Hellfire and hatred in the potteries

Posted on February 16, 2017

 

The Sun newspaper today accuses Labour of “stoking hatred” by sending texts and WhatsApp messages to Muslims in a byelection ending next week. “Stoke Central’s Muslim voters warned they will go to hell if they do not vote Labour in anti-Ukip text” thundered the paper. Trouble is, if you look at the actual messages they don’t mention hell at all. They are from a Muslim Labour activist who is saying that Allah will judge them if they let UKIP win.

I disagree with the sending of this text, not least because it is being seen as underhand herding of Muslims to vote Labour en bloc as if it was their religious duty to do so. It plays right into the hands of every person who lugs around stereotypes about Muslims subverting the democractic process with caste and clan politics. I also think it was unwise of the Lib Dems to make hay over it with under a headline that echoed The Sun’s: “Muslim voters warned they will go to hell if they do not vote Labour in Stoke by-election.”

It is a central tenent of both Christianity and Islam that God will judge you for your actions. If you’re athiest fine, good luck to you, but if you adhere to one of these Abrahamic faiths the chances are you’ll believe in this basic concept of judgement (although evangelicals put more emphasis on being born-again than being judged).

The Lib Dems have a fervent Christian as party leader, who was quick to condemn Labour over the text messages. Does he not think that believers and non-believers will meet their judgement if they do not give their lives to Christ and live godly lives?

People ascribe different values to their gods, but in these modern times most believe their God stands for equality and against racism. By that yardstick racist parties are ungodly. That suggests that it would be wrong for believers to support, directly or undirectly, a political party that stood for ideas which were diametrically opposed to the values of their faith.

I can well understand someone being frustrated and angry at UKIP for contributing to the hostile everyday climate of racism and Islamophobia, and feeling that fellow believers will be judged by God if they let in a racist as their local MP. Far from “stoking hatred”, the desire to keep out UKIP is one of opposing hatred.

I am instinctively against religion playing a part in in elections, or indeed the Church of England and its’ heriditary monarch head having a role in law-making, be that bishops in the Lords or royal assent and decree. The text messages in Stoke betray a patronising assumption of control on the part of the writer.

But the reaction, from the Sun and the Lib Dems, runs the risk of promoting a stereotype of all South Asian communities voting how they are told. The other side of this coin reads ‘less advanced’, ‘primative’, ‘tribal’. If this negative view of Muslim communities is not at play here why does the story matter at all?

I believe there is a greater propensity for the community to vote for parties that are seen to stand up for a their interests (hey, what’s new?) but we must avoid perpetrating stereotypical images of Muslims manipulating the electoral process, especially when this is becoming less common with second and third generations. If we are not careful such stories can provoke a sort of reverse dog-whistle that stirs up white voters to feel a grievance, even if the grievance is massively overblown. And such prejudices feed into the wider climate of anti-Muslim prejudice and Islamophobia.

What the text message actually says is that UKIP is anti-Islam, which is hardly the most controversial view in the world given the rampant anti-Islam sentiment coming out of its’ leadership and rank and file, from its inception to the present day. I’d word it somewhat differently and say UKIP are Islamophobic, but that’s just me. The text goes on to say that a vote for the Lib Dems may let in UKIP, and that Labour are the only alternative to UKIP. From a partisan viewpoint I may disagree. But a cold hard look at the dynamics of the byelection and previous votes in the constituency mean that it is a legitimate view and falls under ‘fair comment’ which is allowed in law and in a democracy.

The Sun, which has a pretty poor record on negative portrayals of Muslims and Islam, hints at a Labour conspiracy but doesn’t offer any actual evidence aside from an over-excited helper. So we basically have one OTT texter and Whatsapper, who is essentially saying (I paraphrase) “Look, we’re so sick of UKIP being racist and Islamophobic to us, we really have to keep them out by all means necessary. We have to vote tactically to make sure they don’t win.” I get that. I also get that Lib Dems have occasionally benefited from tactical voting. It’s an argument for PR, but we don’t have this at the moment sadly.

The text writer does not presume to spell out what punishment Allah will dish out to those who let UKIP in (although we can imagine – and The Sun certainly did – that he wishes it involves hellfire). As a Christian who believes in one God, the same God as Allah, I would go further and say I rather wish the Lord brings some firery brimstone down upon the scumbag UKIPers for all the nasty, despicable racism they promote.

If you look at the text messages, there is no story other than the headline about the threat to Muslims that they will burn in hell if they don’t vote Labour. That is the paper’s interpretation, which is stretched. I call that spin. Now the Lib Dems are threatening to report Labour over the matter. To what end? To defend tabloid’s spin or defend UKIP against the allegation Paul Nuttall’s party is anti-Muslim? If the Lib Dems really we want to create the impression in Stoke that they and UKIP are two peas in a pod they are going about it in the right way.

Lib Dems worked selflessly in Barking and Dagenham to defeat the BNP and on many issues and attitudes the BNP and UKIP are remarkably similar. Let’s not forget why Lib Dems made that sacrifice. To keep out an unacceptable party at all costs.


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