Muslims To Punish Blair

Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair gestures as he attends the unveiling of a new Labour Party election poster in London, Thursday April 28, 2005. Britain goes to the poll in a general election on May 5, 2005.
This story was written by CBS News Correspondent Elizabeth Palmer
The Muslim Council of Britain's press conference last week promised to be a routine affair – the kind of public service announcement that rarely make news, let alone headlines.

But as the spokesman introduced the Council's new Voter Guide - designed as a 10-point checklist for Muslims heading to the polls - a group of about 30 bearded young men, dressed in the loose tunics and baggy trousers popular in Pakistan, pushed into the room, shouting Allahu Ackbar! God is great!"

As reporters jotted and television cameras rolled, they harangued the moderate head of the Muslim Council, Iqbal Sacranie.

"You are the mouthpiece of the British Government, Tony Blair and George Bush!" they shouted.

The group, called "The Saviour Sect", believes that good Muslims should never vote for infidel politicians in a non-Islamic country.

Their Web site spells it out in a graphic warning: "DON'T VOTE" it says. "If you vote today you become kafir (a disbeliever) and go to hellfire tomorrow."
After trying for a few minutes to reason with them, the normally soft-spoken Mr. Sacranie – dressed in a well-cut suit and conservative tie - lost his temper and shouted back. "You should be ashamed of yourselves. This is shameful Islam!"

This is also radical Islam and, although Mr. Sacranie had to struggle to regain control of his press conference, he knows the message of the Saviour Sect - that Muslims should boycott democracy - holds little appeal for the mainstream.

In fact, Britain's million and a half Muslims have long been enthusiastic participants in both local and national elections here. Now, it looks as if they could vote in record numbers next month, galvanized by Britain's backing of the US after 9/11.

"It brought the community closer," says Mr. Sacranie. "A very powerful message came out."

The message, as Muslims see it, is that Tony Blair chose George Bush's interests over the interests of his own electorate; that he went to war in two Islamic countries in spite of massive protests at home, and that he has backed draconian anti-terrorist legislation that has targeted British Muslims.

For the first time in modern history, that legislation allowed terrorist suspects to be held in prison indefinitely, without charges. Even though the laws have now been overturned by Britain's highest court, it rankles that the only men held under those laws in Belmarsh maximum security jail were Muslims.

The fallout from all this has left Muslims in the UK feeling victimized and stigmatised.

A friend of mine explained that he liked to discuss issues with other young men after prayers at their suburban London mosque.

"But we can't really debate freely anymore," he said. "The minute there is a disagreement and our voices are the slightest bit raised, someone in the neighborhood calls the police. Because we are Muslims they come and break it up. There is this assumption that we are plotting something. We are all suspected terrorists by default."

The Saviour Sect hopes disaffected Muslims will stay away from the polls, presumably until the government collapses, and an Islamic Republic is declared in Westminster.

The Muslim Council of Britain, more realistically, is expecting people to express their anger by voting against Tony Blair.

"Traditionally, the Muslim support has been for Labor'", says Mr. Sacranie. "I reckon that 70 or 75 percent of the community would have voted for the Labor Party traditionally, but recent events have brought down that level of support to between 30 and 35 percent."

Britain's Muslims make up just under 3 percent of the population (as compared to the US Muslim population, which accounts for only .06%). However, analysts say their votes could be decisive in 40 ridings. Tony Blair may have ignored their protests over war and terrorism policies, they say, but he can't ignore their protest at the polls.