The New Statesman’s exclusive George Galloway’s conversion to Islam seems to have quite a few people upset, not least Gorgeous George himself. But is it a big deal? Why do people care? And what does it have to do with his ability to serve Bradford? In my opinion, nothing. So why are people so bothered about his alleged conversion?
Jemima Khan bravely ventured north, overcoming the M1 turning to cobbles or the train turning to steam at Watford Gap, to meet George Galloway in Bradford. They embarked upon a “wide-ranging interview… [in which] George Galloway talks about his spectacular by-election victory, Ed Miliband’s fortunes, Middle East dictators and mass unemployment.” But the website chose to focus on Khan’s exclusive revealing of “the background to Galloway’s conversion to Islam”. A politician is asked about his “spectacular” political win, former political colleagues, dictators and a huge problem which he, as an MP, is responsible for sorting out… and they chose to highlight his religion. Why?
The website article focuses solely on matters of religion, even using the meal as proof of his conversion: “Over a halal, alcohol-free lunch at a cafe on Bradford’s main high street…” I am sorry but what did she expect? Do they have pork vindaloo in her local curry house? Maybe she’d prefer gammon and chips when coming to the country’s Curry Capital! And is it so shocking that an MP wouldn’t want a drink at lunch? Particularly a teetotal one.
The tone of the article is most concerning, though. It is written as if he’s been outed, as if Khan, with razor-sharp wit, has outmanouvered Galloway, linguistically cornering him until he was forced to reveal a deep, dark secret he’d hoped would never come out. Without showing his thoughts on Springs Arabian or Bradfordian, matters of State, politics local or national, it is his religion which seems to be of utmost importance to the reader of The New Statesman.
Whilst I am not religious, I defend the right of anyone to choose their religion and practice it how they wish (as long as they are tolerant of others and don’t force it upon people). This piece suggests Galloway has done something bad, wicked, awful. He’s got religion… but the wrong one! Had he gone to St Margaret’s CofE Church in Frizinghall, would there have been this outcry? I doubt it. Religion is a matter of soul and faith, and it is a deeply personal matter which has nothing to do with one’s ability to serve in Parliament… which is just Galloway’s point. It does not matter one bit what religion, if any, he is. Do Muslims make better parliamentarians than Sikhs? Are Catholics good for local issues but, in Europe, you need a Protestant? Is a person who discusses their lack of religion a better law-maker than one who chooses not to discuss it? No, no, no.
One reason people might care politically is shown in a reaction I read – and the first – by Simon Cooke, a Conservative councillor in Cullingworth, a village in Bradford District, but not in Galloway’s Bradford West. He and Khan (or Alice Gribbin who has the by-line in TNS) are of the same mind:
“There must have been some white constituents in Bradford, who, although natural Labour supporters, preferred to vote for the white Catholic candidate rather than the brown Muslim one representing Labour.” (The New Statesman)
“What I can’t understand – unless George thinks his conversion might lose him votes – why he hasn’t come clean about it? What sort of muslim [sic] does that make him?” (The View from Cullingworth)
It is reactions like this which make me angry about these ‘revelations’. I’m a white guy in Bradford West and I voted for Galloway (you can read why here), but it’s suggesting that we’re racist. We’re white; he’s white: ergo, I’ll vote for him. Tosh! His religion or lack of it has no bearing on my vote, and I know of no-one else for whom it does. I’ve voted for whites, for Muslims and, once, even for a Tory (to keep out the BNP in my old ward). But Khan’s foolishness over accusations of racism do not stop with me, and are also made against the Muslim population:
“Many [Muslims] favoured a possible or a potential Muslim over a “lapsed” one, such as Labour’s Hussain, who, Galloway claimed in his campaign, was “never out of the pub.”
The suggestion that whites voted white and Muslims voted Muslim is, frankly, offensive. None of these commenters talk about the other candidates. The Tories, fielding a white candidate, came in a distant third with 8% of the vote; the Lib-Dems’ white candidate got less than 5% and lost her deposit; the VERY white DemNat got 1%. Similarly, the only bone-fide and ‘out’ Muslim, important to Muslim voters according to Khan, the Green Dawud Islam got 1.5%.
Furthermore, and despite our reputation as a segregated, broken city, Bradford West has shown that culture, religion and ethnicity are not the be-all and end-all, nor even, quite frankly, important. Something lots of places can learn from. Bradford West is mixed, with 40% of voters being of Pakistani heritage and, probably, Muslim… yet it has never had a Muslim MP. The previous incumbent, Masha Singh, is Sikh. If the whites are so racist and the Muslims are pro-Islamic, how come we had a non-white, non-Muslim for over a decade? Actually, we’re a bit of a model for inclusion in this area, choosing to ignore colour and creed and elect the party and the man (Singh bucked the swing to the Conservatives in the last election) it wants. Make Bradford British? What’s more British than democratic choice, picking the right person for the job and believing in one’s right to self determination over all?
I take issue with Simon Magnus who, as a local lad, should really know better and should not be peddling stories of intolerance where there’s none. We have intolerance and prejudice and racism, and we know it, but, together, we should sort them out, removing them from Manningham, Clayton and Cullingworth. Being a political animal himself, he could’ve mentioned this but his party have just gone from a strong second in a seat they wanted to win to a distant third, so I can understand his haste to sling mud.
The greater problem, in terms of numbers and spread of readers, is The New Statesman’s promulgation of these vile assertions. Bradford gets two types of press from the national media: bad and none. And now, in a truly mixed constituency which has consistently chosen to ignore race and religion, we are being accused of being racist and religiously fanatical. London, piss off! We don’t want what you’re selling. You know our stereotype, you come here (once in a blue moon) and see what you want to see, take your ‘proof’ home and peddle it back to us. In this instance, though, there was no proof: the assertions of voter racism are from the pen of Khan’s pen and imagination rather than the lips (and certainly not the actions) of Bradford West’s voters…
… because she came oop north, ate a curry and her interviewee walked out on her so she needed something to justify the train fare.
If we look at Khan’s home, we can see that, maybe, she could learn a little about diversity and choosing people on personal accomplishment rather than their connections: she lives in the £15-50m Kiddington Hall in Oxfordshire. Her local MP is old-Etonian, Oxbridge, multi-millionaire, inheritor David Cameron. All the MPs in Oxfordshire are white; all except for one are men; all except one are Conservative. Mind you, the local curry house sounds different so maybe I’ll move there.