Targeting the mosque

George Galloway takes the fight to pro-war New Labour

The Respect general election campaign in east London was launched with great fanfare at the Bishopgate Institute on April 6 - the event was "a feast of argument, oratory and passion", said George Galloway. Like him other Respect tops put on a great show of confidence and looking forward to May 5, when comrade Galloway will be elected as MP for Bethnal Green and Bow. Speaker after speaker condemned Blair and pointed to the need to defeat all those Labour MPs who voted in favour of going to war. Not least amongst them, of course, is the sitting MP for Bethnal Green and Bow, Oona King. Oliur Rahman, candidate in neighbouring Poplar and Canning Town and recently elected local councillor, said that he had warned King "after her vote for the slaughter of thousands of innocent children in Iraq" that he and Respect "would do anything to stop her". The mood was bullish and defiant: "We are," declared Galloway, "the ghost of Labour past." Respect would recreate the Labour Party of Keir Hardie - who had won his first seat to parliament in West Ham. Vitriol was poured on the policies of Blair and his government. Keen to portray themselves as the "only alternative to New Labour in the east end", with "policies the majority of people agree on", no platform speaker made even a passing reference to the third letter of the Respect acronym - S for socialism. Instead it was 'community', 'trade unionism' and 'peace' - and another word whose initial does not feature in the name: Labour. Oona King: on the defensive The battle for Bethnal Green and Bow has certainly been fierce. Galloway has rattled the New Labour machine. King is said to be deeply unpopular among many in her constituency because she voted for the war. The constituency has 55,000 muslims of Bangladeshi origin, who comprise more than half of the electorate. This population may well be willing to mark their opposition to King's voting record by voting for Galloway. The first weekend after the official campaign begun saw a widely reported clash, allegedly involving Respect supporters, on Sunday April 10, when King was pelted with eggs and vegetables during a commemoration to mark the deaths of 134, mostly Jewish, victims of the last V2 missile to hit London. The Daily Telegraph quoted one angry young local muslim who condemned King: "We all hate her. She comes here with her Jewish friends who are killing our people and then they come to our back yards "¦ it is out of order. What do they expect?" (April 11). The sitting MP responded bitterly that she was astounded by the "sheer ignorance", which she found "disgusting". King is, of course, herself Jewish and has lost no time in making allegations of anti-semitism against the Respect campaign. She told the Evening Standard that some voters have been advised by Respect members that they should not vote for her because of her Jewishness. Respect has responded to this smear after a fashion - with the usual Galloway threat of legal action. The Guardian reported John Rees as stating that "this is one of the most disgusting slurs I can remember for a long time "¦ George Galloway and everyone in Respect has a long record of fighting anti-semitism "¦ Oona King should be cognisant of the dangers, having already paid out two sets of libel writs to George Galloway" (April 12). Rather than counter King's allegations politically, Respect threatens to use the bourgeois courts. The following day's Guardian carried a letter signed by three Jewish/SWP supporters of Respect - John Rose, Chanie Rosenberg and Sabby Sagall - who also condemned the accusations of anti-semitism, which in any case had not been proved in relation to those who mounted the attack on King. They denied that any Respect members were involved in the egg-throwing incident, which they said was opposed by the organisation on principle. Elsewhere King and Galloway were locked in battle at a local debate organised by the BBC. She berated him for his infamous salute to Saddam Hussein and said that she would not trust him to "deliver a pizza". He countered in equally bitter terms and the opposing sides booed and heckled. With over two weeks to go, the animosity looks sets to deepen. New Labour MPs and celebrity supporters are being trooped through the constituency to shore up King's 10,000 majority. Things could turn very nasty, with King's support for the war to the fore, whether she likes it or not. At the election launch, Galloway argued against "those who say we are simply targeting the muslim vote". But a glance at the list of speakers joining him and Lindsey German at a rally on April 18 in Newham Town Hall leaves you in no doubt that this group is being targeted. Four out of seven speakers are muslim 'community leaders'. Abdul Khaliq Mian, candidate for East Ham, was introduced at the launch rally as a member of the Muslim Alliance. He has been working hard in his constituency - by visiting all the mosques and making clear his religious/political identity and commitment to his 'community'. Also with him on the platform will be Mufti Mustafa Sahib, principal of Darul-Uloom London, an islamic school for boys. Its stated objectives are to "familiarise the young generation with the teaching of the holy Qur'an and sunnah, so that they can practice islam and serve the deen of allah. The purpose is to produce great scholars and huff'z to preserve and transmit the eternal message of allah" (http://darululoomlondon.co.uk). Also speaking will be Mufti Sadar-Ud-Din Sahib of the Imam Zakaria Academy and Moulana Ijaz Ahmed Nairvi of the Masjid Siddiqia mosque in Birmingham. Others to be featured include a representative from Voice of Africa radio and Sri Lankan and Sikh speakers. While winning the support of particular ethnic groups, including muslims radicalised by the war on Iraq, is important, the problem is, of course, that Respect is attempting to do so through the mosque. It is appealing to the most conservative elements to deliver the vote on May 5. Inevitably that means tempering your policies to fit in with what those elements wish to hear. So principled left positions on a range of issues are dropped by the Socialist Workers Party leadership of Respect - abortion, secularism, private education, censorship ... A cursory glance at the reports posted on the Respect website from other constituencies shows this approach is being replicated nationally. Catholic churches, temples, mosques and other religious institutions are being targeted. But what about those muslims and others who reject their church leaders but are against the war? Respect's record on questions of women's rights and other pressing social questions has been abysmal. Those who want progressive answers do not seem to count. Winning votes on a principled working class agenda does not figure in this quest for electoral success. Anne Mc Shane