Guest post by Pink Prosecco
A few days ago it was reported that nearly a third of Londoners – 31% – felt uneasy at the prospect of a Muslim mayor.
Some responded to the poll result with cries of bigotry – others applauded the 31% for being Islamorealists. It seems probable that people who registered unease did so for a range of reasons, and with different degrees of certainty.
It’s useful to compare that 31% figure with the percentage who would be made uncomfortable by the idea of a mayor from an ethnic minority – 13%. Presumably almost all of the 13% were also part of the 31%. Clearly such people are bigots. But what about the 18% who would be happy with a non-white mayor but not with a Muslim one – and indeed the further 13% who didn’t feel able to give a decisive answer when asked how they’d view a Muslim mayor?
You don’t have to be a racist to be an anti-Muslim bigot (though it probably helps). Although white nationalists tend to be anti-Muslim by default, many of the most prominent counterjihadists are non-racist, and of course not all of them are white.
Someone like Ali Sina would never vote for a Muslim mayor. He has said:
“It is time to put an end to the charade of “moderate Islam.” There is no such thing as moderate Muslim. Muslims are either jihadists or dormant jihadists – moderate, they are not.”
Treating Muslims as a monolithic bloc is an obvious marker of bigotry. But some of those who felt they couldn’t unreservedly say they were ‘comfortable’ with the idea of a Muslim mayor might not have meant to imply that under no circumstances would they vote for a Muslim, just that they’d want to know more. With so much debate around Islam and extremism, people are becoming increasingly alert to the sharp differences of opinion within Muslim communities. Television programmes such as The Big Questions return to the topic of religious extremism and conservatism obsessively. Those taking the survey may have felt wary about such illiberal views.
However even those actively anxious about Islamism are likely to have favourable views of Muslims who call for reform or adhere to more liberal interpretations of Islam – I bet a fair few of the 31% would have been more than happy to vote for someone like Maajid Nawaz or Sara Khan. And some of them, at the last election, were probably rooting for Muslim Naz Shah to beat her non-Muslim rival George Galloway.
And there are likely to be similar differences of opinion amongst the 55%, those who said were fully comfortable with the idea of a Muslim mayor. Some may just be easy-going types who would see any Muslim mayor as a positive symbol of multiculturalism and diversity. Others might be more actively politically engaged, perhaps opponents of the Prevent programme and of the comparatively tough approach Cameron is taking towards radicalisation. Would such Londoners welcome a Muslim mayor who disagreed with them on these issues? Probably not. Maajid Nawaz, in particular, would be the last person some Muslims would vote for – and non-Muslims from some sections of the left –Nathan Lean for example – would most likely go along with them.
In other words, at least a few of the 55% are likely to have particular questions for Muslim candidates, questions which relate specifically to their Muslim identity, not simply (as would be the case for any candidate) to their political views. In this they are no different from some of the 31%. Whereas a liberal might want to be reassured that the Muslim candidate shared their secular values (and Muslim liberals will probably be particularly vigilant) others, by contrast, will want to check that the candidate is not a ‘sell out’, an ‘Uncle Tom’. Right across the spectrum, for different reasons, people will want to be sure that a Muslim candidate is the right kind of Muslim – but their definitions of what the ‘right kind’ are will differ.