There appears to be widespread confusion and misinformation amongst some British Muslims about which way to vote, or indeed whether to vote in the EU referendum at all. There is so much more at stake than just immigration, but it seems that has become and remains the central issue for Brexit supporters.
The decision to be a member of an international or regional organisation is a complex one made in consultation with the highest calibre of experts and advisors. Therefore it is not surprising that to this minute, there are many undecided or unsure with their tentative decision for one overarching reason; that to factor in all variables and potential scenarios is simply too convoluted and specialist a task for them. Not least as they see leading politicians and prominent figures taking opposite sides of the debate.
I have advised UN and EU officials, worked for the European Court of Human Rights and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and completed a PhD in international human rights law. So I hope British Muslims will pay special attention to the insight I attempt to provide.
For the Brexit camp, EU migration has become their central and strongest argument. This is because it is difficult for anyone to easily assert that growing numbers of Eastern Europeans in Britain resulting from EU freedom of movement is not a cause of concern amongst large swaths of the British population. However this issue needs to be put into context and dealt with from within the EU rather than by leaving it. David Cameron took steps towards this by renegotiating our relationship with the EU by limiting in-work benefits in the first 4 year of residence and deporting those who remain unemployed for 6 months. It is also wrong to fall into the easy traps of xenophobia, racism and negative stereotyping. If there is a real concern about those with criminal records coming into the country as the Brexit camp suggested in March, citing a list of crimes committed by 50 EU criminals, then that is unrelated to freedom of movement but rather inadequate border checks on those who enter the country.
Furthermore many entering the UK are not here permanently and only wish to save up and return home. The public is also being duped into believing that all our problems relating to stretched services and amenities are down to immigration and overcrowding. It pained me to listen to an elderly lady caller on LBC yesterday. In a heartfelt manner, she pinned the entire blame for problems such as traffic, unaffordable housing and lack of new schools on the influx of EU migrants. One wonders what we would blame post Brexit?
It would also be an incomplete picture, if we only looked at the merits of both arguments, but ignored who was making them, why and how we got here to begin with. The pertinent point that I have yet to see anyone make is that we are only at this juncture due to Nigel Farage’s hateful and populist politics, which has tapped into legitimate working class fears and concerns. Thus, I reiterate, there had been no realistic attempt or suggestion by any political force or economic institution to subject EU membership to a referendum prior to David Cameron’s decision. It was the only way Cameron was able seep away some of Ukip’s growing support by taking the compromise position of a referendum.
So it is no wonder that Farage is bathing in the attention and the prospect of his political fantasy so close to realisation. Muslims should also do well to remember that Ukip’s first failed foray into electoral politics in 2010 was much more in line with the BNP and EDL, the central thrust being explicitly Islamophobic. They called for a ban of the face veil and along with Baroness Cox invited Geert Wilders to show his film, Fitna, in the House of Lords. It was not too long after that, the party’s central message was shifted to being anti-EU and anti-EU immigration. Despite that, various members and Nigel himself have not been able contain their Islamophobic tendencies, recently alleging that Muslims were sympathetic to ISIL and wanted to change who we are and what we are. Their financier, Aaron Banks was gleeful of a cartoon which painted the choice to leave the EU in wholly Islamophobic terms rather than aimed at EU migrants. And no one needs to be reminded of the ‘Breaking Point’ poster by Farage showing queue of refugees trying to get in the UK on the morning of the day, Jo Cox MP was murdered brutally by a far-right extremist, shouting ‘Britain First’, or ‘Put Britain First’. An MP, who was relentless on the issue of Syrian refugees, in particular unaccompanied children and was embarking on various lines of work on Islamophobia.
Others may respond that this is not a referendum on Farage or Ukip, nor is he the main force to advocate for Brexit. That would be an incredibly myopic and damaging position to take. His partner in Brexit is no other than Michael Gove, author of Celsius 7/7, demonstrating his problem and lack of understanding of Muslims generally rather just violent extremists. He is thought to be the author of Cameron’s Munich speech and who argued that supposed non-violent extremists had to be dealt with and not just violent extremists by saying “you should ‘drain the swamp’ and not wait for ‘the crocodiles to reach the boat’.” However he will perhaps be best remembered for the so-called Trojan Horse plot in Birmingham, which the Education Select Committee found no evidence for being genuine. Do not also be fooled that Farage will not gain tremendously from a Brexit or that Boris and Gove are not connected to him. According to journalist Michael Crick, Farage had been approached by Boris with a position in Government, if he did not contest the Thanet by-election.
To all those undecided or who may even consider not voting owing to non-interest or paralysis from confusion, digest this: The latest polls indicate 44% leave, 45% remain, with a staggering 9% undecided. Muslims are close to 4% of the population; our concerted participation in this referendum could sway the result in a direction where Britain is more prosperous for all its communities. Then consider this, those who seek to exploit this referendum to get closer to the reins of power are those same very people who are hostile to Muslims and spread fear for their own ends. Can the UK survive economically were we to leave? Yes definitely. Not as well, but yes. However can we recover from an ugly lurch to the right where xenophobia, Islamophobia and a little Britain mentality are the order of the day? I suspect not for a few decades.