The EU referendum takes place in less than two weeks and for many Muslims there linger important questions: what should we vote for and should we even bother? The referendum is a serious affair – as the former PM John Major put it “This is much more important than a general election; this is going to affect people, their livelihoods, their future, for a very long time to come.” To remain indifferent or unconcerned is a serious mistake. Secession from the EU will have a major impact on believers – just as it will on everyone else.
There have been campaigns and counter-campaigns; vote in (VI) and vote leave (VL). The debate around the referendum has centered on economics, democracy and immigration, the arguments for which have been presented with a patent veneer of xenophobia and Islamphobia. Rather than pick apart the Chancellor’s austerity measures, the VL group have taken the Ukip approach spreading fear of immigrants, Muslims and losing political sovereignty to the foreigners in Brussels. Their hearsay approach is picked apart on a daily basis, a disgraceful method we have been told to shun: “…and [Allah] dislikes hearsay, unnecessary questions, and wasting money.” (al Bukhari)
The in-fighting amongst the Conservatives has been noteworthy, especially the personal swipes taken by both sides. The fact that members of the same party have openly derided the fabrication or distortion of information should compel British society to scrutinise similar inaccuracies that are pronounced in arenas such as security, integration and radicalisation. But beyond the drama of politicians, what we know of a Brexit is very little, and the use of numbers and statistics has merely complicated matters. Of rare occasion, Richard Dawkins makes a good point:
“I, and most other people, don’t have the time or the experience to do our due diligence on the highly complex economic and social issues facing our country in, or out of, Europe…But to call a referendum on a matter as important and fraught with complicated and intricate detail as EU membership was an act of monstrous irresponsibility…”
However, now that we are in this predicament, it would be pertinent to make it clear that I believe we should remain in the EU. The facts, counter-facts, and inner workings of the European Union contain far too much to reproduce here, so I simply raise a few points that concern Muslims and deserve our consideration.
Firstly, much of what the VL group have put out is simply untrue and their lies have been repeatedly exposed: Brexit defector Dr Sarah Wollaston, a Conservative MP, said she repeatedly told senior Leave colleagues it was a lie to suggest Brexit would mean an extra £350m a week for the NHS, but she said they refused to correct it and was told “it didn’t really matter”. The Institute of Fiscal Studies put out a statement on its website stating that Gove misrepresented its analysis:
“There is virtual unanimity among economic forecasters that the negative economic effect of leaving the EU would be greater than that. That is why we conclude that leaving the EU would not, as Michael Gove claims we said, leave more money to spend on the NHS. Rather it would leave us spending less on public services, or taxing more, or borrowing more.”
VL politicians finally gave in to the towering body of critics: “I don’t think we should worry that none of the experts agree with the leave campaign, every British person can be their own expert” Gisela Stuart daftly put it in the second ITV debate.
The Europol chief had to tell Nigel Farage to stop misquoting him with the ‘false and alarmist’ claim of 5,000 Isis jihadists in Europe. “There is no basis in fact for this point and it is a very serious, even alarmist, conflation of migration and terrorism,” Rob Wainwright said. But even after having publicly corrected Farage the Ukip leader continued to make similar claims. The Europol chief went on to say, “I am disappointed therefore, that he continues to quote me in this way.”
The pro-Brexit environment minister George Eustice argued that leaving the EU would allow British lawmakers to reform “clunky” environmental legislation (habitat and water quality directives that targets filthy beaches, foul air and weak conservation laws). However, father of Boris Johnson, former EU environment commissioner Stanley Johnson, said:
“I’ve been suspicious…I’ve been a Conservative for years and years and years. But you know, you cannot honestly say that environmental policy has been top of the agenda of this Conservative government.”
For many Muslims, the mere fact that Tories such as Gove, Johnson, Patel and Smith, or the insufferable Farage advocate leaving the EU should be indicative of which side of the fence we’d want to sit on. Leaving the EU certainly has its perks, and amongst them the strengthening of our democracy, but this would be a cogent argument if it wasn’t for the fact that our decision makers have constantly held those who are not on their socio-economic level or social circles in utter disregard. The arguments to leave have been shallow, and evidence a mentality indicative of the old school British establishment. Sovereignty is an increasingly complicated matter in a globalised world and the need to work together on cross border issues is vital in today’s age. The reality of a Brexit is that it could well lead to an unfettered narrow right wing elite dictating British policy, both at home and abroad, which will prove to be of little relief for British Muslims.
EU membership protects many of our social rights, workers rights and anti-discrimination rights. Remaining in Europe remains the safest path to tread. The Prophet said, “Leave that which causes uncertainty in you for that which does not.” (al-Nasa’i and al-Tirmidhi)
At a time when housing prices are in disarray, the NHS faces collapse, those in need of social welfare are simplistically blamed for not working and public services are cut, we cannot afford an action that will plunge us into economic uncertainty. There have been numerous independent studies carrying serious warnings that foresee families being hit by rising prices at the shops, as a result of a weakened pound that makes imports more expensive. Noting that the majority of Muslims belong to the lowest socio-economic strata, it is inevitable that Brexit will heavily impact on them.
This problem is further exacerbated by another ramification. Currently, we retain our own currency saving us from the Euro crises; have no part in the Schengen Agreement, all the while maintaining access to the common market. Many Muslim-owned businesses, from online companies (such as those who trade on Amazon) to those that sell goods heavily rely on Europe, both for imports and exports. Often it is such business owners that significantly donate charity to poor Muslims and fund organisations and mosques that serve Muslim communities and their religious needs. Economic resources are vital to the stability of Muslim religious and social institutions as well as projects that seek to empower believers through educational attainment, social mobility and a positive and confident religious expression. By assisting these sources we aid the faith itself – “Believers, be helpers to God just as Jesus, son of Mary, said to his apostles, who shall be the helpers of God?” (Quran 61:14)
Leaving the EU also weakens the UK’s standing on the world stage, through its influential position in the EU as well as ‘special’ relationship status with the US (in part due to advocating US interests within the EU). A Brexit will mean less influence on foreign affairs and subsequently little impact for any possible lobbying on matters of importance to British Muslims. It is this influence we should be working to retain, Allah says, “Those who, if We give them tamkin in the land, establish prayer and give charity, and enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong. And to God belongs the outcome of [all] matters.” (Quran 22:42) It further weakens resistance against Russia, emboldening the annexation of neighboring states as well as allowing Assad a stronger foothold in Syria. “And if it were not for God repelling [some] people by means of others, the earth would have been corrupted, but God is full of bounty to all that exists.” (Quran 2:251)
We have already been given a taste of what would be likely to come; the latest scaremongering tactic has been the proclamation: “The Turks are coming!” Once again the fear of Muslims is being used, and pushed to argue for leaving Europe. Ironically Gove laments that Europe is lurching further right, but after his neo-conservative attack on Muslims it’s really the pot calling the kettle black. For all of the assumptions of being a classy Etonian bunch, Johnson dips into populist and xenophobic paranoia insulting Muslim foreign dignitaries and winning, as proudly announced by (Islamophobic think-tank) Henry Jackson Society’s Douglas Murray, The Spectator’s President Erdogan Offensive Poetry competition with:
‘There was a young fellow from Ankara,
Who was a terrific wankerer
Till he sowed his wild oats
With the help of a goat
But he didn’t even stop to thankera.’
Labour’s Yvette Cooper said,
“[Michael Gove and Boris Johnson] know all of those things, they’re not stupid, but they are deliberately manipulating the facts, they are deliberately telling lies, in Boris Johnson’s case for his own personal interest, and it is shameful, utterly shameful. I don’t know how they live with themselves.”
Treating Muslims as a stupid bunch as well as reducing them to ethnic groups, Gove and Johnson have attempted to court Pakistanis and Bangladeshis, claiming that leaving the EU will let in more people from their countries with a leaflet under the cover name of ‘Muslims for Britain’. Polly Toynbee continues on:
“Here’s the lie: “The EU forces Britain to discriminate against people who want to migrate here from non-EU countries.” Once out, we will no longer “turn away talented people from outside the EU”. Nonsense, we are already free to let in who we like. But don’t expect Gove or Johnson to broadcast their non-aim to let in many more Asian migrants. What about Gove’s militant Muslim-fright book Celsius 7/7? This is racial double-dog whistling, different lies for different folks.”
There is much to be said about the VL campaign and its utter contempt for Muslims, their open disregard and disdain is to be expected, but to assume Muslims senseless enough to be taken in by silly leaflets is where the insult lies.
A valid concern for Muslims, who might be inclined to a Brexit is the growth of the far right. But as Toynbee expresses:
“Across the EU, neo-fascism alarms but it shouldn’t be exaggerated. It has been falling in some countries, where the EU is seen as a firewall against nationalism…Forget lofty talk of sovereignty and a thrusting new post-EU economy: as the outers get desperate, they get down and dirty. It’s not the economy – it’s migrants, stupid.”
Take note: it’s a Brexit that the far right want.
To counter such nefarious prejudice, we must remain connected with over 20 million European Muslims. As Muslims mature their identity and a sense of belonging in Western states, the political connectivity allows for a communal and shared European experience, where we freely move and share in best practice, presenting a stronger voice in European politics and broaden our conversations on integration, the role of faith in western life, and help one another on important issues such as social mobility. The Prophet said, “A Muslim to another is like a structure, parts of it reinforce other parts.” (al-Bukhari and Muslim) Of course, productive relationships such as these are some way in the future, but this decision is one that will impact generations to come.
For those who remain unconvinced consider this: many aspects of leaving the EU remain unknown but one thing is certain, if we remain in and further down the road we see it being a harm, the electorate can seek another referendum to opt out. But if we leave and decide that we want to return, membership may not be so easy. Essentially time is on our side; leaving the EU is far easier than returning to it, and leaving now based on hearsay isn’t a mistake we can afford to make. Allah says, “Believers, if a troublemaker brings you news, check it first in case you afflict others unwittingly and later regret what you have done.” (Quran 49:6) We are those people that will be afflicted, particularly our future generations. Let us not give ourselves a reason to regret inaction or making the wrong decision that will both harm our situation as well as leave those who despise Muslims even more complacent.