Muslim women in Batley and Spen call out actions of ‘loud minority’ of men

A group of Muslim women from Batley and Spen have written an open letter condemning “shameful” behaviour that has brought the community “into the limelight for all the wrong reasons”.

The women, who write anonymously citing safety fears, say that a “loud minority” of Muslim men have been “endlessly heard” during the tense byelection campaign, described as “the same faces that have plagued our area as ‘community leaders’ for many years” but do not represent them.

The letter, circulated among local WhatsApp groups on Tuesday evening, comes two days before the culmination of a campaign marred by incidents of aggression and dirty tricks, which many describe as exacerbating divisions within the community.

The women say they have been less vocal during the campaign, not from a lack of political interest, but because they do not “feel the need to shout, be aggressive or harass people in the streets or online”.

“We cannot claim to be championing the cause of Palestine whilst ignoring the [Muslim practice] of peace and tolerance,” the letter adds, criticising those who “belittle or capitalise on this issue to boost your own egos”.

Palestine has become a focal point in the campaign, which follows an upsurge of violence in the region. George Galloway, the pro-Palestine campaigner and former Labour MP who is standing in the election, has focused on the anger and disillusionment felt towards Labour on the issue.

The Labour candidate, Kim Leadbeater, was chased and heckled last Friday by an anti-LGBT campaigner from Birmingham. Leadbeater, the younger sister of Jo Cox, the former MP for the seat who was murdered by a far-right terrorist in 2016, said the incident had caused “a huge amount of distress”.

On Sunday, another group of Labour activists were physically attacked and egged, with one man kicked while on the ground. The home of a 77-year-old retired GP, who was assaulted during the incident, was then targeted, with a Labour campaign poster removed and replaced with one supporting Galloway. Police, an increasingly regular presence in some areas, are investigating both incidents. A spokesperson for Galloway denied any involvement.

Writing that “misogynism and mob mentality have no place in any decent community”, the letter castigates those involved for “loud, aggressive and intimidating behaviour” that it says serves to reinforce stereotypes of Muslim men as oppressive.

It also calls on community groups and religious centres to “step up”, accusing local organisations of failing to provide services for Muslim couples seeking marriage counselling, women suffering from domestic violence or those struggling with addiction. “The sad reality is our own community has failed itself by allowing an elite group of men to dictate the agenda,” they write.

In reference to the 16 candidates on the ballot paper, including several from far-right groups, the letter states that the election is “no longer simply about Labour/Conservative/far-right or Galloway. It has cast a cloud over our whole community and the behaviour of Muslim men.” When the election is over and the candidates “return to their home towns”, the deep cuts in the community will remain and whoever wins will face “a huge challenge to bring everyone together”, they write.

A response, also spread on WhatsApp, accuses the letter-writers of making unfounded accusations and of misandry – a prejudice against men. “Lastly all is fair in love and war and Liebour [sic] for years have been fooling you with their deceit for decades. Don’t let Labour fool you on July 1st,” it ends.

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