Does Keir Starmer think he can take British Muslim voters for fools?

It was branded an 'embarrassing' and 'opportunistic' photo op by critics.

Does Keir Starmer think he can take British Muslim voters for fools?
Keir Starmer at the Labour Conference, sitting on a chair, with his hand on the arm rest, mid speech. The view is between two blurred heads of people in the audience.
Politicians lie – we know that (Picture: Leon Neal/Getty Images)

I might not know much about the operations of Hamas, but the last I checked, they did not operate out of a small mosque in South Wales. 

And yet, this was the exact location chosen by Keir Starmer to renew his call for Israeli hostages to be freed this weekend. He made other demands, but it was the remark on hostages that really stood out to me, given his approach to the spiralling conflict so far.

Branded an ’embarrassing’ and ‘opportunistic’ photo op by critics, it’s hard to know where exactly to begin with why Starmer’s visit, which came after a week of controversy over comments he made in a video shared by LBC during which he appeared to agree that Israel had the right to cut off water and power from Gaza

In that context, I believe his trip to the mosque was tone deaf, duplicitous and frankly downright islamophobic. 

Starmer has shown in his response to this conflict, and on a host of other issues, that British Muslims are nothing but a political afterthought for him.

And he’s a long way from convincing this Muslim to ever vote Labour again.

It was galling to see the man who could be our next Prime Minister look in the eyes of congregants visibly pained by the atrocious and violence in Gaza say that it has ‘never been his view’ that Israel had the right to cut off water and fuel. Despite there being video to the contrary. 

HUDDERSFIELD, ENGLAND - MARCH 16: Labour leader Kier Starmer speaks to media as he visits a housing project in Huddersfield recently retrofitted by Kirklees Council on March 16, 2022 in Huddersfield, England. The Labour leader visited homes that have been retrofitted with green and energy-saving measures by Kirklees council. Whilst highlighting Labour's Energy policies he called on the Government to act now for energy security to lower bills. (Photo by Ian Forsyth/Getty Images)
A host of Labour staff, councillors and officers quit over the party’s ‘gag order’ on discussing events in Gaza (Picture: Ian Forsyth/Getty Images)

Politicians lie – we know that. 

But this is another level of callousness, and, in my view, indicative of how hollow Starmer’s intentions were with visiting the mosque in the first place. 

I believe it was simply a tick box exercise. A photo opp. Covering his political back. Nothing more. 

It’s one thing for a politician to u-turn – but it’s another matter entirely to go from sanctioning actions contrary to international law in no uncertain terms to then insisting that you never did such a thing. 

For a former human rights lawyer, Starmer’s qualification that ‘everything must be done within international law’ seems to be on incredibly shaky ground, given UN experts consider Israel’s actions to be a breach of the Geneva convention.

What’s more, Starmer’s comments came after a host of Labour staff, councillors and officers quit over the party’s ‘gag order’ on discussing events in Gaza, and Starmer’s LBC interview.

The reason this is so infuriating is because it speaks to how little Starmer presumes of potential Muslim voters in the first place.

Does he think we don’t pay attention to his condoning of a breach of international law in one breath and then backtracking in another? 

That it doesn’t matter to us how our counterparts are treated around the world and how our lawmakers in this country sanction it?

As a Muslim, it’s not just the sheer deceit of Starmer’s political flip-flopping, but the more insidious nature of his mosque visit.

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It was odd for Starmer to call for hostage releases in front of a small congregation of British Muslims as though we have some sort of worldwide Islamic WhatsApp group in which we can change the face of global politics with one message. 

Frankly it exposes the ignorance about the nature of this issue in his party and wider society, with too many people comparing the decades-long occupation simply a binary battle between Jews and Muslims, at home and abroad.

Plenty of Jewish people vehemently oppose the actions of the state of Israel and reject the violence taking place in their name – such as the hundreds of Jewish protestors who occupied Capitol Hill in Washington last week. 

And Palestinians are not solely Muslims. 

There are thousands of Christians in Gaza, and a compound at the the third oldest church in the world – The Greek Orthodox Church of St. Porphyrius – was damaged following Israeli air strikes. 

Thousands of protesters gather outside Downing Street to demonstrate solidarity with the Palestinian people and demand an immediate ceasefire to end the war on Gaza, in London, UK on October 21, 2023
British Muslims have been devastated by the scenes from Gaza (Picture: Wiktor Szymanowicz/Anadolu via Getty Images)

British Muslims like me have been completely devastated by the endless stream of graphic, harrowing, horrific images coming out of Gaza over the last two weeks. 

We will never be able to shake the footage of parents collecting their children’s body parts in plastic bags or babies’ bodies hanging lifeless out of rubble.

That’s why it angered me so much to see Keir Starmer choose to visit a mosque whose congregants will have been as consumed, traumatised and angry about the events in Gaza as the rest of the British Muslim community, only to attempt further political grandstanding rather than genuinely listen to the weight of their words.

And it was doubly infuriating to ask us to ignore our own eyes and believe he hadn’t said Israel had the right to inflict further suffering on Gazans by cutting off vital supplies.

For me, it reveals how cheap Muslims are to the Labour Party and ultimately how little credibility Starmer has as a politician, a potential future leader of this country, and as a human.

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