An investigation by the Centre for Social Cohesion found that just under half of the letter’s signatories represented just two pressure groups: the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) and the Muslim Association of Britain (MAB).
Aside from the fact that Maher is relying on Centre for Social Cohesion (which is headed up by the dubious Douglas Murray), I am not sure Maher’s point about the signatories to this letter being affiliated to the MCB is anything noteworthy. Inayat Bungalawa points out in his defence of the open letter and Linvingstone, the MCB is an umbrella body which has hundreds of affiliates. If Maher really wants to criticise the influence of the MCB, he needs to consider how this of umbrella body is also the outcome of both Tory and Labour government policy towards Muslim demands on the state.
Where I do agree with Maher is in his broader point: the letter has needlessly ‘communalised’ the up coming election for mayor, and overlooked the everyday concerns that people living in London have.
The signatories to the letter suggest it is in the “best interests” of Muslims and other Londoners to vote for Livingstone — but they don’t really explain why, other than appealing to Livingstone’s stand on Iraq and the Palestinians. Although, I have no objection to Muslim organisations supporting one or other candidate (albeit they should be careful about politicising their institutions), the language of the letter is careless and paints Livingstone as some kind of ‘candidate for Muslims’. This is not helpful when you consider his main rival, Boris Johnson, is hardly weak-willed when it comes to using the “Muslim card”. The letter does little to dispel the myth of ‘Muslim separatism’.
I feel the organisations have missed an opportunity here. Instead of telling everyone how great Livingstone has been for Muslims, they should have rested their support for any mayoral candidate on terms which could have had cross-cultural, multiethnic and interreligious support. The upcoming election for the Mayor of London should be an evaluation on whether or not the different candidates can improve the capital’s transport network, help to reduce crime on the streets, regenerate dilapidated areas, improve the uneven economic spread in the city, or just everyday concerns like keeping the streets clean and ensuring the rubbish is collected on time. Issues of national importance, such as support for civil liberties, the stance on schooling and housing, and principled opposition to discrimination should be considered too. But none of these issues are highlighted in the open letter or by Bunglawala (who is also a signatory).
Although one may or may not agree with Livingstone’s views on Iraq, Palestine and American foreign policy, like it or not they do not form part of his job description as Mayor of London. At best, someone of his stature can bring them to the front of the news cycle.