The Politics of Opposing Genocide

July 3, 2024

Introduction: The Pivotal Moments of Political Transformation

Political change that disrupts the status quo and uproots elements of an established system often emerges not from gradual evolution but from specific, defining moments. These crucial junctures act as catalysts, triggering the potential for profound transformations that reshape societies and redefine governance.

The moment we have to seize today was born from witnessing the ongoing brutality of a genocide that decimated entire communities and extinguished tens of thousands of lives, compounded by the realisation that our governments are complicit in facilitating this death and destruction. This moment has led British Muslims to realise that immediate and impactful change is needed. Frustration, anger, desperation, inspiration, and vision converged in a single moment, and the Muslim Vote emerged as a collective movement to bring principles back into politics and put an end to the facilitation of, and contribution to, genocide. An idea first popularised and brought to light by a number of British Muslim public figures and driven forward by Muslim organisations, this movement has brought into the limelight numerous discussions around best practices and strategies; and how to build trust with the community and strike a balance between efficacy and representation.

Political Movements vs. Political Parties: Distinct Strategies for Political Change

With an election looming and arriving sooner than expected, the Muslim Vote had to form a strategy and decide its modus operandi to ensure a shift in power would serve its stated goals- the most important of which is to end British facilitation of and culpability in the ongoing genocide. When it comes to influencing electoral politics, the choice is simple: political party or political movement?

Political parties operate with a comprehensive agenda, aiming to secure governance across a wide array of issues. Their primary strategy revolves around electoral success; winning elections grants them the authority to implement their policies. This pursuit necessitates building broad coalitions, appealing to a diverse electorate, and often making compromises to maintain unity within the party.

Engaging in activities such as nominating individuals for elections, organising campaigns on their behalf, and assisting in the creation of policy platforms constitutes functioning as a political party. This holds true even if such operations occur without formal recognition or self-identification as a political party. The processes and objectives mimic those of traditional political parties, seeking to influence governance and representation through established electoral mechanisms  Therefore, while the “independent movement”, characterised by numerous independents challenging established parties in regions with significant Muslim electorates, provides an avenue for expressing dissatisfaction with the current political system and disrupting the status quo, it does not consistently advance broader strategic objectives. This is because the process of candidate selection, development of broader policies, and wider negotiations inevitably involves a broader focus and a need for internal structure, hindering the fast or immediate change that is so desperately needed. The process is inherently complex and time-consuming, involving candidate selection, campaign management, voter outreach, and legislative negotiation. It is clear that the Muslim Vote, at this time, would not benefit from operating as a political party in the traditional sense.

However, there have been instances in UK politics where a political party was able to bring about immediate change. For instance, UKIP, a small political party, managed to exert influence over UK foreign policy in a relatively short period by posing a threat to the Conservative party in their traditional safe seats. With their stance on issues such as immigration and national sovereignty resonating with a significant portion of the electorate, UKIP's electoral success forced the Conservative party to take notice and address these concerns to retain their support. This pressure led to Prime Minister David Cameron promising an in/out referendum on EU membership, ultimately resulting in the Brexit vote and shaping UK foreign policy for years to come. The ability of UKIP to challenge the status quo and push for change illustrates the impact that smaller political parties can have on shaping national policy decisions.

The Muslim Vote aims to leverage its voting power to influence UK foreign policy on Palestine similarly, without investing in party structure. By strategically mobilising their supporters in key constituencies and selecting candidates, The Muslim Vote seeks to pressure a prospective Labour government into adopting a definitive stance on several critical issues. These include enforcing a ceasefire, committing to the reconstruction of Gaza, ending all forms of complicity in genocide and occupation, and holding accountable those who have participated in these atrocities. Failure to address these demands may result in the Labour Party jeopardising their traditionally secure seats in future elections. Therefore, despite deep involvement in electoral politics, the Muslim Vote is ultimately seeking to operate as a lobby group.

Political Movements: Targeted Advocacy and Rapid Influence

Lobby groups are specialised organisations that concentrate on specific issues or interests. Their singular focus allows for crafting targeted strategies designed to influence policymakers quickly and effectively. Unlike political parties, lobby groups do not need to navigate the landscape of electoral politics in the same way; they do not require a comprehensive vision and instead can focus on the role of individual players, regardless of their other loyalties, in driving forwards their stated goals.

Political movements are ideal for driving immediate and uniform goals. When a community is united by a single, urgent goal, a lobby group can drive political change more efficiently than a political party, although there have been exceptions to this recently in UK politics. Numerous examples highlight the efficacy of lobby groups in driving rapid political change. The campaign for marriage equality in several countries saw significant progress due to the concerted efforts of LGBT+ advocacy groups. These groups utilised public campaigns, direct lobbying, and strategic litigation to achieve landmark legal victories in a relatively short span of time compared to broader societal shifts often spearheaded by political parties.

The Muslim Vote, in seeking to replicate the structure and mechanisms of a lobby group, had to strike a delicate balance between listening to and representing community voices and electoral political strategy when selecting candidates to endorse. While community voices form the basis for decisions, it is also important to educate the community about possibilities that could lead to a better outcome on priority issues for them in a shorter period of time.

 While certain decisions made by the Muslim Vote may be perceived as controversial, they are fundamentally driven by a commitment to serving the community's articulated interests and priorities. The candidate selection process necessitates both compromise on several significant, albeit non-urgent, issues and collaboration across traditional party lines and loyalties to orchestrate an outcome that best serves the movement’s priorities. The emphasis is on evaluating individuals based on their potential contributions to the movement’s objectives rather than party affiliations. This strategy requires the community to prioritise a unified vision, potentially sacrificing some interests, such as commitments from Labour candidates to supporting mosques to more effectively advocate for Gaza.  Consequently, maintaining trust is paramount in sustaining the relationship between the community and the movement dedicated to this cause.

Building Trust with Communities

Trust serves as the cornerstone of any successful community engagement, whether the entity is a political party, a movement, or a lobby group. However, the dynamics of how trust is cultivated differ significantly between these two entities due to their distinct goals and methods of operation. While both political parties and lobby groups aim to garner and sustain trust within their communities, the paths they take diverge significantly. Political parties emphasise inclusivity, dialogue, and openness to cultivate a sense of representation and transparency. These elements help build more emotional and long-term trust, often linked to the party's broad ideological alignment with the community’s values.

On the other hand, political movements and lobby groups focus on practical achievements and showcasing their efficacy in delivering tangible outcomes. This performance-based trust is more transactional, hinging on the lobby group’s ability to produce results and demonstrate expertise in their specific area of advocacy. Trust in a movement such as the Muslim Vote is built on the ability to deliver the desired outcome.

Operating as a lobby group is challenging when the primary leverage is based on popular support through votes. The main issue is the need to demonstrate tangible outcomes from lobbying efforts to secure community backing. However, the success of these efforts depends on voter behaviour, creating a scenario where endorsement is necessary before results can be shown. For The Muslim Vote, this creates a significant hurdle: balancing the need to gather support to prove effectiveness while simultaneously requiring results to gain that support. This underscores the complexity of advocacy work and the difficulties in building popular backing. Additionally, unifying the Muslim electorate behind a single vision without engaging in broader policy formation and campaigning typical of political parties adds another layer of complexity to this challenge.

It is worth highlighting that the Muslim Vote has already significantly gained the trust of the Muslim community by aligning its platform with the community's core values and focusing on one of the issues of greatest concern: the situation in Gaza. A poll conducted by Muslims Voiced, a local research organisation in Barnet found that when asked about policy areas that would  influence Muslim voters, 75% said health, and 65% highlighted foreign policy in a likely reference to the situation in Gaza. The same poll of 134 Muslims found that party loyalty has seen a 34% decrease amongst Muslim voters. 

By positioning itself as a serious advocate for change, it has not only provided a voice for communal aspirations but has also fostered a sense of hope for a more favourable future. This straightforward commitment to addressing the community's pressing issues has been the cornerstone of its support. The challenge of maintaining support is yet to come.

The Urgency of Uniting Muslim Voters for Gaza

Muslims constitute a diverse and heterogeneous group with varied interests and priorities, indicating that they do not vote uniformly as a cohesive bloc. Previous attempts to galvanise Muslims into a singular voting bloc have encountered challenges and yielded limited success. Despite this, The Muslim Vote contends that the gravity of the ongoing genocide in Gaza necessitates a unique and focused approach. Emphasising the urgency and moral imperative of addressing the crisis in Gaza, The Muslim Vote believes that Muslims may be willing to temporarily set aside their individual concerns and contemplate a unified response solely centred on delivering a more favourable outcome for Gaza. In this context, the organisation perceives a collective response to this pressing humanitarian issue could serve as a unifying force and catalyse impactful advocacy efforts within the Muslim community.

The coordination of Muslim mobilisation and unified voting efforts to pressure future governments for improved outcomes in Gaza in the context of a genocide constitutes a significant stride towards political empowerment and advocacy. While Gaza acts as a catalyst for Muslim political cohesion due to its emotive and unifying nature, its relevance extends beyond the immediate crisis. The ability of Muslims to mobilise and consolidate support not only enhances their influence in shaping political decisions but also plays a vital role in safeguarding the rights and well-being of Muslim communities in the UK. Faced with escalating Islamophobia and the resurgence of far-right ideologies, demonstrating the collective impact of Muslims in electoral processes becomes essential for self-preservation and ensuring a secure and inclusive future for Muslims in the UK. Therefore, Gaza serves as a pivotal element, both inspiring unity and laying the foundation for advancing the broader interests and security of Muslim communities across the UK.

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