Why I as a British Muslim support #Remain not #Brexit
Over the last two weeks, polls suggest that the Brexit campaign has taken the lead. This one published today by the Independent registered a ten-point lead (55% Brexit, 45% Remain). For me, I first and foremost regard lumpen nationalism (as opposed to its enlightened cosmopolitan variant) as one of the most regressive forces in politics today, or, as Samuel Johnson called it over 200 years ago, “the last refuge of the scoundrel”.
I believe deep down that a vote for Brexit is fundamentally a vote to turn in on ourselves, to disconnect from our neighbours, to give into the politics of fear, to play into atavistic urges to blame our woes on the foreigner, the refugee, the migrant, the Muslim, on people of colour. Having lost the economic argument and failed to articulate what its leap into the unknown would actually entail, what has really turned the tide for the Brexit campaign in the last two weeks has been the immigration (read race) card. Nigel Farage is now completely in his element, and is leading the charge, Boris and Gove taking their cues from him.
At its heart, voting Brexit is a vote for Little England by Little Englanders, a category in which I include all those who themselves or their parents or grandparents migrated to Britain from wherever but who now want to close the door behind them. I say this as a second-generation immigrant myself, as someone whose mother was herself a migrant — from America!
And, as we have been warned time and again by Nicola Sturgeon, a vote for Brexit will very likely result in the break-up of the Union between the Rest of the UK and Scotland. Rest of UK (RUK) would not only be a smaller country but also a meaner one, as turning inward rarely fires the creativity and imagination needed for a nation to reinvent itself. I suspect we would experience a massive brain drain too in the eventuality of RUK emerging.
The European Union has been one of the most important twentieth-century experiments in sharing some sovereignty to mutual advantage in terms of security, trade and protection of rights. Lest we forget, it was forged in the anvil of two terrible world wars that originated between European nations that became global in scope. Clearly the EU is in trouble, but our leaving could very well precipitate its demise, and this in turn could further encourage frightening developments towards right-wing populism predicated on xenophobic nationalism that is often explicitly anti-Muslim.
Supporting and sustaining a multi-track Europe integrating at different speeds still seems the best way to go forward to secure advantages and not to push so hard for a United States of Europe without the support of its peoples. “Ever greater union” has been too elitist a project and the peoples of Europe are not ready for it. The cost that the Euro places on poorer Euro members is too high — Greece being an obvious case in point. A slower pace where Europeans could still live, move and work around Europe and get used to each other would allow the necessary time needed for a new cosmopolitan identity to take hold.
More radically, I think the Union should retain the vision to see itself as a new way of ordering international relations in the world based on equality, consent and co-operation in the good, and to have begun however tentatively the process of closer integration with its neighbours to the south and to the east, to begin to embody a wider relationship than just the European identity.
Valéry Giscard D'Estaing was wrong all those years ago to have conceived of the Union as a Christian club, as it is a secular democratic association of nation-states based on sharing some of their sovereignty to mutual benefit, and thus it is open to modular extension beyond Europe. This would be a far better outcome then Fortress Europe, a political order defined by fear and hatred of its neighbours east and south of it, being as much about keeping others out as being members of an exclusive club. Unless we want to be completely myopic about it, let us be honest enough to admit that, with America, we have played too large and negative a role in creating failed states in the region or promoting autocracy in countries to the south and south-east of us, snuffing out democratic possibilities. Indeed, those feeling the chaos and war there are now washing up dead on the southern shores of the Fortress.
But I concede we are very far away from this more radical vision, and so for the time being I would merely argue for staying in and putting popular consent at the heart of any further integration within the Union, allowing for different kinds of nation-state affiliation than those currently available and for pace of integration or opt-outs with more flexibility than we have now.
As a Muslim, I believe that God created us differently not to hate one another but to know one another, and to cooperate with each other in what is good. This is why my faith impels me to vote for Remain on 23 June. I hope those who share my faith and those who don’t will join me in voting for Remain in the referendum.