Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Politics is not the only fruit

The recent elections may have proved to be an important point in recent British Muslim history. The amount of discussion that occurred within the community is unparalleled and reveals a heightened sense of concern for political representation and accountability. These are all positives. The results showed how the party political structure dominates the electoral system that we have. There were two new Muslim MPs elected at this election and both because they won the candidacy in safe seats for their particular party. This shows that it is not so much the electorate that decides as the party machinery. Proportional representation would help to weaken this power and it must be because of this that the two main political parties are against introducing proportional representation.

But, I would wish to suggest that politics is not the only fruit. It was interesting to hear how much emphasis is placed upon the political during the campaign. Some spoke as if this was the only method of public representation. This is obviously not the case. We have in British society a wide variety of levers that we can pull, to affect the kind of changes that we wish to see happen. For example, certain changes can be more easily pursued through career choices or engagement in voluntary activity within the mainstream voluntary sector or through new forms of voluntary organisation. Within this context, I would wish to suggest that the major challenges facing Muslims today are not within the field of law and politics, but more so within culture and society. Our recent level of success is a testimony to this. It may just be the case that rights talk simply doesn’t work.

If everything is measured relatively, then can four Muslim MPs after three Labour majorities be regarded as a victory? Can the success of voluntary aided status for five schools be regarded as a success? Could these perhaps be regarded more appropriately as symbolic pyrrhic victories? Discrimination against Muslims persists, and Muslims remain substantially under-represented in British society across most of the public sphere though there have been many opportunities for overturning this effect. What I wish to say is that in this liberal democratic society of ours, claiming one’s meritocratic right simply doesn’t work. The cause behind this strikes at the main fallacy behind Rawlsian individualism. The cause is culture. It is a culture of prejudice that prevents people from choosing one candidate over another. This culture involves nods and winks, understandings, pub conversations, media stereotyping, academic constructing and political maneovering. It is the same kind of culture that allows for the opposite of prejudice, but hardly ever are the arguments of fairness played out in open, except within the courts. My suggestion is that rights talk – or claiming for one’s rights – does not help us achieve what we wish for, a fairer distribution of resources. Instead it galvanises those against us.