An alliance between Muslims and political leftists in Britain during the last decade on anti-war and economic issues has largely dissolved due to a clash of world-views, writes Sarah Glynn in the journal Ethnicities (February 17, online version).
Glynn focuses on the founding of the Respect Coalition, an effort that came out of the British anti-war movement, as a case study of how the British left and Muslim alliance broke down. The coalition was launched in 2004 under the inspiration of George Galloway, a leading figure in the Labour Party. Respect aspired to be an inclusive coalition and toned down its socialist roots, to the consternation of hardline leftists, as it sought to reach out to Muslims on anti-war and economic issues.
Respect managed to gain the support of the large British Bengali Muslim community and other Muslims, while trying to retain its white voter base. The coalition did have an election victory in East London (an area with many Bengalis), but in general it did not find wide support, with Galloway being elected as Respect’s only MP (while fielding 12 Bengali candidates). But larger Muslim groups, such as the Muslim Association of Britain, were too pragmatic and politically astute to tie themselves to the small opposition group. By the 2010 general elections, Respect candidates had lagged behind others, all but dissolving as a viable coalition.
While organizational problems may have played a part in Respect’s demise, Glynn writes that Galloway and other leftists misconceived the strong Islamist nature of many British Muslim voters and activists. Defining Islamism as the attempt to infuse one’s politics with Islamic teachings, Glynn notes that the Muslims’ religious morality “supplants socialist understandings, and religious loyalties cut across class-based organization.” Although joint action over shared issues is possible, “it is impossible to combine the two different and complete worldviews of Marxism and Islamism,” she concludes.