frontline 18.

The SSP, Islamaphobia and the Asian Communities

Graham Campbell, an activist in the SSP Black and Asian Network, looks at the situation facing Muslim communities in Scotland in the wake of the Iraq war, the London bombings and the subsequent attacks on civil liberties.

Socialists had no false hopes that the third Blair term would be any different to how it is: but the prospect filled most Scottish Muslims with dread. Their fears have been proven right as more wars in the Middle East in defence of corporate globalisation and imperialism have been allowed to happen. We have seen more privatisation of public services, more continued marginalisation and racial discrimination in employment. Racist attacks have increased, as have attacks on asylum and immigration.

As Tony Blair said in August, ‘the rules of the game have changed’ and the game now seems to be, ‘hunt the Islamic extremist Muslim foreigner - the enemy within’. The fact that the July 7th and July 21st London bombings have been linked to a small minority of British-born Muslim youth, not previously known to ‘British ‘Intelligence’ came as a shock to all. They were so disaffected with the government policy and its failure to listen to the majority against the Iraq war that they were prepared to take an inhumanly violent course of action. This has posed sharp questions. On top of all this, Muslims have had to face increasing media attacks blaming them for not integrating when the system is actively discriminating against them. The news of a new MI5 Glasgow office to widen the dragnet against Scottish-based Muslims adds to the sense of the whole community being suspected and under siege – innocent until proven guilty. Now it’s more anti-terror laws, more stop and search racial profiling, more institutionalised and individual Islamophobic attacks.

This backlash against the Muslim community has seen a quadrupling of racial attacks on individuals and targeting of Mosques. There is a concerted attempt by the British state in its war on terror to drive the Muslim community back into its perceived ghettoes and away from solidarity and support within the wider community. As Paddy Hill of the Birmingham Six has said, today’s Muslims are yesterday’s Irish community: marginalised as the enemy within.

The Blair government has proven that is not just anti-working class, racist and against civil liberties and human rights - it is also unashamedly anti-Muslim, despite all protestations to the contrary and the attempts to co-opt so-called Muslim leaders like the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB). The war in Iraq, Israel’s occupation of Palestine and the war on terror in Britain are the three obvious driving forces behind the radicalisation of many in the Muslim community – especially its youth.

The SSP’s profile has begun to be raised within the Asian communities, with high-level support from artistes like Asian Dub Foundation and Atta Yaqub (star of Ken Loach film Ae Fond Kiss) backing us for our stance on Iraq, anti-racist issues and defence of refugees and asylum seekers, amongst other issues. However, this is not yet reflected in Muslim membership of the SSP. We need to understand what are the tendencies, where the divisions are and how the SSP can appeal to Muslims as a socialist party that is consistently anti-war and anti-racist.


When describing the role of asylum and immigration in the General Election BBC Scotland political commentator Glenn Campbell put it well: “The Tories posters say ‘It’s not racist to place limits on immigration’ while New Labour’s 6th pledge card policy ‘Securing Our Borders’ was added late in response to the Tories’ agenda – “Tough: seems to be the approach of the main Westminster parties on asylum. Since September 11th 2001 an asylum policy debate has emerged with the Tories and New Labour competing for who can be toughest against asylum and on the security issue.”

The measure of success for New Labour is how much it has restricted the right to asylum and so supposedly re-assured racists that immigration is under control. The Home Office website boasts of New Labour’s record:

  1. The number of claimants is at a 10 year low
  2. NASS supported claimants falling
  3. Applications down by 67% on Oct 2002.
  4. 4 out of 5 claimants fast-track processed within 2 months not 20 months as before
  5. Border security tightened with illegal entries well down since Sangatte closed
  6. Removal of failed asylum seekers and illegal immigrants- doubled since 1997

However, the more tight the control the less those people are convinced it is actually under control. A recent New Labour focus group poll commissioned with the Refugee Council found that the majority of white men (54%) in Dundee saw asylum and immigration as their number one election issue – ahead of Crime at No. 2. This was despite only three (yes 3!) NASS supported claimants actually live in Dundee!

There is no real asylum or immigration ‘problem’ in this country, yet the mis-perceptions of voters is being fed by lurid and racist media coverage of the issue. The news that the Scottish Executive were to subsidise Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh and other councils – all set to follow Glasgow City Council’s example and set-up contract with NASS to take asylum seekers under the dispersal programme - was greeted with outright racist denunciation by the Scottish Daily Mail in April. With the policy of dispersal determined by Westminster, the number of newcomers to Scotland is set to decline, though they are to be more evenly distributed throughout the country.

The war on terror is also being used to heighten peoples’ fears about asylum seekers. Who can provide the tighter border controls? Who’ll bring down even further the number of asylum applicants? Who’ll lock up more families and children in immigration detention centres and expand the number of places at Dungavel? And who’ll throw out the biggest number of asylum seekers? Essentially this debate is racist and Islamophobic - a fact not lost on Muslims in Scotland who continue to not be fully accepted as ’Scottish’ or ‘British’ despite decades here.


The Muslim reaction to this rise in racism was reflected in the May 2005 General election through a continued but confused consolidation of a dramatic shift in class consciousness of Muslim voters – a shift away from New Labour. But how did the vote split in Scotland? Which parties won Muslim support and why?

In 2003 the tactical votes recommended by the MAB; the Glasgow ‘My Vote’ campaign and the Edinburgh Muslim Voters Action Committee saw thousands of Muslim voters break with New Labour and voting for anti-war candidates and parties – primarily for the SNP and Lib-Dems but also including the SSP and the Greens. There is no doubt the SSP owes Colin Fox’s election in Lothians and Rosie Kane’s Glasgow List position in no small way to Muslim tactical votes. However, the most significant shift was to the SNP in 2003, which allowed Shaukat Butt to be elected for Glasgow Council’s Pollokshields East ward – the first Asian SNP councillor in Glasgow.

May 2005, once again saw the MAB recommend a tactical vote for the SNP and Lib-Dems as the best way to beat Labour, while recommending votes for key anti-Iraq war Labour figures like the late Robin Cook. This saw the LibDems elected in Edinburgh South, the SNP in Dundee East and an unexpectedly big increase in the Lib Dem vote across Scotland – especially in Muslim areas. Comparing Westminster 2005 to Holyrood 2003 shows an increasingly marked shift away from Labour towards perceived anti-war parties like the Liberal-Democrats in England, and to the SNP in Scotland; while in key areas of East London and Birmingham the Respect Coalition won massive support from Muslim workers.


The words ‘intelligence’ and ‘policing’ are normally mutually exclusive terms that should never appear together in the same sentence. Yet they are used to justify the ‘fishing expeditions’ of racist police officers harassing ordinary Black and Asian people going about their normal business. The police powers under Section 24 of the Terrorism Act have become the new SUS laws (*1). The racist profiling of black and Asian people as muggers and burglars in the 1970s finds its parallel today in targeting of Asians and Muslim ethnic minorities.

The Home Office’s own figures reveal the extent of the discrimination: In 2003 21,577 people were stopped under the act – 2,989 of them Asian (up from just 744 in 2002). The number of white people stopped increased by 17%, but the corresponding numbers of Black people was up 38%, while the number of Asians was up 36%. Asian stop and search figures have increased from 2 people stopped a day up to 8 stopped a day on suspicion of ‘terrorism’ related offences. The real increase is a shocking 300%, 200% for Africans and African-Caribbeans.

PM Tony Blair said the figures were ‘unacceptable’ and set-up a Home Office team to review the process. The police excuse? “The ethnic make-up in the prime search areas includes large Asian and Black populations, with a higher than average Asian and Black presence on the street. Given these are street searches there’s more likelihood that any person being stopped, might be Asian or Black.” WHAT NONSENSE!

The very fact that the actual number of the arrests was just 9 and the number of successful prosecutions was even fewer - only 3 out of 732 arrests since September 11th 2001 - shows it to be ineffective in stopping real terrorists. Despite the massive media hype of suspects having their reputations trashed in the tabloids as ‘Islamic terrorists’ and ‘Al-Qaeda suspects’, all these high profile cases have seen the accused found not guilty.

But they are still not considered innocent as Home Secretary Charles Clarke acts to deport so-called suspects whose presence in Britain is ‘not conducive to the public good’. Despite the overwhelming failure of stop and search ‘fishing expeditions’ to produce results, Home Secretary Clarke wants even more draconian police powers to stop Black and Asian people. These powers would be executed purely on suspicion of those questioned being illegal immigrants, over-stayers, or terrorists, not based on any evidence or intelligence information. These cases have served a purpose. The anti-terror climate has meant an increasing feeling of siege and threat of terror to justify the infringement of civil liberties and removal of basic human rights. For Muslims to be suspected by cops requires merely having a beard, walking out of a mosque on Friday after a sermon, or just being of Asian or Arab appearance. Muslims can expect to be stopped and searched time and time again in this heightened climate of fear.


The war in Iraq and the lack of action in Palestine against Israel, on top of the racist war on terror, have caused a severe fracturing oft he Labour support base in the Muslim community. Bashir Maan’s resignation from the party in November 2004, as Scotland’s first Asian Labour councillor back in 1972, was a massive blow to New Labour. As a recognised Muslim elder in the aftermath of the funeral of Kriss Donald, Maan represents a significant section of Old Labour activists, and in some ways reflects the discontent of many Glasgow Asians and Muslims - no longer content to be electorally ‘represented’ within a party whose policies are totally opposed to what they stand for. They are showing clear signs of movement towards a complete break from New Labour.

It would seem that at the last election cash and carry millionaire Labour MP Mohammed Sarwar had two thoughts on his mind. Firstly, don’t mention the Iraq war. Sarwar held his Govan seat for two previous elections largely down to the loyalty of Asian Muslim Labour voters who now feel betrayed and taken for granted. Sarwar won his Glasgow Central because of his opposition to the Iraq war and gained plaudits from his principled refusal to share any platform with the BNP candidate on election night.

In March 2002, Sarwar also attended a £1,000-a-seat slap-up dinner launch of lobby group Muslims for Labour (MfL). The message from MfL, co-sponsored by right-wing Blairite Asian MPs and Lords in England was, “If you’re an Asian businessman you have access to the New Labour corridors of power.” The class nature of this consolidated Asian business support base is decidedly New Labour. Of the top 200 Asian Businessmen (topped up by billionaire Sir Lakhshmi K. Mittal) published in the Asian Rich List – several are based in the West of Scotland.

Speaking last year on ‘Islamophobia in Scotland’ to the Taleem Trust/Holyrood magazine audience of 300 in Glasgow, Sarwar made many important observations of the political scene for Scottish Muslims:

  1. Scottish Muslims had a greater sense of identity since 9/11
  2. The Muslim community is no longer just Asian, but a ‘diverse community united by faith’.
  3. Scotland’s 43,000 strong Muslim Community has a greater proportion still from the Indian Sub-continent (Pakistan, India and Bangladesh around 35,000) than present in the UK Muslim population as a whole.
  4. A third of all UK Muslims are not Asians. 25% of Muslims in Scotland are not Asian, while half of all UK Asians are not Muslims.
  5. Haleema Malik became the first Scottish Muslim woman councillor elected to Glasgow City in May 2003.
  6. South Lanarkshire Provost Councillor Mushtaq Ahmed is now the first Scottish South Asian civic leader.
  7. 6% of Glasgow city councillors are Muslim (5 seats out of 79 – 4 Labour, 1 SNP) with 4 % of the city- wide population.
  8. There were no Muslim candidates on any party list for the European election 2004

Sarwar also noted that no candidates from Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) communities were selected or elected for Holyrood in 2003 due to the culture of the party political apparatus, and the need to socialise in the pub afterwards – where the real political and social support networks are made in an atmosphere which excludes Muslims. While neatly glossing over New Labour’s pro-war record and noting the overwhelming opposition of Muslims to Blairs’ foreign policy on Iraq, Palestine and Afghanistan; Sarwar praised the efforts within Scottish Labour to promote community-based candidates (not surprising given he was selected for Glasgow Central).

One such example is anti-racist activist and head of the Pakistani Society of Edinburgh and the Edinburgh Mela, Shami Khan. He won the Mountcastle seat in 2003, becoming the capital’s first Asian councillor. Back in 2000, Councillor Khan said in reaction to New Labour draconian proposals on asylum, immigration and anti-terror laws; “There is no way that black Scots can have confidence in the government policies until we get rid of the racist culture that pervades our society and public organisations. … It is simply not right that the Government is planning to treat people in this inhuman way.”. That hasn’t stopped leading Muslim figures arguing to vote for the same government and party that has since implemented racist policies. Notwithstanding his prophetic words, despite being a Justice of the Peace, Cllr Khan’s had his own taste of Lothians and Borders Police ‘hospitality’ when his wife and daughter were racially discriminated against following a car accident in 2004. This hasn’t helped him or others towards sensible conclusions on the possibility of change through the Labour party.

The truth of New Labour’s record at local and national level has not gone down well in the Asian and Muslim communities, especially given that cuts were made to community centres and swimming pools closed (like at Govanhill in 2002/3), and that Councils fail to redress the racial discrimination in terms of the underemployment of BME people (Glasgow employs just 1.79% compared to a 7% plus BME population).

MfL is totally at odds with Asian and Muslim youth aspirations - despite Sarwar’s previous ‘Left’ political history with George Galloway as his mentor. While Asian Councillors were engaged in the internal power games of Glasgow or Edinburgh City Council’s Labour groups, there is an increasing recognition that fewer and fewer Muslims, especially the youth, are prepared to listen to their traditional community leaders and believe they are not being represented by their traditional politicians.


The SNP has had some considerable recent success in drawing Muslim support. After meeting SNP leader Alex Salmond in December 2004, Dr Azzam Tamimi of the Islamic Institute for Political Thought and leading member of the Muslim Association of Britain (MAB) said, “the SNP was the best party to represent Muslim interests on Iraq, Palestine and the war on terror”. Asked why he said, “we have been angered by the hypocrisy of Labour and liberal politicians and we have been impressed by the welcoming attitude of the SNP.” [Dec 19th 2004].

Osama Saeed Bhutta of MAB Scotland added, “The SNP do reflect what Muslims think on many of the issues that are closest to them and as long as they continue to hold these positions they’ll enjoy support amongst the Muslim population in Scotland” [Dec 19th 2004]. As a prominent anti-war campaigner and supporter of the pro-SNP Scottish Asians for Independence, Comrade Bhutta (also an SNP candidate for East Renfrewshire in 2005) reflects a widely held view amongst a section of the Asian community that has moved decisively away from New Labour. However, unlike him most don’t yet support radical or socialist policies. The SNP’s pro-business; low-tax, pro-Euro social democrat agenda fits well with the aspirations of Scottish Muslim small business people to be more integrated within the Scottish economy and more in with its establishment. This allows Muslims of varying social democratic and liberal politics to vote accordingly for seemingly anti-war, pro-Muslim candidates, without being too radical.

Meanwhile amongst Muslim youth there has been a massive upsurge of student self-organisation and community activism, which has occurred particularly amongst educated young professionals. Branches of the Federation of Islamic Student Societies (FOSIS) – a key group in local Stop the War coalitions - have been founded throughout Scotland’s universities and colleges. In 2004 a Muslim woman – a FOSIS activist from Leeds University - was the first ever elected to the National Executive of the National Union of Students on the National Black Students Alliance slate.

The vocal position of prominent Muslim women within the anti-war movement and the Palestine solidarity campaigns has helped to marginalise the more right-wing political Islamist groups. An important anti-hijab ban movement spearheaded by vocal, educated and independent Muslim women has mobilised thousands in protest, stemming initially from the anti-war movement. While the more extremist Saudi and Pakistani-funded Wahabist groups have gone underground; and right-wing Islamic revolutionary separatist groups Hizb-Ut Tahrir and the now disbanded Al-Muhajiroon have little credibility; groups like the Young Muslim Organisation-UK; and the self-appointed, Blair-approved ‘leadership’ mainstream lobby groups like Islamic Society of Britain and the Muslim Council of Britain reflect very closely the various divisions amongst African-Caribbean and Asian Black group politics in England.

Many Muslims would agree with Osama Saeed Bhutta that given the first past the post Westminster electoral system the best way to hurt Labour is to vote tactically. In most cases this means an SNP or in England a Lib-Dem vote.

This strategy originated from the 2003 Holyrood election. The Glasgow-based “My Vote” campaign (similar in nature to Operation Black Vote in England and Wales) saw Muslims encouraged, Jesse-Jackson-style, to register to vote in order to develop a voter-electoral block as a way of influencing the outcome within marginal seats with large Black and Minority Ethnic populations. This strategy failed miserably due to the massive Blair landslide victories in Middle England - and the ultra-loyal Old Labour vote in Scotland and Wales – making BME tactical votes largely irrelevant.

The same was not true in 2005. Mohammed Sarwar MP, though comfortably re-elected in Glasgow Central, saw a large part of the Old Labour vote go Liberal Democrat and partly to the SNP. Opinion polls showed that the SNP were now gaining the support of up to 45% of Asian voters compared to just 15% in 2003. This shows a real shift in urban Labour seats from community and mosque elders and leaders dissatisfied with the New Labour record on Iraq, Palestine and anti-terrorism laws, reacting positively to Alex Salmond’s clever positioning of the SNP as both business friendly and in tune on the main issues of importance to the Muslim community.

The SNP have highlighted the Muslim schools issue to present itself as pro-Muslim rights in addition to their lukewarm anti-war stance. “It is not a case that Muslim schools should be separate – on the contrary 84% of Muslims agree that there should be a choice [within the state sector…GC] for the Muslim tax payer. The example that we look to is the Jewish community which have their own schools and have done for decades, yet no one would accuse Jewish parents of being segregated within society. No, they play a full and vibrant part within Scotland and we’d see the same vision for Muslims in Scotland.” (Osama Saeed Bhutta in Scotland Today 18th December 2004)

On the Muslim Schools issue however, the SSP’s strictly secular educational policy splits Muslims 50/50. One Glasgow University Muslim educator spoke firmly against the need for Muslim schools but for the integrated curriculum to be more culturally sensitive to Muslim children’s needs, arguing that most Muslim parents want their kids to integrate through state schooling. However, while many others are disenchanted with the performance of state schools with largely Asian pupils like Shawlands Academy in Glasgow’s Southside – the very few Scottish examples of private independent Muslim schooling such as the Iqra Academy in Pollokshaws was closed down and the girls college in Dundee came very close to closure – failing to give a sufficient standard of education and integration in the wider community.


There has been a consistent attempt by the media and by racists since that 2001 summer of BNP-instigated violence, to portray Asian youth gangs as the main problem, as a threat to law-abiding white people and as the ‘real racists’. When Asian youth defended their communities in Oldham, Burnley and Blackburn from organised racist attacks they were met with the full force of the police and the full condemnation of the media. Identikit photos appeared on the walls of mosques as pressure was put on Muslim community leaders to cooperate with the police and hand over the suspects. A similar process of fingering anti-imperialist Muslim youth as potential terror suspects is being actively encouraged – pandered to by the so-called leaders of the MCB.

A large part of the mythology of racism in the north west of England has been the presence of youth gangs, which reflect a territorial attitude based on ethnically segregated neighbourhoods in communities. The recent murder of Kriss Donald once again brought this old accusation into sharp focus. Again ‘vicious Asian gangs’ were portrayed as imposing a ‘wall of silence’ within the Asian community while stalking youth in the white neighbourhood. While many in the mainstream media tried not to say it directly, they strongly implied that this was the main problem. A strong police presence was deemed necessary to ‘protect’ the Asian community from white riots and whites from the potential Asian youth response.

Yet no such explosion occurred and anticipated riots in the streets never materialised, all sections of the community were united in grief with the family of Kriss Donald. Thankfully the courageous appeal of the aggrieved mother Angela Donald against revenge and racism stopped the BNP exploiting her son’s racist murder to divide the community. Many in the SSP have taken this to mean that Glasgow’s working class people have no time for racism. Yet there are two sides to this discontent - the discontent of white and of Asian youth - for parallel but related reasons of alienation.

The increasing tendency of young Muslims to express their cultural identity in the context of the anti-terrorism and Islamophobia movements has meant increasing alienation felt by young Asians who make up an estimated 70% of the Asian population. (Info CARF magazine ‘Behind Glasgow’s Gangs’ 01/04/98)

The TUC Black Workers Conference in April 2004 revealed that Black and Asian people still experience unemployment rates of 11.3% compared to 4.4% nationally (two and half times higher than whites) which despite economic growth under New Labour since 1997 is actually higher now than it was in 1990 under Margaret Thatcher! Bangladeshis once again have the highest unemployment rate at 20.4%. Brendan Barber, TUC General Secretary said that, ‘Black and Asian workers have not gained as much from the UK’s expanding economy as white workers”…“Racism is still rife in too many workplaces”.

Hassan Mahamdallie (in the SWP’s International Socialism 95) reveals the phenomena of the real rate of unemployment for Asian youth in England is well over 50% - much higher even than white youth on schemes. Recent Glasgow Anti-Racist Alliance (GARA) research and STUC figures have demonstrated that similar massive discrimination is occurring amongst Asian youth in Glasgow and in Scotland – but in a context of much lower economic growth and fewer jobs opportunities for everyone.


The Young Muslim Organisation (YMO-UK) has a sophisticated anti-imperialist, anti-western, but also anti-socialist critique of capitalism. The YMO blames the separation of religion from state politics that occurred during 17th century rise of science in Europe – what might be termed Enlightenment rationalism – that led to the development of social policy separately from the development of moral, religious and ethical principles. Similar to the 18th and 19th century Christian socialist critics of the Industrial revolution, the YMO sees a Muslim view as one rejecting the dehumanising affect of western secularism.

The YMO blames the very separation of faith from state power as the central reason for the moral decline and corruption of western society into a decadent capitalist system of imperialist exploitation. The YMO’s world-view defends private ownership of property while rejecting usury and interest – central to primitive capitalist accumulation of unequal wealth - as un-Islamic. The principle of Zakat (welfare taxation at 2.5%) which Islamic states introduced 1,000 years ago and which every Muslim contributes within their communities – are presented as a semi-socialist form of cooperative economics – a real alternative to the militant atheist socialism born of Marxist ideology.

It is no exaggeration to say that they see the moral decline of family values, mass alcohol and drug abuse and sexual licence outside marriage as caused by secularist individualism. The Enlightenment is to blame for the selfish consumerism and inequality in western society where the poor and the weak are neglected. While there is much truth in these observations on capitalism’s ability to create alienation the solution offered is essentially – just like evangelical Christians – to make Scottish and British society more Muslim by themselves setting a good example through their discipline and organisation.

Given that to varying degrees radical Muslims in the anti-war movement and elsewhere agree with many of these points raised by the YMO-UK and by the MAB - how do socialists work with Muslims?

Essentially we must begin by refusing to see Muslims or indeed Asians as a homogenous unified bloc - they are not. Different Muslims see their religion and its relation to politics in a society where they are a minority and more importantly where they expect to remain as a minority. Muslims such as those in the MAB, the anti-war; anti-racist and civil rights movements are orientating in a political secular way reaching outwards in recognition that they must build broad coalitions uniting with the non-Muslim majority to defend their rights. They are what I would call the “Malcolm X’ tendency which supports Black and Asian (and Muslim community) self-organisation alongside broad united fronts.

Community activists working in housing, arts, human rights, the NHS, law and public services are those who are directly impacted by Blair’s programme and who have broken with New Labour over the war in Iraq and the Islamophobic “war on terror”. Open socialists like Aamer Anwar state with vigour and principle the case of the disenfranchised youth fed up with non-recognisable Muslim elders speaking for them. Muslims have no need to be defensive on the issue of terror as they have been amongst the prime victims of both state terror by Britain and the US, as well as the vicious pro-western monarchies and dictatorships in the Middle East. Anwar’s demand for the SSP and progressive forces to build solidarity with the Muslim community is one the party must answer in deeds not words.