Gorgeous George's British Muslim Spring

Ok, well, the Bradford Spring... according to Gorgeous George Galloway.

For those who don't follow British politics,; last month serial MP George Galloway (who is probably best known outside the UK for humbling US Senate comittees) contested and won the previously safe Labour seat of Bradford West. His victory, for many UK politics watchers, wasn't a huge surprise. Gorgeous George has made a habit out of wresting seats from his former party by campaigning against UK foreign policy in the Muslim world in areas with large Muslim populations.

It's quite common to hear GG called a single-issue campainger. Former Labour MP Oona King, who he defeated in the 2005 general election, said he was a "one-man band."

Researcher and scholar Parveen Akhtar says its not quite that simple. In an article on Open Democracy, Parveen argues that Galloway isn't merely whipping up support amongst Muslims by denouncing policies they don't like, he's making young Muslims feel like they are being listened to on global and local issues. 

In Londonstani's view, Parveen makes two key points, which are summed up by the words "young" and "local issues".

But first, a little background from Parveen based on ethnographic research conducted in Birmingham:

Pakistani immigrants arriving from the 1950s onwards, "drew the attention of the mainstream political parties to the emergence of a numerically significant - and thus potentially influential - Pakistani electoral constituency. Most Pakistanis were working class and therefore tended to support the Labour Party, though on social issues their values bore closer resemblance to those of the Conservative Party. For their part, both parties viewed the community as impenetrable without the help of community mediators, but they also came to realise that if kinship (biraderi) elders could be got "on side" this would be helpful in securing both their votes and the votes of their wives and voting-age children. The relationship with these elders thus led them to use the internal community kinship structure as a means of accessing a potentially election-winning bloc vote."

The next part is key:

"The consequence was a system of patronage whereby local politicians of all political parties (but especially the Labour Party) built links with community leaders in the Pakistani community, who became their gateway to the Pakistani vote....The local leaders were given minor positions of power and help in figuring out the political system, so that they could stand for council seats or influential roles as subaltern aides. Some community leaders negotiated for community provisions such as neighbourhood centres, whilst others were content with the status conferred on them in the eyes of their compatriots."

As time went on and the British-Pakistani community evolved from being predominantly foreign born and older to British-born and under 30, the cozy mutually beneficial tie-up became a distortion in the system of local politics, the aim of which should be to identify and address the needs of local communities. Instead, local issues went ignored (in many cases the "older generation" simply had no idea they existed.)

Parveen touches on how these "unseen" issues came to find expression through extremism:

"The result was a generation gap, where the older generation were not aware of the frustrations of the young - something clearly highlighted by reactions to the wave of riots in northern English cities in 2001, and by the radicalisation of some young people in colleges and on university campuses."

How does this connect to GG's popularity?

"Pakistani Muslims, like their co-religionists from other regions, certainly do have an interest in middle-east politics, but they are also deeply concerned with what are often seen as unglamorous local-level issues: the economy, housing, work and life opportunities, street-lighting, children’s schools, rubbish-collection. It may be then that in electing George Galloway, at least some Pakistanis have made a cognitive leap by calculating that if Galloway is speaking positively about Muslims abroad he will care about them here and help to "fight their corner" - a fight which they believe the older generation of Pakistani community leaders has abandoned, by accepting patronage roles from mainstream politicians."

GG suggested his "Bradford Spring" was about a community of British Muslims sticking it (democratically) to rulers who don't represent them or have their interests at heart. It might be more accurate to look at it as a democratic revolt by young British Pakistanis against the vested interests of their own self-appointed community leaders. This maybe specific to Bradford, but it may be also be emblematic of a wider trend. The make up of British Muslim and British Pakistani communities is evolving. The proportion of those under 30 is growing. Elders no longer hold a monopoly on what is deemed to be acceptable - there are new sources of information. Views are fashioned by experiences common to non-Muslim, non-Pakistani peers. All of which, is mirrored somewhat by sociological changes in the Muslim world. This British experience is what GG could have called the British Muslim Spring.

Maybe he didn't want to put it in those terms, because, after all, taking on Tony Blair and George W. Bush is one thing, the aunties and uncles of Bradford, are quite another.