Respect after Yaqoob

Salma Yaqoob’s emergence as a Birmingham City Council came just as I left as a Labour member. My feeling at the time was here was a new and welcome force in both local, and then very quickly on the national scene. Ken Livingston invited her to partner him in a major debate in London in which Daniel Pipes provided the principal opposition. Now she has quit from Respect, so what will happen next?
Given the current climate that has built about Islam the ability of those like Salma to articulate the views and feelings of the community has been essential. Media coverage has powerfully drowned out day to day reality for most people and engendered hysteria seized on by groups like the English Defence League. The most obvious example of where this can lead occurred in Norway, the link with EDL laid bare.
Daniel Pipes tried to demonstrate that he was not anti-Islamic, yet where did he draw a line between what he saw as fundamentalist and acceptable (to him). Even Yaqoob was on the wrong side. This puts Muslims on the wrong side whoever they are and creates a situation where those even considered to look like “the enemy” vulnerable. Once again Sikhs in particular, with beard and turban have been targets for murder, but anyone appearing Asian or Arabic is fair game. Or as in Norway any group thought to be supportive of allowing Islam into Europe. While the EDL and far right might appear way out, press and “respectable” political groups purvey the same sentiments.
Hopefully Salma will continue to play a role and inspire other young people to involve themselves in the political debate, although Respect as a continuing platform for these views has been compromised by ill-judged comments by its former leader and Member of Parliament. Given George Galloway’s impressive stand and support for the Islamic world it is deeply disappointing that his comments have given cause for Salma Yaqoob to step aside.

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