To leave or not to leave the EU? A Muslim perspective

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As millions of Britons prepare to vote in the landmark EU referendum tomorrow, Thursday 23rd June, Muslims living in the UK have been inundated with a number of tailored arguments. Some encouraging them to vote remain, some to opt for Brexit…other to simply abstain or ignore the plebiscite entirely.

It is important to state, at the outset, that propaganda from both camps of the EU debate has been largely based on speculation; endless “ifs” and “buts”. While these speculative bidding wars were inevitable, the simple truth is no one can foresee the future repercussions of Britain being inside or outside of the EU.

Additionally, any momentum or swing that pollsters had predicted for the Brexit camp has arguably been lost in the wake of the tragic death of Labour MP Jo Cox; particularly after her murderer was found to support Brexit as a result of far right sympathies.

It is also important to note that the Brexit campaign has, for obvious reasons, become somewhat synonymous with UKIP; and with Nigel Farage more specifically. One need not delve too deeply into UKIP’s unpalatable positions – on immigration, race, Muslims and integration – to see that any genuine and substantive arguments for Leave have been lost amidst the perceived xenophobic, fear-mongering and racist rhetoric of the far-right-leaning advocates of the Brexit campaign.

That said, does this mean British Muslims should ignore any legitimate arguments for Brexit and simply accept that remaining in the EU is their only way forward as a community? Indeed, should British Muslims be expected to have a position at all?

First, let us briefly review the arguments pitched to British Muslims by a plethora of think-tanks, activists, faith leaders, and politicians to vote remain, leave, and abstain.

(Of course, due to space constraints, a degree of over-simplification is inevitable.)

Five Reasons why Muslims should vote Remain

Many Muslims, like their fellow Britons have assumed that to remain in the EU secures a stronger UK, which will ensure the preservation of their rights and security. Of course, to accept this line of argument is, by default, to accept the official line of the ruling and main opposition parties. Nevertheless, the following reasons have been presented to British Muslims to vote remain on Thursday…

  • The EU is projected to spend £338m between 2014-2020 to tackle Islamophobia and other forms of discrimination. This includes a programme that will monitor anti-Muslim hate speech on the internet.
  • The EU oversees compliance with Human Rights Law through its Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA). If Britain leaves the EU, Muslims will lose the benefit of the FRA’s efforts to secure, and ensure, equal treatment for Muslims in Europe.
  • EU immigration has made the UK a diverse and vibrant place to live and work. Between 2000-2011, EU migrants contributed £20 billion to the British economy.
  • The EU’s FRA provides a key tool for challenging the UK Government on policies, such as its Prevent strategy, which indiscriminately target Muslims.
  • The Confederation of British Industry estimates that three millions jobs in the UK are linked to trade with the rest of Europe. Furthermore, the EU’s free movement agreements make it easier and cheaper for Britons to travel around Europe.

Five Reasons why Muslims should vote Brexit

Like their non-Muslim Brexit counterparts, Muslim Brexiters have been accused of using scare tactics to push the case for leaving the EU. The crux of their argument can be presented as follows:

  • Over the past decade, it has become a common imperial trend for Britain to invade and bomb Muslim-majority countries. An isolationist UK, one that is weakened and forced to spend more money on itself, will spend less time going to war abroad. This is also an opportunity to weaken the UK’s coalition partners in the War on Terror. Voting Leave will distance the UK from its fellow European warmongers.
  • At an international political level, an imperial-minded UK is in need of some “tough love” which would cut it down to size. Brexit would be a blow both to the Government and to a multi-billion corporate sector that relies on war profiteering. It may also lead to another Scottish referendum, as well as a weakening of the Tory party.
  • Other European states are far more Islamophobic towards their Muslim minorities. Any centralised, anti-terror policies and “integration initiatives” led by the EU will harm British Muslims. In addition, draconian assimilation policies will be easier to challenge and overturn in the UK because of the general sentiment towards the political right.
  • Outside of the EU, Britain will be able to reconnect and rebuild its relationship with Commonwealth nations, with whom it has always had deep historical links. This means it will be easier for Muslims from the Commonwealth to work and settle in Britain.
  • Tighter immigration controls and limited free movement from the EU means better services for Britons, including British Muslims, in terms of housing, employment, state benefits, healthcare and schooling.

Five Reasons why Muslims should abstain

The ‘Abstain’ camp includes those who have chosen not to take part in the EU referendum, which can be for any number of reasons; general disillusionment with mainstream politics, religious beliefs, the desire to weaken the UK’s imperialistic tendencies. Here are some of key reasons presented by this camp:

  • The EU Referendum is a debate between globalists and nationalists. Most globalist “remainers” espouse a neo-liberal agenda that seeks to exploit labour via the single market; while nationalist “Brexiters” believe in exploiting labour via the removal of protectionism. The debate is thus between capitalists and for capitalists.
  • The immigration issue is a red herring used by nationalists to stir-up chauvinistic sentiments. Ultimately, the UK Border Agency (UKBA) decides exactly who is and is not allowed in, irrespective of EU immigration laws.
  • Islamophobia is not a far-right extremist phenomenon, but a systemic, structural, ideological hatred for Islam that permeates all echelons of Western politics; a fear that Islam can rise as an ideological alternative to Western capitalism. As such, hatred of, and attacks on, Islamic values are intended to radicalise the general non-Muslim population against Islam, and to push the secularisation of Islam. Viewed in this context, the EU is arguably more of a threat to, than a protector of, Muslim rights. After all, attacks on the Niqab, religious segregation, halal meat, minarets, and other aspects of Islam have been much more prevalent in mainland Europe than in the UK.
  • The net effect of the EU Referendum on Muslims amounts to zero. Muslims have been used as a political football by both camps. To expect any less would be to indulge in denial and wishful thinking. To tell Muslims that the EU is some sort of sanctuary would be, at the very least, grossly misleading.
  • Some have argued that to vote in the referendum, whether for Remain or for Brexit, is essentially to endorse the legislative authority of human-made institutions, either the EU or the British State, which would be to usurp the divine attribute of God as the ultimate legislator.

And there you have it: an – over-simplified, no doubt – overview of the EU referendum from three British Muslim perspectives. While I can understand some of the rationales invoked in support by all three positions, some are admittedly more unsubstantiated than others.

Despite my own interest in the referendum and its aftermath, I will not be voting tomorrow; for personal and religious reasons. However, if a gun was put to my head and I was asked to pick a side, I would probably vote, reluctantly, for Britain to leave the EU.