Misrecognition and political agency: the case of Muslim organisations in a General Election

Dobbernack, Jan, Meer, Nasar and Modood, Tariq (2015) Misrecognition and political agency: the case of Muslim organisations in a General Election. The British Journal of Politics and International Relations, 17 (2). pp. 189-206. ISSN 1369-1481

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It is a common complaint among Muslim civil society organisations and activists that their presence in British politics is misconceived. For example, and notwithstanding a broader commitment to pluralism in British politics, activists who mobilize on the basis of Muslim religious identities often encounter the charge that they foster sectarian divisions. Hence following his victory in the Bradford West by-election, a salient charge was that George Galloway’s success was the outcome of a homogeneous Muslim voting block What was less immediately noted was the role of young voters and disenchantment with Labour’s alleged exploitation of kinship networks (biraderi), factors largely passed over by commentators generally supportive of Muslim identity politics (e.g., Hasan, 2012). Right-wing commentators meanwhile converged on the view that Galloway’s success showed “that sectarian politics are now alive and well in Britain” (Murray, 2012) and that British Muslims eagerly responded when they were addressed “not as primarily British citizens but solely as Muslims” (Pollard, 2012). As an example for the “ugly alliance between the far left and Islamists”, Abhijit Pandya (2012) pointed to “groups like Operation Black Vote and the Muslim Public Affairs Committee [that] are busy encouraging such communities to vote along racial and religious lines.”
There is of course a prevailing political context here. Organisations that attempt to mobilize minority citizens by appealing, in one way or another, to collective concerns, interests and identities, find themselves in situations where they have to respond to representations that they believe do not adequately characterize their objectives, subjectivities and the reality of Muslim participation in British politics more generally. In response, an increasing number of advocacy groups are concerned to repudiate what they perceive to be misperceptions of Muslim agency as exceptional and impossible to accommodate. Frequently, these organisations and initiatives desire to project and practice civic identities, to demonstrate their normality and a commitment to the ‘common good’.
This article focuses on such efforts in the context of the general election 2010. It draws on qualitative research into campaigns of the most active mobilizing actors: the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), ENGAGE, the Muslim Public Affairs Committee (MPAC) the Youelect initiative, and, as a non-Muslim group, the aforementioned Operation Black Vote (OBV). It explores how these organisations positioned themselves in response to experiences of ‘misrecognition’. This conceptual focus allows us to explore one of the most pertinent characteristics of Muslim political agency in Britain today: how actors respond to perceived pressures, make claims and project identities in opposition to alleged misperceptions or the refusal to acknowledge their desired self-descriptions. We employ the concept of misrecognition to help theorise these processes.
More precisely, this article draws on a set of qualitative interviews with representatives of the organisations listed above that were conducted in early 2012; it supplements the accounts of these activists with a study of campaign materials published by these organisations in the run-up to the general election. It begins by locating the concept of misrecognition within normative and political theory (1). It then outlines fives ‘modes’ that are characteristic for how Muslim political actors conceive of misrecognition (2). In the following, the article works through three significantly contested issues that are highlighted by and require a response from all organisations under investigation: minority representation (3), the character of ‘the Muslim Vote’ (4) and political neutrality (5). It concludes by suggesting that misrecognition represents a meaningful perspective on Muslim politics that needs be expanded in order to conceive of creative, not just reactive, modes of political agency.

Keywords:religion, elections, ethnicity, mobilisation, bmjgoldcheck, NotOAChecked
Subjects:L Social studies > L200 Politics
Divisions:College of Social Science > School of Social & Political Sciences
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ID Code:7616
Deposited On:22 Feb 2013 18:26

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