.

Blair’s alignment with Bush in the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, not only provoked serious dissent amongst British Muslims, but foreign policy grievances became a rallying point for Muslim extremists in order to justify suicide attacks, such as the July 7 bombings in London.

Further anger and resentment was provoked through such draconian legislation as the institution of the ‘control orders’ regime during Blair’s time and continued by his successor, former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, in attempts apparently to counter ‘home-grown’ terrorism.

Despite this disillusionment and renouncement of Labour, not many Muslims were wooed by David Cameron or by the Conservative party.  The majority of Muslims–who regrettably represent lower economic and social echelons of British society–are not easy converts to Conservative policies.

Since his election as prime minister, David Cameron has attempted to elevate a select group of British Muslims, most prominently the appointment of Sayeeda Warsi as chairperson of the Conservative party.

Yet, Muslims tend to see such moves with great suspicion. Major outstanding concerns remain: these include issues of genuine equality and recognition of identity in a multicultural British society, anti-Muslim hatred and Islampohobia, education and faith schools, counter-terrorism strategies and policies.

The pre-election commitment of the Conservatives to repeal the Human Rights Act and to replace this legislation with a vaguely drafted UK Bill of Rights continues to provoke strong suspicions among Muslim communities as a possible ploy for greater authoritarianism and as a technique to further  undermine marginalised communities.

Equally worrying is a muddled and uncertain foreign policy agenda of the new coalition government. The first foreign visit of the new Foreign Secretary William Hague, to the United States and his continued support for the on-going military action in Afghanistan ‘until the job is done’ is being criticised by Muslims.

Those Muslims, who had hitherto felt tempted to support the Liberal Democrats for their open opposition to the invasion of Iraq and calls for a revisiting of Allied strategy in Afghanistan, feel seriously disillusioned and hugely disappointed.

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