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Islamophobia and minority baiting in the Labour leadership race

This is how low the debate has sunk. The more popular Jeremy Corbyn seems to be compared to the other candidates for the Labour leadership, the more he is smeared as Public Enemy #1. Not one but two former Labour prime ministers have warned that a Corbyn leadership will destroy the party permanently. Believe it or not, these are the milder warnings out there. Corbyn has also been accused of being a sympathiser of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), based on his engagement with Gerry Adams and other Sinn Fein leaders in the 1980s. But revelations that Conservative Prime Minister John Major also held secret meetings with Adams have rendered the pro-IRA tag incongruous. And ludicrous – in 2013, even Prime Minister David Cameron paid tribute to the “painstaking and lengthy” negotiation processes that led to 1998’s Good Friday Agreement. So, Corbyn was part of these historic negotiation processes and now he is evil because…what? The logic simply falls apart. 

More persuasive now seems to be the argument that Corbyn is anti-Semitic and unwittingly (or maybe knowingly) supports Islamist extremists. Andrew Gilligan calls him a “friend” to Hamas, Iran and other “extremists”. A bizarre accusation considering that Gilligan himself was once a paid employee of Press TV, the English-language broadcaster owned by the Iranian government. Corbyn has strenuously denied these allegations, and Yasmin Alibhai-Brown has further detailed his partnerships with progressive British Jewish groups. (Which may be counter-productive, since they are often smeared as “self-hating” Jews – the plot thickens even as it sickens.) 

Nick Cohen goes further, asserting that Corbyn “indulges radical Islam, and by extension all that comes with it: the subjugation of women; the judicial murder of homosexuals in compliance with sharia law; the racism, most evident in its anti-Semitic conspiracy theories”, etc.

Just what are we meant to conclude? That Corbyn is a clandestine homophobe and misogynist? Or too stupid to know the difference between a Pokemon and suicide bomber? What? This is Islamophobic smearing at its most unrepentant by Corbyn’s detractors from outside and within the Labour party. 

Just on the supporting-Islam-means-supporting-homophobia trope, what does Corbyn’s record on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights really look like? According to the LGBT news service Pink News, Corbyn “has voted unwaveringly in favour of nearly every piece of LGBT rights legislation since the 1980s”. In 1998 he was the only Labour MP to support a Lib Dem amendment that would have outlawed discrimination based on sexuality, long before 2007’s Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations were introduced. 

We must scrutinise all public figures for their actions or proposals on various issues, and Corbyn should be held accountable like any other politician. But these smears should be exposed for what they are – minority baiting. What else could motivate such impassioned condemnations pitting Muslims against Jews or LGBTs? 

Corbyn might actually be one of those rare albeit naïve public figures with a proven track record of defending all marginalised people, regardless of race, religion, gender, sexuality or class. 

Maybe that’s one reason so many establishment figures are spooked. But why? Given his combined track record, Corbyn should ultimately appeal only to working class LGBT Muslims.

Shanon Shah has just been awarded his PhD thesis on the sociology of religion. He writes about the lived or politicised aspects of religion, gender, sexuality and human rights, especially regarding Islam.