A strong message from London against the ‘Clash of Civilizations’

Last Thursday morning I voted early in the London suburb where I live, before taking the train to my office in Central London.

Eyad Abu Shakra
Eyad Abu Shakra
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Last Thursday morning I voted early in the London suburb where I live, before taking the train to my office in Central London.
To be frank, a few weeks before election day I was not very keen to vote, given how many times I have been disappointed with politics during the last 15 years. During this period I almost lost all trust in politicians, especially, when they claim “the high moral ground” and start lecturing ethical values and human rights.

Incidentally, I never bothered to join a political party – neither in Lebanon nor in the UK despite my strong political convictions – until 1996, when I joined the British Labor Party. However, I suspended my party membership in 2003 as the Iraq War was looming when I realized that the party establishment was unwilling to listen to any voice critical of its policies and decisions.

Those days, like many, I was not a great fan of Saddam Hussein, but was insistently seeking one convincing answer to my question(s): “What about the day after? … How will the post-Saddam Hussein Iraq look like?”

At that time it became obvious that the British Prime Minister Tony Blair had chosen to sheepishly follow President George W Bush and his neocon backroom operators. He later let down and relieved his cabinet of two of its best and most principled members: Foreign Secretary Robin Cook due to disagreements on Iraq, and Northern Ireland Secretary Mo Mowlam who was never given credit for her courage and efforts in securing peace in that troubled region.

Anyway, after my disappointment with Blair and his party, I decided to take it easy, observe, follow, and vote tactically. Then, after Blair left I thought for a while of returning to the fold, but later chose to wait and see how Labor would re-invent itself. By then I had met Jeremy Corbyn, the firebrand Leftist, ‘champion’ of the causes of suppressed and dispossessed – including, of course, the Palestinian cause –, and the unflinching enemy of imperialism and racism.

Corbyn was and continues to be an honest man; magnanimous, modest, honorable and idealistic… maybe a bit too idealistic! Furthermore, he was never seriously regarded a leadership project, let alone prime minister material.

Even when the Labor leadership campaign was underway, Corbyn encountered difficulties in gathering enough nominating votes. Later on when some MPs chose to put their names as nominators, many of them declared that they won’t be voting for him, but rather intended to have an open debate that included all views within the party.

Corbyn was and continues to be an honest man; magnanimous, modest, honorable and idealistic… maybe a bit too idealistic

Eyad Abu Shakra

However, the moment Corbyn’s nomination became official, Labor MPs lost control of the election process to the party’s grassroots activists, constituency parties and trade unions. This assured the Leftist maverick of a stunning victory to the shock and dismay of the party’s moderates who believe that with Corbyn at the helm Labor will surely be in political limbo for years to come.

The last time Jeremy Corbyn and I met was a couple of years ago (before his election as party leader) when he invited me to lunch at the House of Commons. Our talk over lunch ended when my host blocked any path of meaningful discussion, by implicitly repeating the claims of some Arab Leftists that Bashar Al-Assad’s regime was a bastion of steadfastness against (American) imperialism, and a platform for the struggle of a free Palestine!

Thus, from the refusal of the Blairite ‘cabal’ to listen on Iraq, to reaching a dead-end with Corbyn on Syria, I simply relinquished any lingering hopes of re-joining Labor.

My decision was soon proven right when the truth began emerging from across the Atlantic about the real principles and ethical values of the Barack Obama administration. In November 2004 I wholeheartedly celebrated the election victory of Obama, a self-proclaimed progressive liberal, after becoming worried about the destructive internal and external policies of the Republican’s conservative Right.

However, the unfolding tragedy of Syria proved to me beyond doubt that there was not much difference between Blair and Obama; and he who was willing to throw Iraq into the ‘unknown’ does not differ from he who conspires against the Syrian people.

The fake and duplicitous ‘ethical foreign policy’ which Blair trumpeted for years before it was undone by his subservience to Bush Jr and his ‘neocons’ is now being replayed in Washington with the non-existent humanity of Obama’s junta’ including Ben Rhodes, Denis McDonough, Susan Rice and Valerie Jarrett.

Given the above I stopped believing claims of progressive and liberal British and American imposters, and ceased to go forward attacking windmills “Don Quixote-style”.

Conservative propaganda

This was the reason why I thought there was no need to vote in the local elections. But the same reason that pushed me to join a political party 20 years ago pushed me to vote a few days ago. It is the negative propaganda the Conservative Party has mastered and perfected after decades of experience, and that is always ready to stoop low pandering to racists and xenophobic bigots through ruthless and efficient media onslaughts.

In 1996, after winning four consecutive general elections the Conservatives embarked on scaring the voters, warning them against voting Labor because Labor – as they claimed – “should not be trusted with the economy” and that they will destroy the economy due to their ‘lack of experience in government’ after being in opposition since 1979. The Conservatives were also assured of the last resort scare tactic which was the alleged ‘invasion of immigrants and foreigners’, especially, from the Indian subcontinent.

This time around too, when the campaign managers of the Conservative mayoral candidate Zac Goldsmith noticed that he was trailing his Labor opponent Sadiq Khan, the son of a Pakistani Muslim immigrant, they began insinuating that Khan “appeared” with extremist Muslims. This tactic infuriated even Goldsmith’s sister Jemima, the divorcee of the world famous Pakistani cricketer and politician Imran Khan.

This picture hit my memory augmented by the ‘isolationist’ feelings the anti-Europe and anti-immigrants UK Independent Party succeeded in entangling the Conservatives with; in addition to the poisonous racist climate created throughout Europe by the heinous Paris and Brussels attacks, and the memories of the 7/7 attacks in London in 2005 perpetrated by four assailants, three of whom were Muslims who hailed from the Indian subcontinent.

These facts led me to believe that voting has become a duty, and Sadiq Khan’s victory has become a civilized message sent by London to the world.

Thankfully, as things turned out, London, the tolerant and venerable great city, did well.

Its message has been loud and clear against “the Clash of Civilizations”.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on May. 18, 2016.
Eyad Abu Shakra (also written as Ayad Abou-Chakra) began his media career in 1973 with Annahar newspaper in Lebanon. He joined Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper in the UK in 1979, occupying several positions including: Senior Editor, Managing Editor, and Head of Research Unit, as well as being a regular columnist. He has several published works, including books, chapters in edited books, and specialized articles, in addition to frequent regular TV and radio appearances. Eyad tweets @eyad1949

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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